The Women Treasures at the Treasures Gallery

National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia

Many of the National Library of Australia’s greatest treasures, from James Cook’s Endeavour Journal to a letter written by Jane Austen, are now on permanent display in the Treasures Gallery of the National Library of Australia.

Treasures Gallery at the National Library
Treasures Gallery at the National Library

The Treasures Gallery highlights the extraordinary holdings of the National Library of Australia. From ephemera to oral histories, from rare books to handwritten manuscripts, photographs, oil paintings, watercolours and maps, the gallery is where you will find the most significant items in the Library. From May 22 to August 9, it will also host the Rothschild Prayerbook acquired last year by Kerry Stokes. You will be intrigued, surprised, challenged and amazed by the stories these rare treasures tell, especially through the voice of the wonderful volunteers, like Jenny.

Captain James Cook Endeavour Journal
Captain James Cook Endeavour Journal

The jewel in the Library’s crown, manuscript number one in the Manuscripts Collection, is the original copy of Lieutenant James Cook’s (1728–1779) handwritten journal documenting the voyage of HMB Endeavour from 1768 to 1771.

Cook’s journal is 753-pages long and full of fascinating detail and information. In keeping the journal, Cook wrote regularly of shipboard life, of the weather and conditions in which he sailed and of the places and people that he encountered. He had unbelievably neat handwriting!

In sailing on official business for the British navy, officers were required to keep and copy meticulous records. Cook’s Endeavour journal was copied three times during the voyage. Other records, such as surveys and coastal profiles, were kept and copied as well. As a result, in returning to England after these voyages of discovery, there was always a large amount of material ready for publication. Cook’s journal was published several times in different editions. The public were eager for stories of exploration and discovery and journals, such as Cook’s and Banks’, were bought and read by a willing audience.

The Endeavour journal covers the entire period of the voyage from 27 May 1768 to 12 July 1771, when Cook charted the east coast of Australia and circumnavigated New Zealand. On a voyage of such length and of such importance, it was essential that the commander have a level head and a strong will. Cook was responsible for the safety of his crew and he worked hard to ensure that they remained in good health throughout the voyage. Some of the most interesting information in the Endeavour journal for a modern audience relates to Cook’s efforts to ensure that his crew’s diet was adequate to their needs.

Despite Cook’s efforts, he described the ship that sailed back to England in 1771 as a ‘hospital ship’. Much of the crew had been affected by tropical diseases which they caught while repairing the Endeavour in Java and there were many deaths on the voyage home.

Cook went on to sail a further two voyages of discovery before his own death in Hawai’i in 1778. The journal that he kept on board the Endeavour was lost from view for many decades until it was purchased by the Australian Government in 1923 for £5000. It is now regarded as the Library’s foundation treasure.

Moses Griffith, Rainbow lorikeet, 1772 (detail), gouache on vellum
Moses Griffith, Rainbow lorikeet, 1772 (detail), gouache on vellum

This is the first European painting of an Australian bird. The rainbow lorikeet is said to have been captured at Botany Bay in 1770 and kept as a pet by Tupaia the Polynesian navigator on the Endeavour. It was painted by Griffith soon after the return of Cook’s voyage.

In 2010, the National Library acquired a seminal atlas by the first British Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, of particular significance for Australia and the Pacific. James Cook is known to have had a copy of the atlas on board the Endeavour for use in the Transit of Venus and Southern Hemisphere explorations.

John Flamsteed, Cetus in Atlas coelestis, London: 1729, engraving and letterpress
John Flamsteed, Cetus in Atlas coelestis, London: 1729, engraving and letterpress

When it appeared, the Atlas Coelestis, or Atlas of the Heavens, set a new standard in accuracy. It contained more stars than previous atlases, it utilised a very precise grid and its star positions were based on telescopic observations which Flamsteed had painstakingly checked and re-checked over the course of his 43-year career as the First Astronomer Royal of England.

The Atlas Coelestis is one of the ‘big four’ star atlases to come out of Europe’s Golden Age of celestial cartography, a period which spanned roughly 1600 to 1800 and which coincided with the European discovery, charting and early settlement of Australia.

