Monday musings on Australian literature: Gap-filling and Wish-lists

Are you a book collector? If so, it probably means you have a wish list of books you want, like Pam at Travellin’ Penguin who lives in Tasmania and collects vintage Penguins or Lisa at ANZLitLovers who collects first edition Miles Franklin Award Winners. Pam lists what she has and what she’s looking for on her blog – categorised under the various Penguin categories, such as Main Series Penguins, that she collects. It’s a hobby and Pam and Lisa clearly enjoy the hunt.

But for some collectors it’s more than a hobby, it’s their mandate. I’m talking of course about cultural collecting institutions – and a critical one here in Australia from a literary point of view is the National Library of Australia. Like most collectors, they have a wish-list which they very sensibly post on their website. Of course, I’ve looked to see if I have anything they want but, I’m not a rare books collector, so it doesn’t look like it. I found it interesting, however, and thought you might too. Here are their categories:

Australiana to 1900

Included here are two books by Rosa Praed, whose The bond of wedlock I read before blogging. One is The brother of the shadow: a mystery of today, and was published in 1886. The other is The Right Honourable: a romance of society and politics, also published in 1886. It’s described as being by Justin McCarthy and Mrs Campbell-Praed (aka Rosa Praed).

Two other books caught my eye. The first one is Limitation of offspring: being the substance of a lecture delivered in the North Melbourne Town Hall, and elsewhere, to large audiences of women only (1893) by someone called Mrs B Smyth. I wonder who she is and what she was telling the women in her audiences. The other is The Parent’s assistant, or, Stories for children (1796) by Maria Edgeworth. Now, Edgeworth is English and never came to Australia, and the book was published in London just 8 years after the British settled in Australia. Why, I wonder, is this particular book on the wish-list under Australiana, which is about books published (or printed) in and/or about Australia? There must be an Australian connection, but it’s not clear from the list.

Australiana 1901-1950

National Library of Australia

National Library of Australia, viewed from Commonwealth Park on the opposite side of Lake Burley Griffin

There are three more Rosa Praeds in this list: The ghost, by Rosa Praed, published in 1903;  The Insane root: a romance of a strange country, by Mrs. Campbell Praed (without the hyphen!), published in 1902; and Stubble before the wind, published in 1908, but with no author identified until you click the link and find, yes, the hyphen-less Mrs Campbell Praed again.

Other books caught my attention, too, but I’ll name just one: Australskem bushi. Upravil a prelozil, by Stepan von Kotze, published in Prague in 1921. The State Library of NSW has a copy. Trove’s listing describes it as “a Czech children’s book about the Australian Outback with particular emphasis on Queensland”, making it a good example of collecting books published “about” Australia. I’d love to know what a Czech writer said about the Australian outback in the 1920s.

Australiana 1951-2005

I suspect that the Library has more gaps than the ten listed here, but what is listed makes interesting reading. No Rosa Praed this time as she died in 1935!

As before, the list is varied giving a sense of the breadth of the Library’s collection. For example, it includes Belly flop by contemporary writer Morris Gleitzman. This surprised me, as I’d have expected that the Library would have all of Gleitzman’s books – until I read on. What they are looking for is specifically the children’s large print edition published in England in 2005.

Other works on the list include those by government bodies or small organisations rather than mainstream publishers, such as The application of a drought index system to Australian bushfire control, by A.G. McArthur, published by the Forestry and Timber Bureau in 1966; Back to the best interests of the child: towards a rebuttable presumption of joing [sic] custody, a paper, published by the Child Support Action Group in Adelaide in 1995; and John Perceval: Williamstown and other images, published by Adelaide’s The Galleries in 1989.

Australian printed music

The Library has a large collection of printed music but, as with books, there are gaps. They say “If you can find any of the items listed below, you could help us by donating them to the Library or simply letting us know of their whereabouts”. The list includes works dating back to the 1820s. One that caught my eye, though, is a little closer to home: Canberra fanfare, by Malcolm Williamson and believed to have been published in London around 1973.


The Library doesn’t list titles here but refers to their “search and rescue campaign” that was launched in 2008 by Australian Newspaper Plan (ANPlan) libraries. They make the point that newspapers aren’t wanted only for the news but for “stories of their times, through ads, photographs, and even their design”. As an occasional user of the Library’s digitised newspaper project for Monday Musings, I know exactly what they mean!

Magazines and journals

Magazines, like newspapers and books, are provided to the library under legal deposit regulations, but, they say, gaps still occur. They list a number of these serial publications, identifying their missing issues.


I love that the Library collects this aspect of our lives. There’s no list here, not surprisingly, but a description of the sorts of menus they want, which ranges widely – including from restaurants, airlines, ships and special occasions. I have the menu from my graduation. I love to look at it – to see the sort of food we thought was special way back then, and how much we paid for it, as well as to remember a special occasion. One day I plan to offer it to the Library!

I wonder how frequently items on the list are found? Have you seen lists like this on the sites of other cultural collecting institutions?


12 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Gap-filling and Wish-lists

  1. One stable boy in The Parent’s Assistant “was sent for trial, convicted, and transported to Botany Bay,” but if that’s not the connection then I don’t know why it’s there.

    • That’s probably it, DKS … I guess any mention of Australia in fiction so early after colonisation would probably count. I looked at the titles of the stories but nothing jumped out from them. Thanks.

      • The ghost hanging over that story, is that the stable boy’s accomplice in crime, who comes from a richer family with a mother who begs for leniency, gets let off with a month in prison. “During Lawrence’s confinement, Jem often visited him, and carried him such little presents as he could afford to give […] when his confinement was ended, he resolved to set immediately to work; and, to the astonishment of all who knew him, soon became remarkable for industry. He was found early and late at his work, established a new character, and for ever lost the name of ‘Lazy Lawrence.'” Small discrepancy in sentencing there.

  2. I found the “Wish-List” fascinating. I wish I had kept my menus on my plane travels. When I moved house a couple of years ago I had to get rid of many books and travel mementos. It was very sad. I often wish now that I had kept ‘this or that’, but I still have too many books – lol.

    • I know what you mean, Meg. I do still have some airline menus though scattered all over the place in various albums, boxes etc. But they are something too that I’d probably offer when we downsize. I’m slowly divesting books but I fear at a slower rate than I’m acquiring!

    • Yep, that’s me, Stefanie. I like a nice book to hold and read but other than that I don’t care particularly about edition. However, I love the idea of searching for first editions.

  3. I had no idea that the National Library had such lists. I’ve got my family’s collection of print music from the 1950s and 1960s that I don’t know what to do with. I’ll have to check out the NLA list for music. Like others, I don’t like chucking out ephemera, books and other publications because what is one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.

    • I’m glad I posted then, perkinsy! Yes, I’m like you. They also collect things like programs … Of which I have many and will one day offer though I suspect they’ll have most.

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