Who knew that the pretty South Australian city of Adelaide was hiding such a gorgeous library? I had no idea, and what a very special discovery it was. I just happened to be perusing one of those Top 20 Most Beautiful Libraries articles and the State Library of South Australia was there on the list.
At first I thought it must have been a mistake since I had never seen it before, but after a quick consultation with google, I confirmed that it was most definitely located in Adelaide.
Separated into three unique wings, the State Library of South Australia is a fusion of classic architecture and contemporary sections that have been completely renovated to meet the modern age.
I entered through the old Mechanics Institute Building, an Italianate style building that was once the heart of Adelaide’s cultural scene. The building itself was designed by Edward Hamilton and completed in 1860. The Institute Building is that typical Victorian era design, simple and elegant, but not overly frilly. This understated classic style is quite synonymous with early heritage buildings in Australia, which all have a similar colour palette and atmosphere.
The Spence Wing, is the more contemporary of the three, with a modern glass facade, a courtyard and a statue of Robert Burns. The Spence building is located in the centre, providing a thoroughfare between the two elder buildings. Previously known as the Bastyan Wing, an unattractive 1960’s style building. After a full scale renovation in 2003, the Bastyan Wing was renamed and unveiled in as The Spence Wing, named after Scottish literary figure, suffragist, and social activist, Catherine Helen Spence, who in 1897 was Australia’s first female political candidate.
The Mortlock Wing, which opened in 1884, took my breathe away. The Mortlock Wing looks like it belongs in Victorian London, if you squint your eyes you can almost see Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson smoking their pipe in the corner while investigating a pile of books. The Mortlock Wing is a traditional wood-panelled library filled with cloth and leather-bound books, wrought iron balustrades and a domed lantern roof that filters through a hint of natural light.
The ground level houses a gallery with permanent exhibitions on display, but upstairs offers the best views of the library, which is made up of two main galleries.
The original 1885 clock from Dent and Sons of the Strand in London, still keeps perfect time. The clock (seen in the photo below) was brought to Australia by Pioneer Sir Charles Todd, the library’s longest serving board member, and more importantly was a celebrated Astronomer, Meteorologist, and Electrical Engineer, who had worked previously at the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the Cambridge University observatory. Sir Charles Todd is best known in Australia for constructing the first telegraph line, which runs between Adelaide and Darwin – and interestingly, the central Australian town of Alice Springs is named after his wife, Alice Bell.
The State Library of South Australia was a truly spectacular surprise and a welcome reminder of why I first created this website, Lady and the Library. Being able to share beautiful places like this one is an opportunity that I treasure, and even if only one person goes to visit this library due to my recommendation, then my job is done!
State Library of South Australia
North Terrace & Kintore Ave
Adelaide, South Australia
After you recover from the beauty of the library, just a few doors away is The Art Gallery of South Australia. I only had a short time to have a look through, but I was so impressed. The gallery is home to over 45,000 works of art, including a special collection of Indigenous artworks.
My favourite genre of art is Pre-Raphaelite from Britain, so I was ecstatic to find Circe Invidiosa by John William Waterhouse at the gallery. I would love to get back to Adelaide again to spend more time at both the library and the art gallery. Adelaide is such a lovely city to visit, rich with culture and the arts, stunning architecture, and surrounded by world-class vineyards and wineries in the Barossa and McLarenvale Valleys. What would could you ask for?