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Review: New South Wales State Library

By: undefined undefinedMay 31, 2024

May 31, 2024

New South Wales State Library

Reviewed by Jacinta Widjaja and Alicia Kim

The State Library of New South Wales is one of the oldest in Australia, known for its special collections, references and research sources open to the public. So, what really is going on inside? The library has presented multiple exhibitions and workshops through the years, this review includes a taste inside some of the current exhibitions and what to expect when visiting.

Available until late October 2024, the state library exhibits Shot, a stirring curation of 400 photographs, spreading across 3 centuries. Many of the photos, already known or not, are on display for the first time, showing nearly every format of photography between 1845 to 2022. Sharing some of the most delicate and rare works in Australia’s pictorial history, it offers a true interpretation of Australia’s past, growth and progress. The display of these pieces are a catalyst to the uprising emotions you will feel when you enter the exhibition. On display for the first time are 25 large glass plate negatives from the Holtermann collection, which form an astonishing 9-metre panorama of Sydney in 1875. 

An example of one of the oldest photographs on display (captured in 1866) is Trugaini by Charles Woolley. These were taken by Australian-born photographer during her forced residency at Oyster cove station. The photo captures Tasmanian Aboriginal women, Trugaini (also known as Lallah Rookh), with pain and hardship emanating from her eyes. Consigned to history as the “last of her race”. In Tasmania, she had experienced the worst of Europeans, who had killed most of her family, occupied her lands and used violence against her both physically and mentally. She was among the many people who were exiled to Wybalenna, in 1835. However, her body was exhumed and eventually returned to the Aboriginal Community. 

Trugaini by Charles Woolley

Just one image can offer so much knowledge and integrity, and it is only one among the 400 photographs on display. The exhibition could not have captured the emotion of Australia’s past and progress in a better manner, offering electronic screens for easier access to information and an intimate experience for every person who visits. 

Photos1440 allows audiences to explore issues and stories all over the world, through the lens of Sydney Morning Herald photographers. First held in 2010, it’s clear why the library has reintroduced it this year. At entry, audiences are welcomed with vibrant photos capturing joyful memories, however, as one explores the exhibition, photos addressing world issues are revealed. Topics such as climate change, war, homophobia, and illness are captured through thought-provoking images. Ranging from collages, to poems, to singular shots, each artwork gets viewers to reconsider and reflect on the world around us. 

One image that stood out in particular was A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece by Mohammed Salem. This photo, revealing the impacts and tragedy of the Israel-Hamas war, won the 2023 photo of the year. Although shot last year, this image proves to be especially relevant with the world’s uproar of the recent strike on the Rafah camp. It demonstrates the realities of war in the 21st century, and induces emotions that raise awareness for the devastation. Overall, what truly sets Photo1440 apart, is its ability to open your eyes, rethink issues and provoke empathy.

A Palestinian Woman Embraces the Body of Her Niece by Mohammed Salem

The library itself is nothing short of brilliant. Historical, curated and beautifully preserved, the NSW state library’s study location proves itself to be a place of awe. Stepping inside, individuals are seen learning amongst the shining stained-glass windows and books, that date to a hundred years of age. When exploring the library’s collection, there seems to be an endless supply of information, manuscripts, government publications, transcripts from the house of representative and senate, card catalogues, maps, and much more. It is truly fascinating how such historical collections are available to the public. 

When we toured the library’s many books, the oldest piece we discovered was the Statues of NSW from 1900. Bound by a worn-out cover, the content was exceptionally protected, which just comes to show the immense care and love that the NSW State Library dedicates to their historical goods.

With more than 6 million items in its collection, the NSW State Library is an enchanting location that allows past, present and future generations to become educated on the history of Australia and the world in general. Transcending expectations of a regular study-location, it is a must visit that makes it possible for locals and tourists alike to revel in the splendour that is time.

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