29 September 2016

Remembering Canberra's father of television - George Barlin

How does one earn the title of "Father of Television"or "Mr Broadcast"?

Try being at the the cusp of development and change in broadcasting and add an enormous amount of devotion and hard work. That's what George Barlin did. With his passing this week, it is only fitting that we reflect on the achievements of a man who by chance became a radio broadcaster in Canberra.

2CA Transmitting Station, Radio Hill, July 1934
2CA Transmitting Station, Radio Hill, July 1934
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers
George Barlin was the eldest of seven children, so when he finished high school, his father told him that he had one farm and many children, so George should use what he had learnt and find a job. George received rejections from the public service and the bank, before he was hired to work in Canberra as a cadet broadcaster with Albert John (AJ) 'Jack' Ryan at Canberra's first radio station, 2CA. George wasn't hired because he was the best, in fact it was by accident that he was interviewed in the first place. When AJ shortlisted for the job he chose applicants who were in the vicinity of Sydney, so the transfer to Canberra wouldn't be difficult. It wasn't until George's interview that  AJ was surprised to learn that George was from Lansdowne near Taree (some 200 miles further away). AJ assumed that George was from Lansdowne Bridge near Liverpool, Sydney.  Nevertheless AJ saw something in him and even though he didn't see him as the best candidate, George had travelled the farthest and AJ offered him the job. Even though the pay was low and the hours were long, George accepted the offer.
One of 2CA's masts, Radio Hill, July 1934
One of 2CA's masts, Radio Hill, July 1934
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers
George was 2CA's first formal employee at the ripe age of sixteen. The station had gone on air only 15 months before George took up his position located at the back of AJ's music, electrical and radio shop in Giles Street, Kingston. George had two days to learn how to use all the broadcasting equipment from AJ (who incidentally had built them all himself), before he would be left alone to do his first broadcast while AJ went to Rotary. George rose to the challenge.

It wasn't long before AJ leased land on what came to be known as 'Radio Hill' in Fyshwick. Aside from interviewing VIPs in Kingston on the landline, most transmissions took place from Radio Hill.

In 1935 and 1936, using De Havilland 86s, Holymans Airways commenced flights between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra. With 2CA being the only radio station in Canberra, the airline approached AJ for assistance in maintaining radio communication with planes when they lost communication with Sydney or Melbourne. 2CA radio facilities were used to contact the planes to assist them in getting to Canberra on their twice daily flights. George would provide the pilots with information such as wind speed and direction (using his best guesses), the weather and cloud cover details, guaged using Mount Ainslie. Ainslie was 1,000 feet above the terrain so they would measure from that. The system worked when the weather was fine, but not so well when fog or low cloud occurred. The listeners, who could hear what 2CA staff were saying but not hear the pilot, helped land the plane when the weather was not favourable:
When the planes were close we would go out of the radio shed and if we could hear the aircraft would guide it in. It would always fly over the top of the shed and then land. If they couldn't hear it we would get back on the radio and tell the pilot. Then inevitably the phone would ring and someone in the district would report hearing it overhead and we would report to the pilot and would guide it in from that. (Barlin, The Canberra Times, 1981, p.11)
After 18 months, the Department of Civil Aviation provided the appropriate government radio facilities and 2CA ceased its unique service.
A De Havilland Dragon Rapide of Holymans Airways on the ground in Canberra, 1935. Iris Taylor (George's fiance at the time) is second from the left.
A De Havilland Dragon Rapide of Holymans Airways on the ground in Canberra, 1935. Iris Taylor (George's fiance at the time) is second from the left.
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers
George met Iris Taylor, a Capitol Theatre usherette, in 1938. He would meet up with Iris after his 10.30pm shift each night, except on his day off (once a fortnight) when they would go to the local cafe right across from Iris' parents house. That same year the pair got married and 2CA moved to Civic next to the Civic Theatre.