The National Library also has a first edition of the Uranometria by Johann Bayer, published in 1603, the first star atlas to show southern hemisphere constellations. This first edition of Johann Bayer’s atlas includes 48 maps of individual Ptolemaic constellations; the 49th displays twelve newly observed southern constellations derived from expeditions into the southern hemisphere, including that of Vespucci, Corsali, Keyser and Houtman. Discussion of the various names of constellations, and a list of stars including Ptolemaic number, Bayer’s letter, position within constellation figure, magnitude and astrological association is printed on the back of each map. Bayer’s atlas includes many innovations such as his revolutionary classification system and the use of a grid for accurately determining the position of each star to fractions of a degree. The basis for this atlas was the catalog of 1,005 stars recorded by Tycho Brahe, although Bayer revised some of the magnitudes and added an additional 1,000 stars.

Portrait of Abel Tasman, His Wife and Daughter c.1637
Portrait of Abel Tasman, His Wife and Daughter c.1637

The Treasures Gallery includes a portrait of Abel Janszoon Tasman and his family. Abel Tasman was a Dutch seafarer, explorer, and merchant, best known for his voyages of 1642 and 1644 in the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was the first known European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand. We found a monument to him in Dunalley, on our Tasmanian adventure. The Abel Tasman monument records the explorer’s planting of his nation’s flag across the bay on 3 December 1642 and claiming this land for the Netherlands. A claim which, of course, the English ignored. But the land Tasman claimed was a small island he thought was part of the mainland.

Best get to the subject at hand, the women treasures that surprised and amazed us.

Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at 1912 Olympics
Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack became the first female swimmer to win Olympic gold when she beat teammate Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ Wylie in the 100m freestyle. The 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games were the first Olympics to have swimming events for women, with an individual event, the 100 metre freestyle, and a team event, the 400 metre relay, taking place.

Sarah Frances “Fanny” Durack was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1889. From 1910 until 1918 she was the world’s greatest female swimmer of all distances from freestyle sprints to the mile marathon. In the late 1910s, she held every women’s swimming world record from 100 metres to a mile and she broke 11 records between 1912 and 1918.

She learned to swim in Sydney’s Coogee Baths using breaststroke, the only style for which there was a championship for women at that time. In 1906 she won her first title, and over the next few years, dominated the Australian swimming scene. In the 1910-11 swimming season, Mina Wylie beat Durack in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 100- and 220-yard freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships at Rose Bay. The two went on to become close friends.

Durack and Wylie were initially refused permission to compete in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. The New South Wales Ladies Swimming Association later allowed them to go provided they bore their own expenses. I wonder if they got reimbursed when they came home with the gold and silver. Durack set a new world record in the heats of the 100-metre freestyle. She won the final, becoming the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a swimming event. Until 1932 (when Clare Dennis won the 200-metre backstroke in Los Angeles) she was the only such woman; and until 1956 she and Dennis were the only two such women.

Fanny won gold at a time when female swimmers in Australia competed under the most difficult of circumstances. She swam at a time when women were not allowed to race at meets if male spectators were present. In fact, large signs were displayed outside baths forbidding men to enter when the women were swimming.

Fanny was also hampered by the restrictions on the costumes women could wear at the time. And of course, women swimmers were prohibited from travelling without women chaperones. Twenty seven women contested the Olympic 100 metre freestyle in Stockholm, including six from Great Britain and four from Germany. There were a variety of swimsuits used by the swimmers. Many reached down to the mid-thigh while some were sleeveless. Fanny wore the heaviest costume of all – a woollen sleeveless garment with a skirt!

The pool in 1912 had been built in an inlet of Stockholm Harbour. Competitors swam without lane ropes and started from the wooden deck. There was no suggestion of starting blocks, swimmers simply took off from the deck.

Fanny won her heat, semi-final and eventually the final of the 100 metre freestyle. Her time in the final was 1:22.02 seconds. On her way to the gold medal she broke the world record twice which wasn’t broken for another eight or nine years until American Ethelda Bleibtrey caught up with her as much by age as by talent.

