Meet the Volunteers: Elena

Meet the Volunteers: Elena


Elena began volunteering at the PMI in 2019. Some of her volunteering background was working with indexing, including some archive work with the National Trust in their fashion collection and the Beechworth Pharmacy records. She also worked in the Holocaust Museum in their archives. With this in mind I asked her to start work on the PMI’s ‘to be archived’ material. Essentially this meant using our Retention and Disposal Authority to assess old PMI records to determine whether they would be archived, preserved for a certain period, or destroyed. Elena took to the job with enthusiasm and spent a lot of time shredding old financial records that were not destined for the archives. I believe she even found some of the shredding quite cathartic. I had a go as well, and it was quite fun. She did have to spend quite some time waiting for the shredder to cool down when it got too hot.

Once she had shredded, saved, and archived her way through the ‘to be archived’ material, I introduced her to indexing old journals. Her first job was the back issues of the Eltham and District Historical Society, which had been donated by the Yarra Plenty Libraries. The PMI’s journal indexing is a bit fiddly, with some idiosyncrasies (like most things at the PMI), but Elena soon had it figured out and has become one of our regular back issue indexers.

When COVID broke out, and it was clear that her regular volunteer gig working in the Melbourne Visitor’s Centre was going to dry up, she asked us for more work that she could do from home. So, during the lock down she worked her way through the back issues of the Apollo Bay Historical Society, Mission to Seafarers newsletter and all of the Aboriginal History Journals from 1977 to the present. Now that the library has re opened Elena is going to mainly continue working from home, because she can (she is now working on Garden History Journals, and checking the books listed in the Aboriginal History Journals against our catalogue). She has, however, been in the library for the first two weeks we’ve been open, patiently printing off all the Aboriginal History Journals so they can be bound. This is fiddly, meticulous work, which often means arguing with the photocopier (always a fun job), but she got through the last of it on the 24th and they will soon be available to our members.

Elena’s enthusiasm and work ethic have been greatly appreciated and it’s always fun having her in the library. She was also one of my regular correspondents while I was working from home, as we established the best way to index the Aboriginal History Journals, so having that connection back to the PMI was very nice too.

Elena asked me to write this post, an option we always offer volunteers when we’re doing profiles, and I hope it does her hard work justice.

Cataloguing Under Covid 5

Cataloguing Under Covid 5

This probably won’t be the last Cataloging Under Covid post, but as the library is re opening next week I will be working from home less frequently, so I thought it was worth giving an update on what I’ve been working on.

Today I wanted to talk about the journey a book can take before it ends up in the library and the pieces that can survive in a book to tell its story.

One of the books I catalogued today was An Australian Bird Book by J.A Leach. This is the 1912 edition and you can see the cover in the photo below.


As you can see it is a little battered. Sometimes, we don’t know exactly where a book comes from before it arrives at the PMI. In this case, it was part of a large donation in 2017 that, as you can see, the last few books of which are still filtering through to be catalogued.

What is intriguing though is the inscription on the frontispiece


You can see on the top of the page, E. King 1957– this is the maiden name of the donator of the book, so she had held it in her library for fifty years. As you can though, it obviously has had a life before this as well.

After a little bit of digging on Trove I discovered the ‘Bird Day’ was somewhat common at schools in Victoria at the time the book was published. I haven’t managed to discover who H.C Dixon was, or who H.M.L might have been. But, in someways, I don’t mind that. It’s always interesting to be able to imagine how they might have fitted in. They are part of the story of the book.

I also found a small pressed flower


It’s obviously been there for a while, but whether intentionally or otherwise it’s impossible to tell. Like the names, the flower is part of the history and story of the book, though not one I can leave in its pages, as it will simply be lost.

The book itself is a fairly simple guide book, it’s a pocket book for field use. It has some lovely coloured plates though.


They might be slightly, less anatomically correct than you would see in modern bird guides, but they are lovely none the less.

