David Ellis (ed.): Into the Light

Radiant light

John Thompson


Into the Light: 150 Years of Cultural Treasures at the University of Sydney
edited by David Ellis
Miegunyah Press, $89.99 pb, 193 pp, 9780522858129


With the centrepiece of its glorious Edmund Blacket building and its noble quadrangle, the University of Sydney is Australia’s oldest and grandest institution of higher learning – an adornment both to its city and to the nation since its foundation in 1852. Less well known, even in Sydney, is that the university is home to a remarkable accumulation of cultural and scientific treasures – some seven hundred thousand artefacts and objects – held within its museums and collections: the Nicholson and Macleay Museums, the University Art Gallery, the rare books collection of the Fisher Library and university archives, and numerous faculty-based research collections. Last year marked the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the first of these collections, the Nicholson Museum, named after its first benefactor, Sir Charles Nicholson, founding father of the university, its first provost, and later its chancellor. His gift in 1860 of a collection of one thousand or more antiquities from Egypt, Greece, and Italy was intended to provide a foundation for academic learning. More than that, as David Malouf observes, there was the ambition that Australia, for all its strangeness and distance (‘[this] odd corner of the world’), would find new ways to honour the classical culture from which it too had sprung.

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Published in March 2011 no. 329
John Thompson

John Thompson

John Thompson is a historian and writer now living in Sydney after a long career at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He holds a doctorate in history from the Australian National University and has written for various journals. He is a frequent reviewer for Australian Book Review. The author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History (2006), he co-edited (with Brenda Niall) The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998). His anthology Documents that Shaped Australia was published in 2010.

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