National Library of Australia

Late in 2005, after months of delicate negotiations, the National Library of Australia announced a remarkable coup: the purchase of a previously unknown collection of fifty-six watercolours of botanical and ornithological subjects drawn and painted in Sydney in the years 1788–90, the cradle period of European settlement in Port Jackson. The significance of these paintings, unsigned and undated, had for many years gone unrecognised. The watercolours, apparently acquired as early as 1792, had been held in England over several generations by the Moreton family, the Earls of Ducie. Over several generations, their significance had apparently been overlooked or simply not understood; in time, the portfolio, though safely held, had been forgotten. It came to light in 2004 during a routine valuation of the estate of Basil Moreton, sixth Earl of Ducie. The eventual sale was negotiated with representatives of the present and seventh Earl, David Moreton, who was committed to honouring his family’s long connection with Australia on properties in Queensland. But before that, it was necessary to identify the works more definitively beyond their (then) presumed Australian subject matter.

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To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s description of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Percy Grainger is a minstrel wrapped in a harlequin inside a jack-in-the-box. His personality, obsessions, and general eccentricities still cause one to gasp and stretch one’s eyes even almost half a century after his own hypnotic eyes closed forever. His music, too, remains quicksilver; indefinable in its eclecticism, yet the work of a sprite who was also a genius who, magpie-like, collected music from wildly different sources to stuff into the capacious if overcrowded nest that was his mind.

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Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature

Margaret Robson Kett
Tuesday, 03 December 2019

Like a party where you hope to see famous faces, this exhibition offers the familiar – the Green Sheep, the wombats, the Magic Pudding – but also the chance to meet half-remembered friends and to make new ones. Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature, the result of three years’ work by curator Grace Blakeley-Carroll, features works from NLA’s collection and beyond. In the exhibition’s companion book, Story Time Stars, Blakeley-Carroll writes that, ‘regardless of whether we have children in our lives, we were all once young and many of us hold dear the stories of our childhood’.

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What does it mean to really know an ecosystem? To name all the plants and animals in a place and understand their interactions? To feel an embodied connection to Country? To see and hear in ways that confirm and extend that knowledge?

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