Once upon a chilly Sunday morning, the call of a million books drew me out of bed. The middle of autumn is my favourite time in the city, the leaves in Melbourne’s parks are turning a myriad of shades of gold and orange, the air is crisp, the streets smell of freshly ground coffee, and the pink camellias are in bloom. The Victorian State Library is one of my absolute favourite places to meander for a few hours, soaking up the grandeur of the architecture, the smell of books, and a collection of impressive art and cultural artefacts. There are beautiful reading rooms hidden from the public, so be sure to take a tour to see the Queen’s Reading Room.
I began my day at the library bright and early, just after opening time. What I loved most was that the library was already filling with people, tables of those studying, reading, playing chess and engaging in some form of self education, whether academic or purely for leisure. To see this really warmed my heart. At times, being a more introverted book loving person I can feel somewhat isolated in the world. You end up wondering if there are other people out there in this big wide world who actually appreciate the same things you do. After all, most human beings just want to be understood and spend time in the company of likeminded people, but bookworms can be impossibly hard to locate in real life. It is here in this majestic building that you find the bibliophiles in their natural habitat – students, writers, and dreamers. Everybody working in solitude, but in the company of their people. All libraries have an air of silence, which for many signifies a safe space and a sanctuary to retreat from the hustle and bustle outside. Even with hundreds of visitors daily, the library has a calm ambiance that immediately makes me feel at home.
The Victorian State Library (originally the Melbourne Public Library) opened in 1854, when Queen Victoria was just 35 years old. Australia’s oldest library was also one of the first free public libraries in the world and has contributed greatly to Melbourne’s literary status as the second City of Literature in the world and the first Creative City in Australia. According to the City of Literature website, Melburnians consume more books, magazines and newspapers per capita than any other city in Australia. So now I’m not entirely sure if I was born with an innate love of literature or whether it was just part of my social conditioning as a Victorian and Melburnian.
Melbourne experienced great prosperity during the Victorian Gold Rush, and along with an influx of wealth also came significant investment in the cities cultural profile. Access to education and knowledge was considered vital to the development of a successful civilised community, so as the city flourished, so did the establishment of this great library. The library was known locally as the people’s university – a place of learning and discovery for all Victorians.
The library hosts over two million visitors each year and the state government has grand plans for her future. The State Library is currently raising money to begin a five year redevelopment called Vision 2020. Libraries today are becoming a place of modern information technology and are gradually adapting to the changing needs of our contemporary world. The Vision 2020 project will see the complete transformation of many of the libraries public spaces, facilities and educational programs with an aim of taking the importance of this literary gem into the future, making it a space for the future generations to enjoy.
When you visit the library there are a number of highlights. The first being the dome viewing platform at the very top of the building, offering a spectacular birds eye view of the La Trobe Reading Room. At these great heights you can also see the magnificent Shakespeare Window, originally made for the Apollo Music Hall in 1862 and later bequeathed to the library in 1960. You can take the elevator up and I usually walk down via the Dome Galleries. There is a wonderful exhibition called, World of the Book, which is showing until the end of 2018. One of my favourite exhibits is The Changing Face of Victoria, which includes Ned Kelly’s infamous armour (complete with bullet holes) and his original Jerilderie letter. Be sure to also explore the phenomenal Cowen Art Gallery, which showcases Victorian artwork, detailing the history of the state from colonisation to modern day, including early snapshots of Melbourne and portraits of influential Australian figures. The best part is… entry is free, so you can immerse yourself in Victorian history and culture even when you’re flat broke. When I do have a few spare pennies, I love to check out the Readings Bookshop inside the library lobby, all of Melbourne’s Readings bookshops are brimming with literary classics and are a pleasure to spend some time.
Following my library visit, I decided to continue with the educational theme and take a walk around the University of Melbourne in Parkville to soak up the Hogwarts vibes. Being a modern nation, we only have a few places like this. It’s such a beautiful campus, particularly in autumn when the colours change and leaves fall.
Given that it was such a mild weathered Sunday I decided to make the most of my day, jumping on a tram to Fitzroy Gardens and enjoy the autumn leaves in their full glory. You really have to take advantage of lovely weather in Melbourne as it can (and usually does) change in a heartbeat. Quite pertinently, during my visit I spotted a man walking through the park reading a book, which made for a nice change from the rest of the population with their eyes glued to their smart phones.
As expected, a light drizzle of rain soon interrupted my lovely day, but instead of dwelling on the weather, I decided to make a short detour on my way home for a pot of steaming hot tea and some macarons at the new Ladurée tea house. I chose a classic rose macaron and the Marie Antoinette. This little Parisian pit stop soon warmed up my cold hands and I went to sleep that night feeling utterly content and well nourished after a day of wandering around all my favourite places.