The book itself isn’t worth anything in monetary value, despite its publication in 1912, but it was given as a present to commemorate Bird Day, it’s been used to press flowers and stayed with the same person for more than 50 years before it made its way to the PMI, so it does have a story. It probably won’t be used specifically as a bird guide again, but as an example of how Australian birds were seen at the time it is invaluable.

Inscriptions in donated books are quite common, we only cover them up if they have addresses on them, otherwise we leave them as part oft the story of the book. It’s one of the delights in dealing with donated material, finding these little things that are part of the book’s journey. Especially, when the book was given as a present. I in fact had another two books today with inscriptions in them, though simpler and less, I suppose the word is elegant, than the bird book. You can see them below


We also often find newspaper articles, letters, and random pieces of paper. If I can’t leave them with the book then I put them in a file. One day I hope to put them on display. Usually it’s impossible to trace them to their owner, and there are some cases where I do leave them in the book. This was particularly true of a donation from a deceased estate a couple of years ago. It was very large donation and the lady whose library they had come from had a habit of collecting newspaper articles that were relevant to the book and leaving them inside the front cover. The articles were worthless by themselves, but were interesting when tied to the books, so we made the decision to leave them in.

While I didn’t find any paper in any of today’s books, there is one more with an interesting provenance that I wanted to write about briefly. The book is: Australian Aborigines by James Dawson. It was written in 1881, and it was a donation at the start of 2019. As you can see below, it is a little worn.


It is actually a book we already hold a copy of, electronic and hard copy, but because of its age and its rarity we decided to keep it as a second copy. The book itself is interesting as it is one of the earlier accounts of Indigenous Australians in Victoria, though of course it has to be taken very much as being of its time. Sadly, because there is often not a great deal of written information and the oral tradition of Indigenous Australians was purposely broken, these sorts of books are often the only source available. They are colonial and can be disparaging and overly simplistic. They still provide some useful information as long as their context is taken into account. It is also an excellent example of colonial thinking towards Indigenous Australians at this time.

How this copy of the book came to be at the PMI is an interesting story in and of itself. It was in the possession of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association. QWHA is an organisation founded in the 1950s “to stimulate interest in the history and heritage of Queensland and in particular, the history of pioneer families and the contribution made by women to the development of Queensland.”

They’d had the book for many years, but when they were going through their library and narrowing their collection focus to items that were more relevant to Queensland, they thought they should find a good home for Dawson’s book as it is specifically Victorian. They got in touch in early 2019 after finding us online and we were delighted to be the book’s new home.

This is often the case with donations to the PMI, we are a new home for ex library books from other libraries who have to weed on circulation, we are a new home for books when people are downsizing, we are a new home for books when someone has died, and we are also often a first home for new books when the author wants to make sure the book will be available to anyone who would like to use it. I suppose the point that I am making is that donations are an important part of the PMI’s collection. In tandem with purchasing books, so the collection can be curated and various areas expanded, they make the PMI what it is today. Ultimately the PMI’s collection is its raison d’être and I really enjoy bringing in books, new and old, and finding out what I can about their stories along the way, as they become part of the PMI’s story.


Post Script: Since putting this blog together I sent it to the family of the lady who donated An Australian Bird Book and have discovered that HC Dixon was Humphrey Campbell Dixon, the  great uncle of the lady who donated the book. So that is another piece of the puzzle, which is very nice.

Cataloguing Under Covid 4

Cataloguing Under Covid 4

It is the end of another working week, for me anyway, so I thought I’d share what I’ve been working on, just to keep everyone in the loop as we move towards reopening the PMI to members.

I went into the PMI yesterday to pick up more books, to update a few files and shelve the periodicals I’ve been indexing. You might have seen posts on our social media pages about a big donation by Moreland Libraries. These are the books I collected to bring home for cataloguing. Our Secretary Librarian Steven, had sorted them into books the PMI already holds (which will go to the book sale eventually) and the ones we will be adding to the collection. So I picked the three boxes, you can see them in the photo below, and brought them home for cataloguing.


