Books tell stories, but what about the stories behind the books? The Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children’s Literature collects books and their stories. Both are part of our national heritage.
The Archives began in 1974 so we have been collecting books for many years. One of our major sources is the Canberra Lifeline Book Fairs. Canberra is a reading community, but children outgrow their favourites. Many are donated to Lifeline, then the Archives’ treasure hunters find the books we need for our collection and we buy them. Over the last 30 years, two Lifeline book sorters, Valerie Irwin and Angela Brown, have gone through the thousands of books flooding in and found ones we are missing.
Imagine our excitement when we found a Colin Thiele book that had been on our wish list for 12 years! Before computerised catalogues, Valerie would come out to the Archives to check what we had. These days, our online catalogue makes checking more straightforward. This also results in triple the number of books. In recent years, we are finding more books than we have funds to spend, so we are crowdsourcing through GoFundMe. Our current campaign is almost complete.
We are preserving not just books of high literary quality and award winners. We collect many books that children have loved, then left behind. These include Paul White’s missionary stories, Mary Poppins’ sequels by Pamela Travers, myriad monster tales created by Michael Salmon and the sparkly pink fairy books by Shirley Barber.
When we look at the collective record of Australian children’s books on Libraries Australia, we know our collection has unique depth and breadth. We hold about 26,000 books in the Archives. While collections around Australia are weeding books that patrons no longer read, we are capturing these for posterity. They are a record of what children read and what publishers chose to publish over time. Capturing this heritage is our most important task.
Some 21 publishers donate around 700 new Australian children’s books to us each year. Authors and illustrators donate too. Some donate their artwork, papers and manuscripts under the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Such donations often include a copy of each of their books, many in translation.
We now hold around 3,200 translations in 53 languages. Along with his artwork donations, Bob Graham and his publisher send his books in translation. Others do too, such as Garth Nix, Morris Gleitzman, Gillian Rubinstein and Margaret Wild. The Archives also holds Australia’s largest collection of Emily Rodda books, over 1,200 in 30 different languages.
How do people know what we need? There are detailed wish lists on our website. People everywhere join our hunt for treasure. Patricia Wrightson helped complete our collection, not just of her books, but also sheet music and sculpture. Our Colin Thiele wish list began with 112 titles, and donations trickled in over the years. Families parted with their favourites and libraries weeded their collections so we could complete ours. The largest donation came from the Colin Thiele family who donated 90 editions, many in translation and unknown to us, inscribed by the author and in pristine condition.
A simple phone call brought 151 titles to the Archives. George Carrington offered us his collection as he moved interstate, but only if we could pick them up within two days. We quickly said yes. George Carrington’s first introduction to Australia was while travelling as a migrant on a ship from Germany. He read Mates at Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce. Lois Carrington avidly collected Ethel Turner’s books. The family travelled around Australia buying books for their children then their grandchildren. Eleven of these Ethel Turner books are now in our rare books collection
Our Ethel Turner collection of 150 books is a very good one. Even more came our way through the generosity of one of Pixie O’Harris’ daughters. She attended Sydney Girls’ High School, as did Ethel Turner. She decided to collect Ethel Turner’s books, but only pre-loved ones found at ‘op’ shops, street stalls and garage sales. We thought we must already have those she offered. All 31 proudly sit among our now even larger Ethel Turner collection.
Perhaps the most amazing story concerns the travels of Little Miss Anzac: The Story of an Australian Doll. Ada Holman, born in Victoria in 1869, wrote this story which was illustrated by Nelle Rodd. It was published in London and inscribed by Capt J I Dunbar, Glasgow, to his granddaughter in 1917. Eighty years later, the book came into the possession of Elisabeth Sheldon, a primary school teacher in California. She sent it to Barbara Olds, her sister, who lives in Canberra, as the ‘family’s official Aussie ambassador’. Efforts made to find Capt Dunbar’s granddaughter and return the book to her were unsuccessful. When Barbara Olds heard about the Lu Rees Archives, she knew the book belonged here.
These are but a few of the many stories behind the Archives’ books. We exist to collect, record and ensure Australian children’s books are available for succeeding generations.
The Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children’s Literature is a comprehensive collection of more than 26,000 Australian children’s books in a wide range of languages, plus original artworks and unique research materials. The Archives is located at the University of Canberra. You can find out more by visiting the the Lu Rees Archives information page at the University of Canberra website including links to their current wishlist and GoFundMe campaign. You can find the Lu Rees Archives on Twitter and you can also read our Bookish Places post about the Archives here.