AJ sold to the Macquarie Network after the move, finding juggling the radio and his shop all a bit too much. The transmitter also got moved to Belconnen and staff increased from just George to twenty-eight. The station started to lose money.
First on right George Barlin with a colleague at 2CA in Civic
First on right George Barlin with a colleague at 2CA in Civic
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection, HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers
By 1941 George was manager and changes to services were made to bring in profit again. He worked through the war years when staff were reduced to seven. George was also responsible for national broadcasts of successive prime ministers and would be seen weekly taking equipment to Parliament House or The Lodge.

In the1950s George's interests in broadcasting took a new turn. Television had made it to Sydney and Melbourne so George wanted to extend the reach to Canberra. Despite being advised against it George persisted and together with Arthur Shakespeare of The Canberra Times, obtained a license to introduce television to Canberra. With George as General Manager, CTC-TV went to air on 2 June 1962, and later became Capital.

George officially retired in July 1978, but this did no stop him from remaining within the media environment as a board member. At one stage he was a Director of Macquarie Broadcasting, The Canberra Times and CTC all at the same time. He was involved with these businesses in some capacity until the age of 72. George then diverted his energy to becoming a member of the Commonwealth Drug Education Committee, Chairman of  the ACT Building Review Committee and member of the Council of the Canberra School of Art.

George and Iris had four sons - Brian, Warren, Keith and Robert. Together, in the late 1970s, they participated in a farming enterprise at their Brindabella property for a period before the sons pursued other interests and George had a nasty accident which caused him to break his pelvis.

George and Iris celebrated 78 years of marriage in 2016, only ending with Iris passing away three months before George. It is not often that a person gets to live to one hundred, let alone celebrate theirs and their life partners 100th birthday and be deemed the oldest couple in Canberra. Iris and George did.

George and Iris lived through much growth and change in Canberra, but what George did was not only see it, he influenced it, even when he had doubts. He fondly refers to AJ Ryan in his book  A Quirk of Fate as his mentor, stating that when he wasn't sure of things he would ask himself what would AJ Ryan do? and the response was "when in doubt give it a go".

George indeed gave it a go and we all are now benefiting from his determination and hard work. Thank you George for you incredible commitment to the broadcasting world in Canberra.
Front cover of Barlin's Book A Quirk of Fate, 2002
Front cover of Barlin's Book A Quirk of Fate, 2002
You can learn more about Gearge Barlin's career through the ACT Heritage Library's collection where you can explore the HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers or browse through George's Book.

Bibliography

1981 'Unique service', The Canberra Times , 13 November, p. 11.

Barlin, George 2002, A quirk of fate, G Barlin, Canberra

2016 'Canberra's oldest couple George and Iris Barlin celebrate 100th birthdays with party' ABC News, 15 February 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-13/canberra-couple-george-and-iris-barlin-celebrate-100th-birthdays/7166080

2016 'Canberra broadcasting pioneer George Barlin dies', The Canberra Times, 26 September 2016, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-broadcasting-pioneer-george-barlin-dies-20160926-gronm6.html

Emerton, Val; Canberra Stories Group 1996, Past images present voices : Kingston and thereabouts through a box brownie, Canberra Stories Group, Murrumbateman, N.S.W.

HMSS 0367 Radio Station 2CA papers

Ryan, Jack; 2CA (Radio station : Canberra, A.C.T.) 1984, Jack Ryan remembers the early days of 2CA., 2CA, Canberra





09 September 2016

In Good Company

Hilda Blanche ‘Betty’ Jackson spent an extraordinary life in service to some of the most significant political figures in Australia.

Born in Melbourne in 1906, she studied at Zercho's Business College before starting work as a typist in the Melbourne Office of the Governor-General in 1926.

Hilda, 1965
Betty Jackson, 1965
Image source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers
A year later, the Office relocated to Canberra, with the Governor-General and his family taking up residence at Yarralumla. Betty came too, and after living for the first few years at Yarralumla, she settled at Hotel Kurrajong. She worked for the Office for forty years (during which time there was a whole host of Governor-Generals), finally retiring at aged sixty as Chief Clerk.

The rapport developed and high regard in which she was held by her employers can be seen in their warm correspondences to her. Lady Gowrie, with whom Betty exchanged Christmas cards, once gave her a self portrait on which was written ‘To Jacko with very best wishes, Zara Gowrie’.