It’s always fun going through the new books from a donation, and this is a great selection. The highlights are several Indigenous art books and some great natural history titles, an area of the collection we’re trying in particular to grow.

Today I catalogued the contents of the box on the right. This involves adding the books to our Accession Register, so we know that they are in the library (well theoretically in the library for now), downloading their records from Libraries Australia, and making sure we are listed as holding the book, and then cataloguing them inline with our cataloguing and operational procedures. For the most part the most interesting, and the trickiest, components of this are deciding what Dewey number to assign to the book (the PMI has a modified Dewey system as we are so specialised) and assigning the subjects (we also run our own subject thesaurus). Today this was largely straight forward as I was working on a number of books from the same area, but it can be quite complex.

I wanted to show you a few of the books I worked on today, to give you an idea of the scope of the donation. As I said the highlights are Indigenous art and natural history. So I thought I’d profile one of each.

My favourite natural history book from today is: Freshwater tortoises of Australia and New Guinea : in the family Chelidae / by John Goode ; designed and illustrated by Howard Johnson.

I mainly like it because it fills a gap in the collection, we didn’t have anything on Australian tortoises, and because of the somewhat amusing way they tried to show scale… have a look at the photo below and you’ll see what I’m talking about.


For the Indigenous art books, I wanted to look briefly at Australia’s Greatest Rock Art / Grahame L. Walsh 

Like other books on Indigenous Australians I have discussed before it is of its time, it was written in 1988, but it has an astounding and varied array of rock art depicted from all over Australia.

rock art

It brings home again, the importance, complexity, beauty and narrative nature of Indigenous art in Australia, especially in the face of recent depredations by mining companies. This is why these sorts of books are so important to the PMI’s collection, very sadly Indigenous rock art has been and is still being destroyed. They are also an important part of the history of art in Australia more generally.

The final thing I wanted to talk about is cataloguing material that has been donated from another library. You come across a great variety of library stamps and stickers. It’s always fun to see them, as they are part of the life and history of the book and to know that we’ll soon be adding PMI stamps to continue the book’s history in our collection. You can see some examples in the photos below.

So that’s a quick tour of today’s work. I’ll be back next week with another look at what I’ve been working on, and hopefully back in the library, at least sometimes, not too long after that.


Book Review: Mallee Country

Book Review: Mallee Country

Mallee Country: Land, People History.

By Richard Broome, Charles Fahey, Andrea Gaynor and Katie Holmes. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Publishing. 2020. Pp.415. $39.95   ISBN 9781925523126

Reviewer Jennifer R McCoy

Mallee Country Cover IMG_9610

Many of us when we think of the Mallee, in our ignorance only think of desolate country in north western Victoria, and of dusts storms, rather than of farming practices and wheat crops. Nor is Mallee country confined to the north-western part of Victoria. The same vegetation straddles the Murray River into southern NSW, and again in southern South Australia; it also occurs in south eastern Western Australia.

The word ‘Mallee’, comes from the Aboriginal word mali, the name of a form of eucalypt that thrives in a climate of hot summers and mild winters, with low rainfall and low-nutrient soils, The authors describe the multiple varieties as ‘frontier members of the eucalypt family’, with an unusual physiology whose root system gives the plant great resilience.

The authors, all respected historians, have taken a broad historic perspective, beyond local and farming histories, to show how this mallee country with its harsh climate shaped ‘the story of human occupation’ from its Aboriginal custodianship through European pastoral runs to crop farming and then to its gradual ‘reinvention’ today. They recognise that the people striving to forge a living from this land, while developing huge resilience and applying great ingenuity, often created problems that still require expensive solutions, at both a personal and government level. Their underlying concern is that despite being one of Australia’s main ecological systems, much of the Mallee has been cleared for agriculture.

