During a family holiday to Canberra recently, I took the opportunity to visit the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature.
|My family visit minus one (my Lara was at home unwell)
'What is this?' I hear you ask. It's located in the library of the University of Canberra and is formally known as The Lu Rees Archives. I see some of you are now nodding your head. For the rest of you here are some detail from their website:
About the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature
The National Centre for Australian Children's Literature (formerly The Lu Rees Archives) is a comprehensive collection of books and other resources about authors, illustrators, publishers and their creative works. The collection includes over 28,000 books, with some 3,800 of these in overseas translations in 53 languages, over 450 research files, and significant collections of authors', illustrators' and publishers' papers, manuscripts and artwork. The resources are publicly available, and visitors are welcome during opening hours.
The mission of the Centre is to enhance the appreciation of Australian children's literature by collecting, preserving and making available wide-ranging resources through programs, events and exhibitions. Lu Rees, the founding President of the ACT Branch of The Children's Book Council of Australia proposed in 1974 that there should be a collection of research files about Australian children's authors and illustrators together with a collection of their books. In 1980 this collection was deposited at the University of Canberra Library so it could be publicly available. The Centre is an incorporated body in the ACT, with a Board which includes the Management Subcommittee and the Foundation Subcommittee.
The ACT Branch provides a small donation annually and volunteer support. The University of Canberra Library houses the collection, catalogues the books, and provides materials to support the collection. The University has designated the Centre as an Affliate, and provides insurance coverage. Australian publishers donate their children's books as they are published.
|left to right: Prof. Belle Alderman, Katrina McKelvey, Belinda Gamlen and my beautiful Aidan (front).
Aidan was as interested in the collection as I was. He loved seeing original illustrations.
During our visit we were accompanied by the lovely Professor Belle Alderman (Director) and Belinda Gamlen. Their passion was evident as they showed us the collection of rare books, carefully stored and displayed original illustrations, and original manuscripts with scribbles all over them (I viewed one written by Graeme Base - lucky me!).
I read a letter from Leigh Hobbs to his editor - it was a classic - just a spare piece of paper with a few thoughts scrawled on it with a texta - I'm sure he didn't plan on me reading it, but I found it mesmerising!
|Leigh Hobbs' original illustrations and letters to his editor
I also got to see some of Lu Rees' medals including her MBE (Member of the British Empire). I'd never seen one before. So precious!
Rows and rows of books, all carefully catalogued, filled the space. It was an insane but divine sensory overload.
|Just some of the rows of books in this collection
|Rare and precious books. I was too scared to touch them!
|More shelving ...
|... and more shelving!
I found our tour a rich and rewarding experience. If I had the time, I would have pulled up a piece of carpet and soaked up every single piece.
If you would like to know more about the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature, you can subscribe to their newsletters by emailing editor Lynn Fletcher at email@example.com. Past newsletters can be viewed here.
The centre has big plans for the future of the collection. Plans include more space for displaying original illustrations, more school visits to the centre as part of school Canberra excursions, and more university students using the centre's resources to assist with their children's literature studies.
'Wish Lists of Books We Need' is a link to a list of books missing from the collection. If you love going hunting for old treasured books, keep your eye out for one of the books on this list. Your donation would be vital in completing smaller collections within the centre.
|Pixie O'Harris Glassware - Australian illustrator of The Wind in the Willows. Glassware available for sale.
At the moment I'm drinking my tea from a glass mug etched with one of Pixie's illustrations.
I love drinking tea from a glass.
This collection could not be available without the support of the CBCA ACT Branch, the University of Canberra, Prof. Belle Alderman, and the many volunteers behind the scenes. It was apparent to me during our visit, they keep the collection well funded, organised and readily available to the public, many hours of work is needed. I was extremely impressed by the level of organisation and the friendliness of Belle and her staff (my visit was on their first day back after their Christmas/New Year break).
|Belle and I having a laugh
I highly recommend a visit to the centre. Belle was very accommodating. She even sent me a very comprehensive set of driving directions beforehand, and gave me a copy of their publication, 'Showcasing Treasures' which you can purchase here. I was invited to sign the visitors book and I was impressed by some of the recent visitors - you know who you are :)
I was honoured to add my first picture book to this collection - to be alongside all of the current children's literature book creators and all the ones that have gone before me. It's actually quite difficult to comprehend having a book I authored in a collection that will be protected for as long as possible, to be seen as part of something so special it must be guarded, to be part of Australian history.
|Katrina McKelvey donating a signed copy of 'Dandelions', published by EK Books,
to the collection. This copy was signed by Kirrili Lonergan too.
This collection is the beginning of something magical. Our family visited A LOT of museums, galleries and collections during our Canberra holiday, and this children's literature collection is just a important and special. I look forward to seeing it continue to grow and thrive.
In the words of Bob Graham, 2010:
'The Lu Rees Archives has become a vital resource in the preservation of or children's literature. And long may it continue.'
And in the words of Morris Gleitzman:
'At last. Immortality!'
|Portrait of Lu Rees by Annette Macarthur - Onslow