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A Few of Our Favourite Things Exhibition at State Library of South Australia

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by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
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State Treasures come to light
Most of us would be aware that the State Library of South Australia on North Terrace, Adelaide is the home of many of the State's treasures, however you may not realise that there are over 50 kms of storage material of historic and cultural significance lying within its walls.

The common misconception is because it is a library, it only contains books, however it contains so much more, from historic photographs, art works, sound recordings, video footage right through to photographic equipment as well as historic pieces from our past such as a gum leaf from the Old Gum Tree at Glenelg, dated from 1837.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Illustrations from the Symon Library

The latest exhibition on show currently at the State Library of South Australia is entitled "A Few of Our Favourite Things" - treasures from the State Library's collections, and they have been chosen as personal favourites by State Library staff and volunteers.

The exhibition brings to light a rare glimpse of items that will give you some sense of some of the treasures held by the library and how diverse and interesting they are.

One item of historic value to the State on display is a piece of cow hide believed to be from the first cow introduced into South Australia in 1836 when it arrived on "The Buffalo". The cow belonged to our first Governor, Hindmarsh and was used to feed the infant children of the Brown family.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Historic Gum Leaf and Cow Hide

Walking around the exhibition also reveals two of the oldest pieces that the State Library has in its possession - one a clay tablet from Mesopotamia, dating from between 2,400 and 2,300 B.C. What is even more amazing is being able to view and see the translaton of the cuneiform writing on the tablet - showing a list of people's names, as well as headware they were issued with for working in the fields.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Oldest collection piece

The other is the beautiful Antiphonal, a 13th century manuscript book from Italy which is well illustrated with Gothic handwriting and music. The blend of the colours and craftsmanship that would have gone into producing this amazing document make you appreciate the skills and importance attached. In the nativity scene depicted, you can even see a blurred image, which has been made so by people over centuries repeatedly kissing the figure.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
13th Century Antiphonal

Within the Treasures Wall housed in the Spence Wing of the State Library, I also came across a corset and it made me think, why on earth the library would collect such an item. It turns out that the corset was used as evidence in a court case in the early 1900's which was all about defending intellectual property in the design of the corset. The case was presided over by Sir Samuel Way, who was Chief Justice of South Australia at that time.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Corset used as evidence in court case

For younger visitors as well as those who can remember, a whole range of music recording methods is available to view, including examples of the old 33 and a third and 45 records and even cassette and tape recording systems, something most of our youth would have never seen before.

For those of you who are petrol/diesel rev heads or have fond memories of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix held in Adelaide for a ten year period from 1985 - 1995, there are some great trophies on display dating from 1993/1994, together with a tyre (c 1990) dedicated to Nelson Piquet, the winning driver for that year.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Formula One Grand Prix Trophy

If you are into fashion design, there is even a dress worn as part of the Centennial Pageant in 1936, which was supposed to represent wheat, by both the golden yellow colour as well as the design pleating representing the waving movement of a field of wheat just prior to harvest. The designer, Thelma Afford, was renowned in her time for having the knack of being able to interpret and design costumes for technical subjects such as electricity, Morse code and telegraphy.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Centenary Pageant Dress

What I liked also about the exhibition was the captioning accompanying the items, which showed the names of the staff and volunteers who chose the material and the reasons why they believe the items are important to South Australia and the public.

The exhibition extends all the way from the Treasures Wall into the adjoining historic Institute building and one of the more impressive wall hangings is a framed depiction of war buttons and regimental badges used as fund raisers during World War One for the war effort. This collection of 477 buttons and badges was collected by one family during the duration of the war.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Badges and Buttons Collection

There are even some famed illustrations by George French Angas, a naturalist and painter who migrated to South Australia back in 1844 and captured so well life in our State at that time.

Included in the collections on view currently are some items from the Symon Library, an 1890's gentleman's library housed within the confines of the State Library in the Mortlock Wing. Rare leather bound editions of books which Josiah Symon collected in his own library up at "Manoah", his home in Upper Sturt were donated to the State Library in the 1930's, in total some 7,500 books. A few have been chosen to include in this exhibition, and show brilliant illustrations together with historically valuable volumes from his collection.

If you are into viewing historic images, there are some great photographs depicting the changes in transport over South Australia's history, from horse drawn vehicles to electric trams to the motor car and buses. Also there are some fascinating studio portraits taken in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, at a time when photographic studios were abundant in Adelaide and South Australia.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Photographic Studio Portrait

Speaking of the motor car, there is even a poster highlighting the "Holden Story" which shows the varying designs of motor vehicles from the 1940's right through to the 1980's - for all you car enthusiasts!

A fascinating program/invitation is also on display depicting a grand fancy dress skating carnival held at the old Jubilee Exhibition Building on North Terrace in the 1880's.

A few of our favourite things exhibition at the State Library of South Australia
Historic Souvenir Program

This is an amazing collection of diverse items that are rarely seen by the public, let alone in one exhibition. I suggest that if you have an interest in our State's treasures from either a historical or cultural perspective, then this is the exhibition for you. The exhibition has only just commenced last Friday 2 September and runs until 5th February 2017.

Further details can be obtained from the State Library's website regarding the exhibition including opening times.

This exhibition is another reason why it is so important that the State Library resources and staff budgets are not slashed, as per current proposals by the State Government, by up to 20%.

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Why? A rare opportunity to view some of the State's top treasures
When: Mon - Wed 10 am - 8 pm, Tues, Thurs & Frid 10 am - 6 pm, Sat and Sun 10 am - 5 pm
Phone: 08 8207 7250
Where: State Library of South Australia
Cost: Free
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