The book ranges from Deep Time, covering all human land uses, focusing on dryland farming (not irrigation) to explore the interaction of humans and nature. It builds a brief but evocative story of the creation of these lands, evolving over millions of years, with geological upheavals and climatic extremes. While there is evidence of human occupation over forty-two thousand years ago, the land only became more habitable about four thousand years ago, finally rich in ‘a diversity of indigenous plant life that provided sustenance to a myriad of insects, birds, and animals’.

Those first Aboriginal people now began to shape that land with fire: creating pathways and grazing lands for kangaroos, encouraging food species like yams, managing foliage around water sources, skillfully adapting their lives to that country. Fire was controlled with cool burns at regular intervals, carefully managing the land for sustainable living in a difficult environment. Aboriginal society evolved in the land for two thousand generations, until the arrival of Europeans just six to seven generations back. Now the contact between the two peoples would prove disastrous to the Indigenous – and to the land.

Early European explorers were almost defeated by the land and lack of water; the nature of that land then remained a barrier to white settlement until the demand for fine wool in Britain drove pastoral expansion from the 1840s. The pastoralists story held endless challenges – ‘The mallee scrub, the soils, predators, climate, lack of water and distance to ports’ offered limited opportunities for success; combined too with their own inexperience, leasehold constraints, itinerant work force and inadequate funds. While their sheep destroyed the land with cloven hooves and destroyed plant diversity, rabbits and dingoes added to the assault on the land.

From the beginning too, white invasion and then settlement on Aboriginal homelands so often led to violence; until ‘a two-way paternal relationship’ developed; as the Aboriginal people became their workers, and as Aboriginal lives became controlled by legislation.

The end of pastoralism came in 1879 with the Crown Lands Commission Inquiry into pastoral leases, followed by the Mallee Pastoral Leases Act 1883, which ended land monopoly and returned millions of acres of land to the government for subdivision and closer settlement. The scene was now set for endless costs: to government for financial compensation to pastoralists and then to numerous small farmers following their dream.

It was now expected small land holders would fulfill the ‘agrarian dream’ of civilizing the land, replacing sheep with wheat. But machines that cleared the land efficiently, exposed the soil to wind and created dust storms, continuing the destruction of the land. Nor was thought given to the scarcity of water or to drought. Mice plagues were an unexpected challenge; later locust plagues were met with massive aerial insecticide drops. More expense and more environmental impact.

Government optimism about closer settlement continued though, driving farming expansion in the Mallee, supported with infrastructure and scientific advice. The Empire Settlement Scheme and then The Soldier Settlement Scheme added burdens on the land and on inexperienced settlers now saddled with debt, until the government stepped in with compensation and a royal commission. And still, as settlement extended and more acreage was cleared, dust storms and drought continued.

Railways were built to encourage settlement, giving access to markets and providing water during drought; thousands of kilometres of water channels were constructed to ensure more regular supply; science and technology in the early twentieth century introduced dry-farming practices, which although highly effective for crop production, in the long-term excessive cultivation led to massive wind erosion; the need for heavy superphosphate dressing was advised, adding to costs (and then environmental impacts); and strong recommendations were made for mixed wheat-sheep farming, although farming allotments were inadequate in size; the Better Farming Train, an agricultural demonstration train, linked scientific authority to practical farming methods, but ‘ironically the farming methods promoted by the train had a devastating impact on the Mallee’.

Aboriginal people were still part of this story. Although dispossessed of their lands, they adapted again, camping on available land, working for settlers, their children attending schools.

The mid to late 20th Century saw life and productivity improve for mallee farmers. Governments continued support, and scientists experimented with ways to arrest soil drift, improve seed varieties and destroy rabbits. New machinery too improved efficiencies. By the 1980s public interest in conservation led to the creation of national parks and farmers interested in conservation of flora and fauna. 1983 saw the end of large-scale release of mallee land for agriculture. Gradually the nature of farming has changed and along with it the surrounding communities. Nature reserves now occupy 10-30 per cent of the area, holding the promise for the mallee. Aboriginal people have also survived, and Native Title claims are being negotiated. The new challenges ahead lie in climate change but there is hope in finding solutions through technology and socially driven responses. Hope too lies in building again strong mallee communities possibly around new industries – eucalyptus oil, bees, silo art projects, Aboriginal heritage.

