Melbourne has hosted Rare Book Week between 30 June and 9 July 2017 (an extended week, it seems). As is my usual practice, I missed most of it. It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day on Friday so we popped into the city to see two of the free exhibitions associated with Rare Book Week. Both exhibitions continue beyond 9th July for a few weeks.
First, down to Docklands library to see By a lady: the world of Jane Austen. Docklands is a strange, strange place. It is an urban renewal project built on the site of the old Victoria Dock which itself was built on the drained West Melbourne swamp. The Docklands Authority was constituted in 1991 and several attempts were made to get development off the ground. Although a number of large companies have moved there, it’s generally regarded as a bit of a dud and a template for what not to do in urban renewal. I’ve only been once or twice, each time on a cloudy, cold, windy winter’s day. So how would it shape up on a beautiful winter’s day?
Well, here we are just after lunch on a Friday afternoon, on the corner of Bourke and Collins Street. Melburnians will howl “But how can it be on the corner of Bourke and Collins when they run parallel??” but apparently they meet in Docklands. The city proper was heaving with people- but not a single pedestrian here.
The Docklands library opened in 2014. It’s a beautiful building but with barely a person in it. There was a conference of some sort being conducted in the community room, but other than that, it was very very quiet.
The exhibition itself combined multimedia with displays of different versions of Austen’s works. Of course, the books themselves are precious and so you can only gaze at the beautifully-crafted covers, especially of those of the early 20th century, with their Arts Nouveau influences. The multimedia renderings displayed various pages and their illustrations, which helped you get inside the books more, although one or two of the displays moved through the images too quickly to really appreciate the text and illustrations. It also highlighted for me the Austen family ‘industry’ that has coalesced around the books, with publications of her letters, unpublished works and spin-offs arranged by various Austen relatives. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday 10.00 – 5.00 until 23 July 2017.
Then back to the real world with people in it, and up to the University of Melbourne. The exhibition Plotting the Island is on at the Noel Shaw Gallery, Level 1 of Baillieu Library and it closes on 16 July 2017. Drawing on books, maps and artifacts from the University of Melbourne’s rich archives and collections, it explores the idea of the ‘island’ in both an imaginative and geographical sense. Although there is a focus on Australia, as might be expected from an Australian university, the exhibition also deals with mythology, literature, geography, mapmaking, collecting and anthropology. There was a fascinating film ‘Too Many Captain Cooks’, made in 1988 which combined indigenous artwork with story-telling of the ‘first’, loved, Captain Cook before all these other Captain Cooks came and took the land. It’s well worth catching before it closes.
The warmth was draining from the sun as we headed back towards the tram, passing the new Arts West building. We were too close to it to be able to make any sense of the patterning on the outside of the building. You can see it better in this rather grand video. Fair enough. It’s a stunning building.