Following their success at the Games, the fame of the two Australian girls spread around the world. Fanny and Mina toured America three times over the next few years and helped to break down many of the taboos which prevented their ‘sisters’ from taking part in elite competitions. These world tours along with fellow Australian Annette Kellerman did more to promote swimming than any other woman. On a US tour in 1912, Fanny was recognised as “holding all championships for deep diving and for staying under water continuously”.

World War I deprived Fanny of more medals when the 1916 Berlin Games were cancelled. As the Antwerp Games of 1920 approached, she trained hard. It was her intention to defend her Olympic title but a week before the Australians were to go overseas, she had to have her appendix removed. Complications followed and she was forced to retire at the age of 29.

In 1967 she was inducted, posthumously, into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Portrait of Christina Macpherson, ca. 1900
Portrait of Christina Macpherson, ca. 1900

Christina Rutherford Macpherson (1864-1936) is credited with having re-played a tune she’d heard circa 1895 which the Australian poet A.B. Patterson (Banjo Paterson) then set to words.

Fame came early to Christina MacPherson. In April 1865, Mad Dan Morgan, one of Australia’s most notorious and sadistic bushrangers and a man who had a reward of £1000 on his head, rode up to the MacPherson property of Peechelba in Northern Victoria, introduced himself and ordered the family into the homestead dining room. After having eaten well, he became relaxed and drowsy enough to let his guard down. When baby Christina cried, the nursemaid, Alice MacDonald, was allowed to go to her in the nursery. Alice immediately slipped from the house and ran to a nearby home to get help. At daylight, as Dan, still in drowsy good-humour, slipped out of the house, he was ambushed, shot and killed.

The MacPherson family had come to Victoria from Scotland in 1854 and had taken up land in northern Victoria and New South Wales before moving to Dagworth Station near Winton in Queensland. The family however spent a lot of time in Victoria. It was while visiting her married sister at Camperdown that Christina attended the Warrnambool races, in April 1894. Here Christina heard for the first time the old Scottish ballad “Thou Bonnie Wood O’Craigielea”, which the town band had arranged as a march. Later that same year, Christina journeyed north to Dagworth, the family’s property. Her old school friend Sarah Riley and Sarah’s fiancée, Banjo Patterson, came to visit her.

There was no piano at Dagworth, but an autoharp (a zither-like instrument) on which Christina continually played the tune she had heard at the Warrnambool races. Banjo Patterson began thinking about putting words to this tune and when he did, the song became ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The existence of an original musical manuscript by Christina Macpherson came to public notice in 1971, together with an undated letter by Christina to Thomas Wood recalling the events surrounding the creation of the song Waltzing Matilda. This led to Christina being accredited as the first ‘creator’ of the music. The origins of the melody have been subject of much debate. Christina openly acknowledged she adapted the tune from an existing folk song which she had heard played as a march by a brass band.

Original manuscript Waltzing Matilda music and lyrics
Original manuscript Waltzing Matilda music and lyrics

Macpherson returned south to live in relative obscurity in Malvern. A report in the Melbourne Sun on 14 April 1941, said ‘When she died in 1936, her papers were taken charge of by her younger sister, Lady McArthur, and among them were found some letters that had passed between herself and Banjo Paterson relative to the musical setting of the poem ‘Waltzing Matilda’.’ One of two original manuscripts of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was presented to the National Library of Australia by Christina’s grandniece, Joanna Macrae, with the undated letter from Christina to Thomas Wood, explaining how the song came into being.

Portrait of Dorothea Mackellar
Portrait of Dorothea Mackellar

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar (better known as Dorothea Mackellar) was an Australian poet and fiction writer. Her poem My Country is perhaps the best known Australian poem, especially its second stanza. She wrote My Country at age 19 while homesick in England. It was first published in the London Spectator in 1908 under the title Core of My Heart. Although she was raised in a professional urban family, Mackellar’s poetry is usually regarded as quintessential bush poetry, inspired by her experience on her brothers’ farms near Gunnedah, in the north-west of New South Wales.