To live and farm in this environment, to survive, these farmers needed ‘resilience, tenacity, forbearance, adaptability’. This is a story that could probably be revealed in many parts of Australia. What makes it unique is the nature of this land, which made it so difficult for humans to survive, demanding so much of them, until the land was subdued. These authors have drawn on early station records, letters, diaries, reminiscences, descendants of Aboriginal people and settlers, to give life to so many of those people; at the same time revealing the enormous impact of their endeavors on themselves and on society up to today.

Ignorance and idealism combined with optimism and government encouragement drove the settler’s efforts. Serious doubts though are raised about government decision-making: ignorance and idealism too in striving to fulfill a vision of a continent populated and developed through closer settlement schemes; inevitably though, each time failing in its achievement.

The evidence presented at every stage is detailed, with brief footnotes which allow readers with a historic interest to follow the research, but without discouraging general readers with complex academic argument. It is a compelling history and immensely readable, the language often evocative, imaginative: in the final blink of time ‘humans and their associates – fire, animals, plants, technology – transformed the entire mallee stage’, and ‘Nature and sheep became entwined as sheep munched their way across mallee country’, on the labour-intensive process of clearing the land ‘The ploughman and his horses were followed by a labourer – or family member – who painstakingly grubbed out, lifted and carted away the roots’.

Its intrinsic value lies in the charting of this story: showing what humans are capable of under the most extreme conditions, demonstrating their resilience in the face of those conditions; identifying government’s misguided decisions; and finally showing the seeds of renewal as human ingenuity slowly restores balance to nature.



Collecting Under Covid 2

Collecting Under Covid 2

It is the end of my working week again, so I thought it might be a good time for another short update. I picked up more material from the PMI yesterday, but I’ll be writing about that next week because I wanted to talk about what I’ve been working on today.

Today has been about finding material to add to the collection, and growing the PMI’s electronic resources.

A big part of my job is being on top of material becoming available that fits with our collection policy, this often includes going through a publisher’s entire listing to see what is relevant. As I’ve explained before, at the moment the book budget is frozen but these checks still need to be made, so new material can be purchased as soon as it is possible again.

So, today I was going through Magabala Books and the publications of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

This means checking their backlistings and new books and other publications (in the case of AIATSIS) and seeing what we have, what we don’t and what fits with the collection policy. For anyone interested you can see the PMI’s collection policy here

Both of the organisations I was going through are Indigenous publishers, so I wanted to talk a little about our policy. The PMI collects:

All works on Indigenous Australians. Indigenous groups do not adhere to state/territory boundaries and interstate policy has had a profound effect on Victorian policy. The same principles outlined for Local Histories also apply.

The idea is to create as complete a picture as possible of Indigenous history, and (largely due to the scarcity of material) this often means reaching beyond Victoria’s boundaries, and collecting material such as children’s books when there is no other resource for the information. This is especially true of books written in Language, because if a children’s book is the only written form of Language available, then it is a vitally important part of the collection, they are also a great source of Indigenous stories.

I was also lucky enough to take part in an online book discussion about Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu today. It tied in beautifully with the material I’ve been looking through today and was really interesting (it also included a virtual tour of Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre by a curator). Additionally, it was an excellent networking opportunity to explain the PMI’s Indigenous collections to other professionals.

But to return to the collecting. Between AIATSIS and Magabala, I managed to find just over sixty books we didn’t have that fit with the collection policy. Some fit more closely than others, as in they are specifically Victorian, so they will receive first priority when purchasing begins again. These books have been added to my growing list of to be purchased items, and they’ll be an excellent resource at the PMI in the not too distant future.

