Treasures Gallery and Bookplate

21 Jul

There are so many tourist places I’ve never visited in Canberra, or which I only visited properly once, when I first moved here. When I thought about it recently, it seemed odd: so many of our tourist institutions are living, working places which are always changing – or at least usually have a new exhibition on. It’s this which leads me to make a concerted effort to get to these places over the next few months: and the National Library of Australia is where I start!

The National Library of Australia all lit up for the Enlighten Festival in March this year

The National Library of Australia all lit up for the Enlighten Festival in March this year

The closest I’ve been to the National Library in recent times – I’m ashamed to say – was at the Enlighten Festival in March. The National Library has the perfect facade to highlight the projections, and was one of my favourite visual experiences during those March evenings. Before then, my first memorable experience had been fawning over crying about meeting Jonathan Franzen (one of my very first posts on this blog).

Projection by Canberra photo-celebrity Martin Ollman

Projection by Canberra photo-celebrity Martin Ollman

Don't be fooled by the bright blue sky - it was freezing

Don’t be fooled by the bright blue sky – it was freezing

This time I spend less time on the facade: it’s the Treasures Gallery I’m keen to see (open every day from 10am to 5pm). I’ve heard there are some special things inside, but I’ve got no real idea what to expect.

Sadly, the Library restricts photos (blogger nightmare); you’ll have to take my word that it’s worth the trip. The Treasures Gallery is just past the foyer on the left, through sliding doors into where it’s dark, and quiet. The exhibition seems open plan, but I find myself missing things behind me when I’m too distracted by one wall. There’s so much to see; they really are treasures of Australia’s history.

I spend a long time at the digital photo collection from Dr Charles Louis Gabriel, who took some of the first spontaneous amateur shots (rather than the staged shots which had been characteristic of photography at that time) while in Gundagai circa 1900. Among the beautiful photographs (originally glass plate negatives) are a circus visiting town (led by an elephant), a woman practising shooting a pistol (all dressed up) and a woman holding an emu.

There’s also Captain Cook’s (smaller than you’d think) fall front bureau with a backgammon board and hidden drawer. Australia’s earliest existing printed document – which the Library notes is remarkable because of its ephemeral nature – is a playbill from 1796. Ben Hall‘s gun sits alongside a miner’s licence for the Victorian goldfields. There’s an Aboriginal king plate engraved with “Tallboy: King of Moorabie”; it’s painfully exquisite, not in its detail, quality or preservation (all of which are great), but in the past that a single object can convey.

Nearby are likely the first recorded music and lyrics of the reworked song Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigie-Lea, which became Waltzing Matilda. It’s all in Christina Macpherson‘s handwriting: in 1895 they got together near Winton to write the music and the lyrics (try this excellent Pandora archive for more of the story). There’s a 1930s poster promoting Canberra as a tourist destination (it is very colourful, even if you were imagining it to be autumnal Canberra), early designs of the Opera House, and a digital collection of Australia’s history of protests. I could go on and on, but it’s these which really stood out to me. What’s more, the collection is supposed to be regularly updated. I’ve looked, and I’m not sure how this works or how anyone is supposed to know when or if it is updated, but still: reason enough to go back.

2013-07-21 12.12

We drop into the Library’s cafe Bookplate for a bite to eat. Bookplate is renowned for being a) good and b) busy.

True to form, it’s both of these things today, but the line for service moves quickly. On first glance, it seems expensive, but perhaps that’s unfair. The pumpkin soup that we both order is $12.20; I’d normally expect a pumpkin soup to be under $10 unless I’m at a top restaurant (for reference, the Belco Labor Club does an excellent pumpkin soup for ~$7). However, the other ‘main’ dishes are all under $20, and seem to have decent portion sizes.

Our food comes out almost 15 minutes before our coffee. I get that pumpkin soup involves pouring some soup into a bowl, and the demand for coffee is high, but still. I might be alone, but surely the mark of any good cafe or restaurant is a) drinks come first and b) the food then comes out as close in time to the drinks as humanly possible.

The pumpkin soup is advertised as coming with a dollop of sour cream. I’m not convinced…

2013-07-21 11.49kjh

… until I dig in.

Check out the sour cream dollop to bowl ratio. That's a lot of sour cream!

Check out the sour cream dollop to bowl ratio. That’s a lot of sour cream!

It’s bland. I’ve had some amazing pumpkin soups without salt or pepper, so I consider the mark of a good one to not need that extra lift. Even with the sour cream, this soup needs a good helping of salt and pepper – a little disappointing for $12.20.

The Library has papers available to read, but I amuse myself with the stained glass windows, and reading what’s already on the table.

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I think this has the right mix of polite and firm

I think this has the right mix of polite and firm (the Library has free wifi)

I’m also impressed with Bookplate’s wine list – packed with a range of wineries, but heavily leaning towards the Canberra region (Gallagher Sparkling Duet [this is excellent], Shaw Estate Premium Riesling, Eden Road Seedling Chardonnay, Mount Majura Pinot Gris, Lerida Estate Pinot Rose, Brindabella Hills Shiraz, Lerida Estate Pinot Noir).

Boyfriend has finished his meal before the coffee arrives, so I suppose he can consider his coffee to be a dessert. My chai latte is fine, but nothing to rave about (except perhaps the very heavy layer of cinnamon).

2013-07-21 11

To be fair, Bookplate isn’t bad, but I’m certainly in no hurry to get back. Then again, with few options in Parkes, perhaps it’s the best of the bunch.

Have you been to the Treasures Gallery? If so, what did you love? Where do you take your friends and family for lunch when you visit touristy places in Parkes and the Parliamentary Triangle?

Date: Sunday, 21 July 2013

Cost: Treasures Exhibition = free; Bookplate lunch = $32 ($12.20 for each pumpkin soup, ~$3.80 each for coffee)

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile (Treasures Gallery); worthwhile in an “it’ll do because it’s close and we’re here” kind of way (Bookplate)

Want more? Check out the National Library’s Treasures Gallery official page here. I’m also REALLY looking forward to this exhibition in November. (I have some very basic knowledge of old maps and this should be one helluva collection.

Bookplate on Urbanspoon

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5 Responses to “Treasures Gallery and Bookplate”

  1. Jas@AbsolutelyJas July 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    I used to spend a heap of time at the NLA, both studying and working (I worked in the Pictures team accessioning a photographic collection, and then in the Stacks). If you think the Treasures Gallery is awesome, you should see the stuff in their Store. AH-MAZING! Artwork, photography, precious books and manuscripts, you name it and they probably have it. It’s a book nerd’s (like me) dream. And not to mention the automatic book trolleys that roam the floors below. They’re just cool! They used to do tours… Poor form on Bookplate – how do you mess up pumpkin soup?!?!

    • inthetaratory July 21, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

      Tours? Definitely checking it out. That’s so cool to learn about that from you – what a cool experience! Agree re pumpkin soup – and at +$10!

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