Portrait of Lady Zara Gowrie sent to Hilda
Portrait of Lady Zara Gowrie sent to Betty
Image source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers
In the Office she became familiar with the halls of power and befriended many of the Canberra elite. She was a regular bridge partner of Prime Minister John Curtin and can be seen front and centre in the crowd at his state funeral at (Old) Parliament House. At times feeling lonely and unhappy, she frequently worked long hours without overtime pay, and the days after the abdication of Edward VIII were particularly stressful. Her services to the office required her to exercise a high level of discretion and perform tasks that could not be discussed outside of work, including carrying and decoding secret messages between Yarralumla, Parliament House and London.

John Curtin's funeral. Betty and her mother are in the front row behind the rope
Image source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers
One highlight of her time came in 1954 with the royal visit by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Having been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in 1950 for her services to the Office of the Governor-General, Betty was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) by the Queen, the first woman to be granted that honour. On the last night of the Royal Visit a State Ball was held in King’s Hall at (Old) Parliament House which the Queen and Prince Phillip attended. Betty was one of the one thousand guests who went to the ball, but her dance card (which she kept for the rest of her life) was left intriguingly blank. It is not our job to speculate, but there are several explanations that come to mind; perhaps because she did not want to mark a souvenir, or she was too busy networking or maybe she simply had no interest in dancing that night at all. If the latter, she was in good company, as the Queen spent the night greeting people and chatting to Robert Menzies.

Hilda's Dance Card - closed
Betty's Dance Card - closed
Hilda's Dance Card - opened
Betty's Dance Card - opened
As well as being privy to classified information and powerful people, Betty’s long life in the public service is remarkable in itself. Never marrying, she retired in 1966, the same year the government finally allowed married women to be permanently employed in the Public Service. She was also the founding president of the Canberra branch of Business and Professional Women’s Club and was once quoted as saying:
‘Male prejudice against women in high places could be because of Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world, which results in men being rather old-fashioned and not prepared to give women many opportunities. But women don’t do much to help their own sex. A woman who is comfortably married doesn’t have to put up a fight for herself and can’t see the necessity of fighting for others.’ (The Canberra Times, 1966, p.13)
Betty’s collection of mementos, correspondence and photographs provide an intimate glimpse into Canberra’s political life, as well as that of a long-serving, groundbreaking, highly trusted clerk. In her memoirs, Betty's personality shines. She showcases her humour, strength of character and interactions with her employers.

Both the HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers and Memoirs of Hilda Jackson : forty years with Vice-Royalty, 1926-1966 can be viewed at the ACT Heritage Library.

Betty’s dance card is currently on display in the ACT Heritage Library Reading Room.   

Bibliography

1950 'Birthday Honours: Sir Thomas Blamey to be Field Marshal', The Canberra Times, 8 June, p. 1. 

1954 'State Ball was Brilliant Royal Farewell' The Canberra Times, 18 February, p. 2.

1966 'Plans to Write Her Memoirs', The Canberra Times, 20 September, p. 13. 

Jackson, Hilda 1986, Memoirs of Hilda Jackson : forty years with Vice-Royalty, 1926-1966. H Jackson, Canberra, ACT

1988 'Obituary: Miss H. B. Jackson', The Canberra Times, 2 March, p. 16.

Coulthard-Clark C. D. (ed.), 1988, Gables, Ghosts and Governors-General: The Historic House at Yarralumla, Allen and Unwin, Sydney


ACT Heritage Library. 2013. HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers.


02 September 2016

Single Woman Seeks Adventure

In a time when women rarely travelled by themselves one Canberra librarian defied convention and had many remarkable adventures. Her name was Eva Jean Starling, but she went by Jean.

Travel documents from Jean's trip in 1959
Travel documents from Jean's trip in 1959
Jean came to Canberra with her parents as a teenager in 1928 and lived in Blandfordia (Forrest), an area built for the wealthier public servants. She was the first librarian at the Canberra Community Library in Acton, which started out as a bookcase on a veranda and grew to a well loved community institution.