There were some, however, that I was able to acquire immediately. AIATSIS has some electronic resources that you can download for free. I added their two, to two other electronic resources that I’d sourced yesterday when going through the National Library’s Recent Additions. So I had four electronic resources to catalogue. Under normal circumstances, as in if I was in the library, I’d upload them to our server, but for now I have just saved them to Dropbox and I’ll pick the files up in the library next time I’m there.

The PMI has a wide range of electronic resources, ranging from books, to audio, indexes, gazettes, databases, heritage studies and directories. These are all available on the PMI’s computers. We are looking at the possibility of making some available to members online, but it will depend on our new website when it is up and running. Today’s four come under books, using a broad definition of the term.

We have Latrobe Valley Social History: Celebrating and recognising Latrobe Valley’s history and heritage


FOLA anniversary celebrating 25 years 1994-2019 / text: Daniel Ferguson

25th Anniversary Booklet_FOLA_32pp_web

And the two from AIATSIS

The Gunditjmara land justice story / Jessica K Weir


Indigenous partnerships in protected area management in Australia [electronic resource] : three case studies / Toni Bauman and Dermot Smyth.



The four are quite different, but between them they represent both the work I’ve been doing today in finding new Indigenous books for the collection, and the diversity of the PMI’s electronic collection. It’s been an interesting day, finding all these new potential and actual resources, and I’ll be back next week with some of the material I filled the box with yesterday.

Hope you found it interesting

Book Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Book Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Review by PMI Volunteer Renee Rollestone



Scrublands follows Martin Scarsend, a reporter who is visiting a rural town. His purpose is to write an article about how the town of Riversend (a fictional Riverina Town) is healing 1 year after a mass shooting in a local church. Martin has covered many intense situations such as the Gaza Strip but finds himself in many unexpected circumstances in the town in Riversend.

The protagonist is not convinced of the claims that previous journalists have made about the shooter, a  young priest. While trying to identify perpetrators of fresh scandal that arrives at the town, he attempts to find out the truth about the shooting.

Hammer skilfully weaves many storylines together at a good pace. New truths are revealed at a rate that keeps the reader intrigued and anxious to learn the truth. The author’s previous journalism career gives great insight to the role the press plays when reporting and solving crime. Also explored the line between helpful press coverage and unhelpful sensationalist news that is written to a deadline and the consequences. The characters in this book are well written and complex. Delightfully human characters that have compelling backstories. Hammer also confronts some of the realities of a rural life such as a struggling economy, lack of employment, bushfires and domestic violence. This book is one the most engaging books I’ve had the fortune of reading in recent times. Excellent page turner that kept myself reading late into the night!



Cataloguing Under Covid 3

Cataloguing Under Covid 3

It’s the end of the working week for me, so I thought I’d do another update on how the PMI’s collection is being grown. That way you can all have a further idea of what will be waiting for you when we open again.

I began today by pulling together the Recent Additions for April, which is a full list of all the new material that has been added to the collection during April. This has been sent off to be designed by another PMI staff member, and you can expect to see it in you mailboxes in the coming weeks.

For the rest of the day I’ve been cataloguing and indexing. The indexing was largely back issues of the Friends of St Kilda Cemetery newsletters, so I thought I’d focus on profiling some of the books that I’ve been working on.

It was a really mixed collection today, with everything from church histories,  to art books, to indigenous histories, to urban planning.

I thought I’d talk about examples of three of these. I have intentionally left the indigenous books out of the discussion because they are old books that are indicative of the times in which they are written, and as such hold views about indigenous people that  are extremely culturally insensitive. We keep this type of material because sometimes, sadly, it is the only source of information, but also because to leave it out of the collection would be to hide the views expressed within and thus sanitise history.

As it says on our website:

Please be aware that items in our collection may contain words, descriptions, names, sounds, images, videos and audio recordings which may be culturally sensitive and which might not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. Terms and annotations which reflect the author’s attitude or that of the period in which the item was written may not be considered appropriate today.

But this doesn’t mean that I feel comfortable taking photos of them and putting them up on this blog. If you wish to view the material they will be available in the library.

