State Library of Victoria

The winter sunshine was beautiful in Marvellous Melbourne yesterday. I was in the CBD, among the bustling weekend throng, with the bluest of blue skies above. I voluntarily removed myself from the lovely outdoors and headed indoors, to one of my favourite city sights – the State Library of Victoria.

Established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, it is Australia’s oldest library, (and if you have faith in the Gospel According to Wikipedia, it was one of the first free libraries in the world).

I visit this grand old dame occasionally. I love that it’s a quiet haven in the middle of a noisy city. More than this, I love it because 1. It houses soooooo many books – over two million of them – along with thousands of other publications, and 2. It boasts an impressive Ned Kelly collection, and 3. The Dome.

Infamous Victorian bushranger Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly holds a fascination for many people, almost 140 years after his capture and subsequent execution. I am a Ned enthusiast – and sympathiser, to a large extent – and relish any opportunity to view items of Kelly Gang significance. While many Kelly articles rightfully remain in central Victoria (the scenes of his various misdemeanours), the Library has curated a magnificent collection of Gang items, featured in a permanent exhibition on Level 5.

A set of authentic Kelly ‘armour’ is a drawcard, along with pages from the ‘Jerilderie Letter’, dictated to Gang member Joe Byrne by Ned, and a detailed account of his confessed crimes, in addition to accusations of police corruption. Ned Kelly’s death mask is also displayed. (Death masks were fleeting in popularity, produced to assist in the study of phrenology).

The Kelly items are part of The Changing Face of Victoria exhibition, a huge collection of photographs and souvenirs of the identities and events that have shaped the state. It’s well worth a look. Book lovers would also appreciate the exhibition on Level 4, The World of Book. It covers (ha!) the history of manuscript content, design and production, with articles dating from 2050 BC. You can keep your fancy Kindles. This stuff is awesome. (The World of Book is on display until 31st Dec.)

The Dome Reading Room is the architectual highlight of the building, and a must-see if in Melbourne. Take the lift up to Level 6 for a great vantage point.

There are other Reading Rooms within the Library, some with specific interest areas, including art, family history, newspapers, even chess. One room is named after colonial judge Sir Redmond Barry. He is also honoured with a bust, and a statue at the front of the Library entrance. Coincidentally, Barry was the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death by hanging in 1880. Am I the only one who finds that a bit strange? That the two can co-exist ‘in memoriam’ within the same grounds? Such is Melbourne.

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