It wasn’t long however, before Jean set off on her first adventure to Britain, where she completed a librarianship course. When WWII broke out she enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and worked as a specialist photographic interpreter within Intelligence. She was in London during the horror of the Blitz and her work station was even bombed out. After the war she came home to Canberra and worked at the National Library of Australia, back ‘when it had a minuscule staff of three’. 
Studio portrait of Flying Officer Jean Starling
Studio portrait of Flying Officer Jean Starling
Image Source: Australian War Memorial Photograph Collection, Image P03985.001
WWII affected all areas of life and society, including the role of women, and once it was over a serious renegotiation of gender roles took place. While there was a boom in post-war leisure travel options, many women frequently felt uncomfortable travelling alone and were constrained by social expectations about what was appropriate for women to do, particularly within their roles as wife and mother. 
Sample of one of Jean's airline tickets, 8 October 1959
Sample of one of Jean's airline tickets, 8 October 1959
But Jean, who never married, went on many holidays alone, despite what people might have thought. During her lifetime she traveled to Norway, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Britain, the United States, New Zealand and the Pacific. She collected a large amount of memorabilia from her many adventures, including airline tickets, maps, postcards, brochures, exhibition catalogues, play programs and other travel ephemera. When examined carefully, you can find her distinctive handwritten observations about the places she visited penciled onto the fragile paper, a testament both to her daring and her love of travel.

Just some of the brochures collected by Jean in her travels
Just some of the brochures collected by Jean in her travels
She took her first strictly for pleasure trip in 1947, travelling from Canberra by way of bus, train and ferry all the way to Darwin via Adelaide, and recorded it all in her journal in short, wry sentences. She left Canberra on one of those winter days when there was ‘brilliant sunshine – still air – frost patterns in the shadows still reaching westwards [and] snow-capped blue mountains.’ Her other observations are candid and often amusing.

Jean's journal of  her recreational trip in 1947
Jean's travel journal of  her recreational trip in 1947
She writes that her experience of the famous ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ memorial at Gundagai was rather spoilt by the poor choice of wine available.  Out past Albury along the Murray River she writes that there was ‘practically no one about anywhere – a quiet dull country but pastorally efficient like a quiet housewife.’ She keeps up a steady commentary of observations about her fellow passengers and a meticulous record of the costing of each night’s stay, as well as the time it took to travel between destinations. For example, a night in Hotel Wintersun near Mildura cost fourteen shillings and sixpence a day. At the end of her journey she writes with delight about watching a flying boat take off from Darwin harbor, buying paw-paw and collecting shells.

A sampling of text from one of Jean's travel journal in 1947
Pages from one of Jean's travel journal in 1947
Like many librarians (we might be biased), Jean was a remarkable and somewhat radical person. Despite social expectations she had a varied and interesting life. Her love of travel and eye for observational detail can be seen in one of her journals, currently on display in our Reading Room. 
Her full papers are available for reference at HMSS 0061 Jean Starling Papers.

Bibliography
1995 'Housing a lifetime of Canberra's history', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 18 April, p. 4. , viewed 17 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130544329 

Australian War Memorial, 2010?, Flying Officer Jean Starling. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/salute/community/starling / . [Accessed 25 August 2016].

Wilson, E & Little, DE 2005, “A ‘relative escape’? The impact of constraints on women who travel solo”, Tourism Review International, no. 9, pp. 155-175, viewed 18 August 2016, URL: http://epubs.scu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1050&context=tourism_pubs 


26 August 2016

Canberrans on the Home Front

During the London Blitz in World War II, when bombing raids caused the loss of over one million homes and forty thousand lives, a local woman was asked how the civilians of the country were coping. She replied simply, ‘There are no civilians.’

Parliament House staff doing an inspection  of air raid tranches 27 March 1942
Parliament House staff doing an inspection  of air raid tranches 27 March 1942
Image source: Fitzgerald, 1977, p 118
While these days war might feel quiet separate from civilian life, the Second World War affected all of Australian society, Canberra included. The passing of the National Security Act in 1939 allowed the government to make laws over an unprecedented amount of day-to-day life. Blackouts were imposed, car headlights were dimmed and air raid trenches were dug around buildings like Parliament House, the Causeway, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings and Telopea Park School. The threat and fear of invasion was very real.

