A guided tour of the State Library of New South Wales was the latest in our occasional Glebe Society series of getting to know Glebe’s neighbouring landmarks.

Maybe you think of it as The Mitchell Library – and certainly, the imposing pillared building facing the Botanic Gardens houses the important Mitchell Wing of the State Library. But that is only part of the story …

Small statue of ‘Trim’, Matthew Flinders’ cat, which perches on a library ledge, not far from the statue of her master. (Photo: Erica Robinson)
Small statue of ‘Trim’, Matthew Flinders’ cat, which perches on a library ledge, not far from the statue of her master. (Photo: Erica Robinson)

To find out more a group of Glebe Society members gathered at 10.15am on Thurs 21 Jul in the modern Macquarie St Wing of the Library to meet volunteer guide Zoe Middleton. What followed was an information-packed discovery tour of this incredible repository of books, art, artefacts, history, collections and memorabilia.

From this spacious white, light-filled building (designed by architect Andrew Andersons AO and opened by the Queen in 1988) we exited the library to hear about some of the statues that grace the exterior of the original stone building – it seems the most popular is ‘Trim’, Matthew Flinders’ cat, perched on a window sill not far from his master!

Passing between the giant stone pillars at the front of the older section we entered what is now called The Mitchell Wing – built in several stages between the 1880s and 1964, by which time it had again outgrown its accommodation and the modern Macquarie St extension was planned.

From the pillars to the paneled front doors, the marble mosaic reproduction of the 1644 Tasman Map in the foyer floor and the panelled Shakespeare room, the older building is a celebration of the history of knowledge, a striking contrast to the forward looking technology of the new section. Cleverly, they coalesce to remind us how inseparable both aspects of learning are.

After our detailed tour and an impressive collection of knowledgeable and often humorous tales Zoe led us to the current exhibition of diaries and letters from World War I (Life Interrupted). Pointing out some of the more historically noteworthy, she left us to read the thoughts of those who took part in that war to end all wars – so many of whom did not make it back home.

Many Glebe Society members will have used the Library’s extraordinary resources – perhaps to trace family history or to research a particular interest. If you haven’t, click on http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/, and be amazed by what is available. But here a word of caution: it might be some time before you re-surface! The website is a mother lode of fascinating information.