Ms Anne-Marie Schwirtlich shares her Canberra.
Dusk view of the National Library of Australia looking south from across the lake near Regatta Point.

What item in your permanent collection sums up Australia?

With more than 10 million items in the collection how do I choose? The items that surged into my mind include:

  • The papers of Edward Koiki Mabo
  • Anne Zahalka’s photograph Cronulla, jewel of the Shire
  • Governor Arthur’s 1828 Proclamation to the Aborigines 
  • Hazel de Berg’s Collection of over 1200 reels of recordings of interviews with and readings by Australian poets, artists, writers, composers, actors, academics, publishers, scientists, anthropologists, public servants and politicians.

What item do you have an emotional connection with and why?

John Ian Wing, an apprentice carpenter in Melbourne, wrote to Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes who was the Chairman of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Organising Committee to suggest that at the closing ceremony the athletes should not march behind their national flags but rather ‘walk freely and wave to the public’. His letter said ‘during the Games there will only be one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation’. The Organising Committee adopted John Wing’s suggestion and I love the fact that the suggestion of one idealistic person created a new tradition for one of the most watched ceremonies in the world.

Canberra is ...

... the best place for sustained conversations. Because of the mix of academics, business people, diplomats, members of the media, policy makers and others in a relatively small population, conversations are provoking, lively and invariably informative.

Share one of Canberra’s hidden secrets.

At the base of Capital Hill, off State Circle, one small building of the Federal Capital Survey Camp dating to 1909 survives. This hut was used by Charles Robert Scrivener and the surveying team on its expedition to survey the site of the proposed capital. The hut was used to secure and store those first survey documents. The tiny hut is one of the earliest Commonwealth buildings in Canberra and a graphic reminder of Canberra’s growth.

What surprises people about the library?

That a little bit of the Acropolis lies at the foot of one of the columns in the Library’s foyer. There, embedded in the floor of marble from Wombeyan, is a piece of pentelic marble from the Library of Pantainos. Pantainos was a Greek philosopher who, with his son and daughter in 100 AD, presented his fellow Athenians with a library built on the Panathenaic Way leading to the Acropolis. In the 1960s, as the National Library building was taking shape, the Greek Government presented Australia with one of the stones from the floor of the Pantainos Library for Australia’s National Library making clear the links between our collections and the traditions of scholarship and knowledge making of centuries ago.