Leslie Lott, who came to Canberra to build Parliament House, spent the war working as a Special Commonwealth Peace Officer, providing dedicated security at critical government locations.

Leslie Lott's Peace Officer Card
Leslie Lott's Peace Officer Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection


Possibly the biggest effect on day-to-day life was heralded by the advent of identity cards, which required every citizen over sixteen to be nationally registered. First printed in March 1942, identity cards had to be carried at all times, and bore the name, signature and address of the individual. This particular identity card belonged to Olive Lott, who lived in Forrest with her husband Leslie.

Olive Lott's Identity Card
Olive Lott's Identity Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection
There were heavy penalties for losing, destroying or forging an identity card. The Minister for Labour and National Service, Eddie Ward, once said that he ‘could see no difference between sabotage of the county’s war effort and the sabotage of the register by illegal use of identity cards.’  While this piece of plain brown card is remarkably unassuming, it soon became one of the most vital things a person could have.

The reverse side of Olive Lott's Identity Card
The reverse side of Olive Lott's Identity Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection

Just three months after the introduction of the identity card, rationing was introduced across the country. Due to the war, production focused on guns and aeroplanes, rather than food or clothing, and rationing was a way to ensure that limited necessities could be shared around evenly. Identity cards were the key to obtaining the ration books needed to keep yourself and your family clothed, warm and fed. About Between twelve thousand and fourteen thousand ration books were issued across the ACT, from places like Ainslie Public School, Friendly Society Hall in Kingston, Westridge Hall and other centres. The cost of the war was felt by everyone.

Canberrans celebrating the end of World War 11  before the official cessation 10 August 1945
Canberrans celebrating the end of World War 11  before the official cessation 10 August 1945
Image source: Fitzgerald, 1977, p 
120
The war did eventually end, and rationing was abolished by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in November 1945. Olive and Leslie survived the war, having both contributed in their own way to the war effort. Leslie was especially commended for managing to find the nearly unavailable chemicals needed to keep Manuka Pool open, despite wartime conditions.

The full papers of the Lott family are available for reference at HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection. Olive’s identity card is currently on display in our Reading Room.

Sources:
Fitzgerald A., 1977, ‘Historic Canberra; A Pictorial Record,’ Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, pp 118-120

1942 'RATION CARDS FORGED', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 19 May, p. 2. , viewed 11 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2572168

19 August 2016

Wrapping Up Canberra

With the forecast of a cold snap heading our way, many of us will want to be indoors, and if we’re lucky, under a nice blanket with a good book, or even doing some knitting. Canberra winters are pretty (in)famous but there are some things, like woollen blankets, that can make it a bit more bearable.

After the terrible events of the 18 January 2003, when bushfires ripped across the Canberra region, hundreds of people were left without their homes or possessions. Many people from across Australia were shocked by what had happened and were keen to do something practical to help. As the weather became colder, a group of friends came together to form the group Wrap Up Canberra. Harnessing the power of the community, Wrap Up Canberra aimed to knit about 500 woollen patchwork blankets to give to bushfire victims. The blankets had a practical benefit, but were also meant to be a physical symbol of community sympathy and support. As one journalist phrased it the knitters were ‘patching up Canberra with woolly hugs.’

Handmade label on a Wrap Up Canberra blanket. Each blanket was disturbed with a similar label.
Handmade label on a Wrap Up Canberra blanket. Each blanket was distributed with a similar label.
Instructions were developed and sent out and knitters everywhere united to create patchwork blankets. The instructions were simple: "using woollen 8 ply yarn, knit or crochet 18 cm squares". 

Around 60 or so squares were then sewed together to form a blanket 160 x 125 cm in size, just right for a throw blanket on the couch. The first rugs were finished on 18th July, exactly six months after the bushfires.

Knitted squares on a Wrap Up Canberra blanket
Knitted squares on a Wrap Up Canberra blanket
In the end, over 2,500 knitters from around the globe, some as far away as Canada and Switzerland, created approximately 45,000 squares, enough for more than 800 blankets, far surpassing the original goal. Some blankets were even displayed at Parliament House for a short while, before being distributed by the ACT Bushfire Recovery Centre.