The other three categories are interesting to examine though. I wanted to start with the report.


This one is a masterplan for Prahran and is one of many such documents that PMI holds. This particular work was created in 2014 and sets out what the Victorian Government hoped the future of Prahran would be. These sorts of works are invaluable additions to the collection because they not only show what was in the locality when the report was written, they also give a clear idea of the planned direction- even if it never came to fruition.


Now we have the church history. This work is an excellent example of the literally hundreds of the church histories that the PMI holds. We are working on a couple of projects to try to collect histories of other religious buildings, but it is a slow process as often they simply haven’t been written. This one is of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Surrey Hills and it’s typical of such church histories. It outlines how the church was founded and the main players involved over the years. These histories can be fantastic for family history, because if your ancestor was involved in a community then there’s a pretty good chance they would have been involved in a church.

Finally the art book:


We collect art books because we see art as an integral part of the history of Victoria and Australia and believe it should be a part of all historical research. If you want to know more about our art resources and why we collect them, Collection Corner in June’s newsletter last year covers it in much greater depth.

This particular book is about Mambo, which I’m sure many of you will be familiar with. Mambo is very much part of Australian and Victorian culture and we’ve kept this book to reflect that. As you can see it already has some library stamps on it. This one was a donation from Parade College Library. We quite often are lucky enough to receive donations from other libraries, who don’t have the space or who weed on circulation. We are proud that we are able to preserve these works and make them accessible.

Well, that’s just a brief rundown of the some of the material I’ve been working on today. I’ve got a little bit of cataloguing left for next week and some tracking down of books from the National Library. Then it will be back up to the PMI to collect more material.

Hope you found today’s cataloguing under COVID interesting.



Collecting Under Covid

Collecting Under Covid


The National Library of Australia puts out a list of all the recent publications that have been added to their collection. We go through this list each month and determine which resources fit with the PMI Collection Policy.

That is the simple part of the process, the slightly more complicated part is finding a source to acquire the resources from. The PMI is not a legal deposit library, the way the NLA is, so we are not automatically sent all published resources. We have to track them down and that’s what I’ve been working on this afternoon.

Sometimes, it is incredibly straight forward. If the book is a mainstream publication such as Freedom Lost: A history of newspapers, journalism and press censorship in Australia by Robert Pullman, which was on my list, then it is uncomplicated. In this case we either source it from our local bookstore or from Bookworld, the online remains of Angus and Robertson, who have a really good range of Australian titles.

Others aren’t so easy, and can require some detective work. My favourite example of this is actually from a year or so ago. I found a family history called Before the Trumpet Sounds by John Oldmeadow by tracking him through an inquest on Google to the business he had owned in Hobart and finding that he was in his 90s, still owned the business and was delighted to be able to sell us his family history.

None of today’s books were that curly with such a satisfactory answer, but there were a couple of tricky ones. I spent twenty minutes trying to find somewhere to buy a 19 page history of Francis Knox Orme, who was a police magistrate in the late 1800s. Unusually for a book that was listed on Libraries Australia, it wasn’t on Trove and I only had the title and the author. It took a lot of digging, but I managed to find that it was published in Castlemaine- so once we are buying books again I will be contacting the Castlemaine Historical Society to see if they know where I might be able to obtain a copy from.

Another interesting one, is more a case of technology and contact. The Bunbartha Tennis club has a book on its 100 year history. Their only point of contact is their Facebook page and it doesn’t have a seperate email address, only the postal address. From experience, sending them a message on messenger will probably not be very effective so I will most likely end up writing to them. Yes we still send out hardcopy letters enquiring after books.

Another excellent source of book contact information is local newspapers. Today I found that a family history called 1838 Settlers: A history of the family of James McLaurin and his descendants was written up in the Deniliquin Pastoral Times. Sometimes I have to contact the paper directly to see if they have contact information in regards to the author of the book. Fortunately this time, there was a contact for purchasing listed at the end of the article.

