Wednesday, 17 April 2013

State Library of NSW - The Greatest Wonder of the World

"More than five million items are held in the Library's Mitchell (1910) and Macquarie (1988) wings. The exhibition spaces showcase this collection and the library holds a range of talks and events." Top 10 Eyewitness Travel Sydney.

Oh me, oh my, I can't believe I've lived in Sydney for over 5 years and have not ventured into the State Library before this week. What a treasure!

I had heard on the news that the library was having an exhibition highlighting the Holtermann Collection.

This consists of hundreds of photos of the gold rush period around Hill End and Gulgong. As I had lived in that region for 18 years, I was keen to see them.

And I have to say it was an amazing exhibition.

The Greatest Wonders of the World was impressively displayed, carefully curated and the information booklet and new app were, well...mind-blowing...and it was all free! (They do have donation boxes scattered around - the quality of the free booklet was well worth emptying out all the gold coins in my wallet for.)

Holtermann was a wealthy man before his mining company in Hill End unearthed the Holtermann nugget. The nugget simply allowed him to spend more time and money on his passions, which included his grand idea of the International Travelling Exposition to "bring the colonies of Australia to world attention."

He employed Beaufoy Merlin & Charles Bayliss to make large glass negatives capturing the everyday scenes of the goldfields of NSW and Victoria as well as Sydney.

These scenes are quite extraordinary for their detail and their clarity.

All the negatives have now been digitally scanned at high resolution.

Part of the exhibition included a brief film showing how it is now possible to magnify the pictures to view small details with no loss of integrity.

It is possible to make out individual faces, items on display in shop windows and background signs.

The close ups created of the miners faces and of their families proved to be quite a haunting experience for me.

The images captured the hardship, the hard work and the devastation to the environment.

The other exhibition was titled 'Sir William Dixson: A Passion for Collecting'.

Again, the library produced the most beautiful and detailed information book to showcase this incredible collection of Australiana.

Dixson had donated to the library first editions of Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding, bio's on Captain James Cook (written in 1788!), maps of the world and original paintings & drawings that just took my breath away.

Dixson also had one of the reward poster for Ned Kelly's capture, tobacco tins, enlistment posters, coins & medals and letters & diaries from the early fleets coming to Australia.

I took a couple of screen shots from the app to show the detail and effort taken by the library to make this information accessible and contemporary.

Half way through this exhibition, was a little peep-hole into the Mitchell Library...I could see straight away that my exploration of the library proper was going to require another day and much more time!

I still can't believe this treasure was right under my nose for all these years and that I've only just discovered it.

I suspect this is the beginning of a long and very satisfying love affair.

Here's the link for the library. You can click the exhibitions tab to view some of the photos in greater detail or just enjoy a virtual trip of this incredible library on my doorstep.




  1. What a fascinating place.
    Resources such as this are something that I truly miss now that I live in a foreign culture.
    Thanks for a great insight.

  2. What a great visit you had Brona. I've never visited it properly either (but I have been to the State Library in Victoria multiple times....), but have been meaning to- and I lived in Sydney for 10 years, and then within a few hours drive for most of my life. They often have fabulous sounding exhibitions. I've walked past many, many times of course, and even planned a visit many times. It's got to happen sometime...


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