The ACT Heritage Library has an example of a Wrap Up Canberra blanket, knitted in cheery colours, currently on exhibition in our Reading Room. For the full story of this remarkable example of community spirit and generosity, including letters from recipients and photographs, see HMSS 0238 Wrap Up Canberra Records in our manuscript collection.   

A Wrap Up Canberra blanket
A Wrap Up Canberra blanket

12 August 2016

Used postcards - clues to the past, people and places

Postcard of Old Parliament House
Postcard of Old Parliament House
When is a fairly common postcard of Old Parliament House really a portal into migration history, family alliances, daring tales of wartime escapes, Prime Ministers, political ambition and pioneering social justice campaigns?  When the staff at the ACT Heritage Library get their deerstalkers on and start following leads.

The ACT Heritage Library is fortunate to receive many donations that help illustrate the rich history of the Canberra region. Sometimes donated material requires a little extra digging before it reveals its true worth. One recent example is a postcard of Old Parliament House which came to us in an envelope with few details beyond what was on the card itself. As it is important to place items in their context, we put on our deerstalkers and began the hunt.

We focused first on the image itself; looking for clues about the photographer and the time period the photograph was taken. Cross-referencing it with an item in our collection established that the image was taken by R.C. Strangman, a well known Canberra photographer whose work was frequently sold as postcards. Given that the statue of King George V was in front of  Old Parliament House (it was later moved to the side), suggested that the photograph was perhaps taken sometime in the 1950s. While we now had an artist and an approximate date, we did not stop there. The postcard had more to tell us.

Most interesting, was the message that had been written on the reverse of the postcard. The style of writing provided a snapshot of language at the time; there was a fond reference to ‘Comrade Ashkanasy,’ the same last name that was on the envelope's rather indistinct return address. Thankfully, the name is not a common one. We were able to locate and contact the donors, to get both further information and their formal consent to obtain ownership of the material.

Correspondence from Alec Breckler to Heather Ashkanasy
Correspondence from Alec Breckler to Heather Ashkanasy 
  Transcription of Correspondence:
Canberra,        
Thursday.
Dear Heather,
We have had a wonderful
trip to date and enjoying it very much.
Have just been right thro’ Parliament House -
it is really worth seeing. Tell Comrade
Ashkanasy we saw the Chamber today & have
reserved the most comfortable seat near the
fire & right alongside the tea buffet for him.
We are now on our way to Beauchamp House
& dinner. Hope the baby is alright. Regards
from Alec. Love from Joy &
        Han
The donors turned out to be the son and daughter-in-law of Maurice Ashkanasy, a prominant Jewish community leader and barrister from Melbourne. The postcard was sent to Maurice’s wife, Heather, from Alec Breckler, whose family owned the shoe company Betts Group (formerly Betts and Betts). Joy and Han were Alec's wife and daughter. The reference to the Ashkanasy baby towards the end of the correspondence was a stepping stone to providing a clearer date for the postcard. Our initial date of mid-1950s proved incorrect. Research showed the youngest Ashkanasy baby, Neal, was born in 1945.  So the photograph had to have been taken in 1945 or earlier.

So at this point we have successfully solved much that was mysterious about this item. All the important features and persons have been identified. While Alec joked about ‘reserving the most comfortable seat’ for Maurice in Parliament House, Maurice was unsuccessful when he ran for Labor in both the 1946 and 1958 elections, and neither he nor Alec ever lived in the Canberra region. However, their influence can certainly be seen across our city.

Maurice has a street named after him in Evatt, and a bust at the National Portrait Gallery. Alec’s family’s stores are scattered across Canberra. Ex-Governor-General and Canberra Citizen of the Year, Sir Zelman Cowen also wrote about the significance of Maurice’s life in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

The postcard is symbolic of how one small, seemingly insignificant item can provide a network of discoveries. Want to know what other connections this postcard has made including a daring escape from Singapore as it fell to the Japanese in World War 2? Browse the Ashkanasy Postcard finding aid in our Manuscripts Collection.

