Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Treasures and Choices

Someone somewhere had a great idea. Why not take all the priceless relics held by libraries around Australia and put them all into a travelling exhibition?

National Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries is a landmark exhibition that tells a rich and remarkable story about our history, our nation, our treasures … and our libraries.

It brings together, for the first time, more than 170 extraordinary items that have shaped our nation. Drawn from the magnificent collections of Australia’s National, State and Territory libraries, the exhibition contains manuscripts, maps, drawings, paintings and objects —from the everyday to the exotic — all linked to Australia.

National Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries includes familiar icons such as James Cook’s Endeavour journal, Ned Kelly’s helmet and Donald Bradman’s favourite bat. Others may be less well known, such as the heartbreaking story of Mary Watson, who perished with her baby off a deserted Queensland island, or the diary of Shane Gould, written as a teenager during her record-breaking swims at the tragic Munich Olympics.

Spanning the earliest European depiction of the Southern Cross drawn in the 16th century, through our convict and colonial era, two world wars, recent innovations and our constant obsessions with sport, food and wine, this exhibition gives a fresh insight into the diversity and breadth of our history and what it means to be Australian today.

I found the exhibition awe-inspiring. It's divided up into broad categories -- The Southern Cross, Hope and Hardship, Heroes and villains, War and Loss, Innovation and Industry, Culture and National Obsessions.

Not only were there relics that everyone knows (Ned Kelly's helmet, the Eureka flag, etc), there were items I never expected to see (Captain Bligh's log, Lasseter's diary, Kingsford-Smith's 1928 aviation map) and some that I didn't know existed (like the scrapbook kept by pre-war undercover policeman Sgt Frank Fahy who was nicknamed "The Shadow").

Quite fascinating stuff. There's even a podcast describing the exhibition
available here

Meanwhile those industrious people at Hobart Rep have been busy. In between fullblown productions, they organised a special event for Sunday night – a play reading of the classic comedy Hobson's Choice by Harold Brighouse.

I didn't know much about the play, though I was vaguely aware it had been filmed in 1954 starring Charles Laughton. But for $5 I was willing to take a chance on it.

The Playhouse was half full when we arrived, and there was a perceptible buzz of excitement as we waited for the curtain to go up. I noted that the performance was billed as "a moved play reading". I had expected that this would consist of a rehearsed reading on a bare stage (sort of like watching a radio play) but in fact it was more elaborate than that.

The cast were in 19th century costume, and there were a few basic props on the stage. Most of the cast had the script in one hand throughout the evening, but in all other respects it was just like a "real" play.

A boot-making business in Lancashire is the catalyst for a a power struggle inside the Hobson family. Peter Middleton was wonderfully bumptious as Mr Hobson, with Ann Lennon-George as the "old maid" daughter who knows what she wants and how to get it. Stuart MacDonald was engaging as the mild-mannered cobbler who finds himself the third point in the triangle.

A very enjoyable evening.

I do spend a bit of time listening to OTR [Old Time Radio] programmes as above but mostly during the week I finish the day listening to my favorite late-night chat show Tony Delroy's Nightlife. You can listen to the show in streaming audio from the ABC website - and many from around the world do - but now for the first time highlights from the show are available as podcasts. (No, unfortunately this doesn't include the midnight quiz segment The Challenge.)

Tune in and hear what people are talking about on radio Down Under.

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