So even with Covid meaning we can’t buy books at the moment, we can still track them down and make lists on where we can obtain them from. Going through the NLA list is always one of my favourite jobs, because it is a bit like being a detective and you jump through a fantastic array of books. Today I’ve gone through everything from Mornington Cemetery to an in-depth look at Australian radio history (this one I found in a free Ebook so we’ll be able to add it to the collection a little sooner). You never know what you are going to come across next.



Cataloguing under Covid 2

Cataloguing under Covid 2

On this cold and wet day, I thought I’d provide some further reflections on the books going into the collection, that will be waiting for you when the PMI reopens.

I have collected another box of books to work my way through from home so I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue to provide a few snippets as I go along

I’ve been helping finish off a grant application today, so the cataloguing pile is by necessity a little smaller, but there are still some very interesting books worthy of discussion, though I’m just going to highlight one today.

It’s another botanical book, this time by Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller. Von Mueller was the Government Botanist and the first Director of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens. He was a fascinating figure and you can find more about him here

This particular book is Introduction to Botanic Teachings at the Schools of Victoria


It dates to 1877 and aims to introduce the story of plants into elementary schools. It has some lovely illustrations, like the one of the Eucalyptus Melliodora below.


The book introduces a variety of plants. What is really interesting about it, is that the government botanist is making sure that native Australian plants – not just European plants were being taught in schools as early as 1877. Von Mueller states his aim (not for this particular book but overall) as ‘any child of average mental capacity, even without the aid of a teacher, to name and classify a large number of local indigenous plants’.

It’s just a lovely little window into the beginnings of the education system, and identifying with our native plants.

This is a shorter post than usual, but I still thought an introduction to one of the newly added books would be nice


Indexing and grant writing under COVID

Indexing and grant writing under COVID


Another instalment- today has been a day of indexing a whole variety of stories from our periodical collection. Today in indexing I’ve travelled through: Bendigo, Brighton, Brunswick, Bungaree, Carlton, Coburg, Footscray, St Kilda, Kinglake, Knox, Lilydale, Malvern, Mildura, Sorrento, Diamond Creek, Orbost, Plenty, Port Melbourne, Warragul, Warrandyte, Warrnambool, Williamstown, Smythesdale and Wonthaggi. As well as learning more new things about Adam Lindsay Gordon.

Some of these were older journals, so from before Covid forced the closure of any of the historical societies that had a museum, or rooms, or public access. It was nice to see the gatherings being planned and the outings being discussed, it gives us hope for a future where physical rather than virtual historical exploration is back on the cards.

I wanted to talk briefly about one journal in particular, while most of the journals today were about a place or a district one stood out, and always stands out whenever it comes across my desk. The Wayfarer: the official newsletter of the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Committee. I love that there is a committee that is dedicated to continuing to tell the story of Adam Lindsay Gordon who in his 37 years did make his mark on Australian poetry, but has also been dead since 1870. But each newsletter they find something new to write about, another story to tell- in this case the Dingley Dell Cottage memorial gates (Dingley Dell was Lindsay Gordon’s home) and a discussion about the Green Room Club where the Adam Lindsay Gordon public organisation began. I appreciate their dedication to a poet who most people will know very little about- as well as poetry his other claim to fame was as a horseman including a very dangerous jump in Mount Gambier (which there is a monument to)

You may recognise Lindsay Gordon from his statue near Parliament in Melbourne (you can see it in the photo above)

The other task I’ve been undertaking today is drafting a grant application for a significance assessment. This has been quite odd to do from home, as I am not surrounded by the collections whose virtues I am extolling. It has been worthwhile though as we believe the PMI’s collection is of national significance and hopefully (if we’re successful with the grant) it will be assessed as being so. It is the only for loan collection of its type anywhere in Australia and seeks to ensure that all the voices of multifaceted Victorian history are accessible, discoverable and preserved. The PMI is about protecting the small pieces of history that get lost in the broader narrative, and we hope that its significance can be recognised.