25 July 2016

Ninety years on, but the the ghosts still linger at Hotel Kurrajong

On the weekend just passed, Hotel Kurrajong celebrated an illustrious milestone – its 90th birthday. While now one of Canberra’s premier hotels, it has had its share of drama, politics and death.

Hotel Kurrajong under construction 1926
Hotel Kurrajong under construction 1926
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0415 Brackenberg Family Photographs
Originally designed as the second of two hostels for politicians and statesmen during Parliamentary sitting weeks, Hotel Kurrajong was opened in 1926. It was designed by Commonwealth Architect, John Smith Murdoch, who also designed Old Parliament House, and named after Kurrajong Hill, now known as Capital Hill.

From its opening, the hotel has had an impressive guest list for functions, dinners, conferences and special events. Many members of the press, as well as Commonwealth and State officials stayed there for the opening of  Old Parliament House in May 1927. It was favoured by Labor politicians (Liberal politicians tended to stay at Hostel No. 1, now the Hyatt Hotel).

One evening, after a Labor electoral victory, non-partisan guests complained about the exuberant singing of ‘The Red Flag,’ in the hotels rooms. Hotel Kurrajong was so favoured by well known party members that Caucus meetings could have been held during mealtimes.

Hotel Kurrajong in the 1930s
Hotel Kurrajong in the 1930s
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library image 003635
However, it was one particular Labor politician that gave the hotel its most notorious incident. Ben Chifley lived at Hotel Kurrajong in Room 205 for eleven years. When he became Prime Minister in 1945, he refused to live in the Lodge, despite it being the official residence, and instead continued to live in his room. He was often spotted on the porch of the Hotel, filling his pipe and smoking. He walked to and from Old Parliament House every day. 

Chifley was known for skipping his meals, so much so, that during the war, John Curtin once issued a mock National Security Regulation to 'eat one plate of soup, one helping of meat and vegetables and one dessert nightly at the Hotel Kurrajong’ (Purchase et al. p. 60).

Hotel Kurrajong Dinner Menu 1 January 1927
Hotel Kurrajong Dinner Menu 1 January 1927
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection  HMSS 0009 Hilda Jackson Papers
Chifley stayed in the Kurrajong in Room 205 until his fatal heart attack on 13 July 1951. That evening, instead of attending the Golden Jubilee Ball at the then Parliament House, he stayed behind to work in his hotel room. There have been claims his ghost can sometimes be seen in the hotel, dressed in a grey suit, pointing towards Old Parliament House.
Hotel Kurrajong, March 1951
Hotel Kurrajong, March 1951
Source: ACT Heritage Library image 009218
Hotel Kurrajong was staffed by locals from the Canberra district, and became home to a wide variety of people. Due to housing shortages, many incoming families stayed in Hotel Kurrajong before more permanent homes could be built. Some children, including Doug Anthony (future Deputy Prime Minister), were babysat by hotel staff, and recollect having snow fights in the grounds and playing hockey in the hallways. 

Brochure advertising the Kurrajong Hotel in the 1960s
Brochure advertising the Kurrajong Hotel in the 1960s
Source: ACT Heritage Library Collection
The hotel went into a period of decline in the 1970’s due to risings costs, lower patronage and inflation. It closed in 1978, but was leased by the ACT government in 1993 for refurbishment. Room 205 was restored to what it had been during Chifley’s lifetime. 

The Kurrajong is now in private hands as a functioning hotel.

For additional history of the Hotel Kurrajong, why not visit the ACT Heritage library and peruse some of the books in the collection that  include political machinations and accounts by Canberra locals. We suggest Canberra’s Early Hotels: A Pint-sized History by Shirley Purchase (ed.); The Ghost Poetry Project by Nathan Curnow; and The Memories Linger On by Alan Foskett. 

Suggested books containing information about Hotel Kurrajong
Suggested books containing information about Hotel Kurrajong

Historical photographs can be found through Images ACT 

Visit Canberra - worth commenting about

With the new Canberra and Region Visitors Centre opening at Regatta Point this week, staff at the ACT Heritage Library thought it be a great opportunity to look back on past tourist experiences in this city.