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar – 1885-1968, written in 1904

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

In the New Year’s Day Honours of 1968, Dorothea Mackellar was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Australian literature. She died two weeks later in Paddington, New South Wales after a fall.

Thea Beatrice May Astley
Thea Beatrice May Astley

With the death in 2004 of the novelist Thea Astley at the age of 79, readers have lost a great Australian-English stylist and our most sardonic observer of Australian life, especially life in small country towns in Queensland.

Thea Astley is a distinguished writer in Australian literature who has received many awards for her fourteen novels and two collections of short stories. She has emerged as the most prominent woman writer in Australia in spite of the fact that she never received noteworthy attention. Astley has been awarded Miles Franklin Award – the most prestigious award for fiction in Australia – four times. Astley won her first Miles Franklin in 1962 for The Well Dressed Explorer, about a country boy turned obnoxious Sydney journalist and executive. After her third win in 1972 for The Acolyte, her editor at Angus & Robertson, Beatrice Davis, asked her to stop submitting her books for the prize. She happily withheld several novels. She won her fourth Miles Franklin in 2000 with Drylands, her last book. Astley has also earned the most outstanding Patrick White Award for the ‘Life time Achievement in Literature’ in the year 1989.

She always set her fiction in the tropics and mostly her heartland of North Queensland. Her reputation as a social critic is established; she is renowned for her sharp yet compassionate portrayal of social outsiders and the mordant irony of her gaze on Australian society.

Astley has a significant place in Australian letters as she was the only woman novelist of her generation to have won early success and published consistently throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when the literary world was heavily male-dominated. In her personal life, she was renowned for her dry wit, eccentricity and compassion. A visitor to Astley’s office at Macquarie University found her chatting to a student, whom she introduced: “This is John. He’s just had sex for the first time so I bought him a meat pie.” Totally Thea.

Two weeks before her death in 2004, Astley appeared at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and gave a brilliantly comic reading of ‘Why I Wrote a Story Called the Diesel Epiphany’, a short story about one of her many journeys by bus with all its annoyances. The next year, in 2005, the Thea Astley lecture was instituted at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, with Kate Grenville delivering the inaugural one.

Karen Lamb has written a biography of Thea Astley, Thea Astley:Inventing Her Own Weather, which will be launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May this year. The biography covers Astley’s brush with timely advice on “the rackety career of novel writing”, an inside look at the relationship between Astley and other writers, with a focus on a particularly unsparing letter from Patrick White: ‘If you’re going to write about a shit, Thea, you have to make him a really big shit.‘

Judy Horacek
Judy Horacek

Judy Horacek is a well-known Australian cartoonist and children’s book writer.

Treasures Gallery

Horacek grew up in Melbourne, studied fine arts and English literature at Melbourne University, and lived in Canberra for 13 years, working and studying at the ANU School of Art, where she majored in printmaking and drawing, before moving back to Melbourne.

Her work has been exhibited widely and appeared in national newspapers and magazines. In 2005, a selection of her work was acquired by the National Library of Australia for its collection. She said at the time that “I really like being recognised for having done work that is part of the social discourse. And it’s always nice to see cartoons get another lease on life – now they represent a particular time and context and become part of the portrait of who we [Australians] are”.

She has also written and illustrated her own children’s books and worked with author Mem Fox. Their collaboration “Where is the Green Sheep?” won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Gold Medal for Early Childhood in 2005.

Mem Fox approached Judy in 2002, having seen a drawing of a green sheep that she felt would be a fabulous children’s book character. The two worked on the book together by telephone and email, bouncing ideas back and forward and Judy described it as a very exciting and enjoyable time.

All the original artwork for “Where is the Green Sheep?” is in the collection of the National Library of Australia, as well as lots of drafts, mistakes 🙂 , the original little mockup of the book, and the green sheep etching. That image is quite small – about 8 cm x 8 cm – very modest given the phenomenon that it provoked.

Treasures Gallery

Judy’s cartoons have strong, sassy female characters… and remind us that for all the progress we have made, we still have a looooong way to go…

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

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