Before social media comments, online forums and digital surveys, visitors' comments books were the easiest way to record how visitors felt about their trip to Canberra.
Visitors' Comments Books
Visitors' Comments Books
The ACT Heritage Library has two comments books covering 1987 to 1991. They were originally held at the former Canberra Visitors Centre on Northboune Avenue, where visitors could stop by, get information about what to see and do and write what was on their mind. The contents offer a plethora of observations about Canberra. While many tourists had only positive things to write, some less-than-happy comments may still ring true for people today.

Sample of Comments from the Visitors' Comments Book 08/09/1987 – 30/10/1991

Comments from the Visitors' Comments Book 08/09/1987 – 30/10/1991
Samples of Comments from the Visitors' Comments Books
We will leave it up to you to decide which, if any, reflect your own experience of Canberra. If you want to know more about the comments books, you can visit our Manuscripts Collection .

21 July 2016

Farewell to Robert Foster

It is with sadness that we learn of the death of local artist Robert Foster, who died on the morning of Wednesday 13 July 2016, after a traffic collision on Kings Highway. Known for his work in contemporary design and silver-smithing, his distinctive Fink jugs were an icon found in many restaurants and galleries around Canberra, and indeed the world.


Robert Foster with his renowned Fink jug
Robert Foster with his renowned Fink jug
Born in Victoria, Foster came to Canberra in 1981 when he enrolled in the Canberra School of Art at ANU to study gold and silver-smithing. In 1988, just two years after finishing his studies, his first work was purchased by the recently opened National Gallery of Australia.

That first jug, created from aluminium and using a sleek modern shape, was typical of Foster’s work, and it became a design icon. In 1993, Foster also created the design and manufacturing company Fink and co. which has been producing usable art ever since.

'Ossolites' at ActewAGL House
'Ossolites' at ActewAGL House
Using both traditional and experimental techniques, Foster often made jugs, lamps, teapots, coffee pots, platters and vases, as well as larger sculptures, such as ‘Ossolites’ in the foyer of the ActewAGL House in Civic. Each piece he made is imbued with a distinctive personality and movement; objects ‘that might, Nutcracker-suite style, come to life as the owner sleeps.’

He frequently exhibited at locations around Canberra, included the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Museum and Galley and Craft ACT.

 Fink and co. brochure
Fink and co. brochure
He once wrote that ‘the predominate driving force whilst making is to discover an object that expresses a story, an emotion, or a sense of meaning.’ Many people who have seen his work can express their appreciation for the years he spent creating beautiful objects for everyday use.

For an in-depth examination of his work see Robert Foster: Critical Play, edited by Merryn Gates, available for reference from the ACT Heritage Library. Quotes in this blog were also taken from this publication.

27 May 2016

Discovering Canberra through comics, graphic novels, newsletters and magazines

Have you ever thought about how Canberra is represented in other modes of literature besides books? Could we piece together Canberra's rich cultural and historical activities through other literature such as comics, magazines, newsletters and graphic novels?

The answer is: Absolutely!

The ACT Heritage Library holds an eclectic range of magazines and newsletters that represent local organisations and activities from the Canberra region over time. They can be found by searching the Libraries ACT CatalogueThese types of material often provide a snapshot of thoughts and attitudes within the content, whether it be City News, Canberra Cannons magazine, The Good Companion or any other title.


The Local Author Showcase at Civic Library reflects the ACT’s vibrant, active and diverse writing and publishing scene. It contains copies of recent books, graphic novels and comics by local authors and are available for borrowing. Our most recent comics in the showcase are Issue 5 of the Battle of the Blood Moon by Holly Hunt and Cthulu Williams by Tim Stiles.

Literature stays in the Local Author Showcase for two years from date of publication.  Using the Local Author Showcase webpage, you can click on an author's name to see which books are available.

The ACT Heritage Library also holds original manuscript collections. The collection contains the records of  local individuals, businesses and organisations, including the hand painted and drawn manuscript of a graphic novel titled The Invisible Planet by Julia Hart .


Hand painted and drawn illustrations of the novel 'The Invisible Planet' by Julia Hart

Discovering and learning about Canberra can be done in so many ways - what literature will you use next?

Want to learn more about our collection? Visit the ACT Heritage Library website.