Extract from prime minister Robert Menzies’s announcement of war speech, 1939
Photo: National Library of Australia, ‘Unidentified Australian Army soldiers marching with full kits : scenes of Army life in Australia during World War II’.
As Australia dove headfirst into World War II in the heart of Europe during the first years of the 1940s, our island nation was grappling with the very real threat of an eastern invasion by the Japanese. Towns along the northern coast including Darwin were bombed, causing over 200 deaths, and the presence of Japanese midget submarines discovered in Sydney Harbour in May 1942 made the conflict so many miles away seem all the more palpable. Removed from the immediate danger of these conflicts, the boys at Trinity Grammar School’s library continued to be ‘literally’ enlightened in the Triangle:
“We wish to thank most heartily the members of the Younger Set for their generous gift of thirty pounds. Part of this sum was used to supplement the chair fund ; with the rest more books were purchased for the Reference Library. Among the books, purchased were:
“Ourselves and the Pacific”
“Eight Elizabethan Plays”
“Back to Methuselah”
“Modern English Usage”
“Smith’s Inorganic Chemistry”
Taylor’s Inorganic Chemistry”
Starling’s Electricity and Magnetism”
Duncan and Starling: “Physics”
Earle: ” Turkey “.
(The Triangle, Dec 1941)
The handling of books was often a point of contention for the librarians, as they subtly expressed in their library notes:
“Some damage has been done to books that goes beyond ordinary wear and tear – and the right-thinking majority is urged to see that library property is treated in a civilised manner.”
(The Triangle, May 1947)
And not 2 months later:
“It was disturbing to find, at the onset of this term that the casualness associated with the borrowing of books had extended to the library stock to the extent of over 30 books.”
(The Triangle, August 1947)
Once things had cooled off for a year, some suggestions were made to the young lads on their reading habits:
“I would urge the wider reading of some of the longer books. Boys tend to shy away from anything of more than two or three hundred pages but I feel certain that much pleasure could be obtained from reading, say, “The Sun is my Undoing”, “The Good Companion”, “The Crowthers of Bankdam”, “The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney” and some others of more than normal length.”
(The Triangle, August 1948)
And some advice that rings true still today:
“Reading is one of man’s most satisfactory recreations and, though it may be difficult to believe, more enjoyment can be gained by reading a book than by listening to a radio serial, poring over the doings of the Marvel family, Superman or Buck Rogers, or following any of the comic strips. This is not intended to suggest that you eliminate the radio or the comic strip entirely from your recreation, but that you should try, perhaps harder than you have, to discover for yourselves the pleasure of reading and discussing books.”
(The Triangle, December 1948)
At the end of the year, a moment of reflection and suggestion by one mysterious ‘D.M.T’ presented itself:
“What books have you read this term? Have you read any? If you have, have they been books worth reading or simply trash? The library if it is to be of benefit to you must be used and used frequently and intelligently. Two particularly noteworthy examples of contemporary fiction written by Australians are the books High Valley by Clift and Johnston and Nineteen-Eighty-four by George Orwell. Both are outstanding novels, the first a beautifully written tale of Tibet and the second a nightmare glimpse of the future if a totalitarian regime should triumph.”
(The Triangle, Dec 1949)
‘1959 West side of quad – library in the tower’
Photo supplied by Trinity Archives.
As the war drew to a close in 1945, dissatisfaction with the government’s restrictions on post-war rationing, attempts to nationalise private banks and housing shortages caused widespread strikes. The assisted immigration program recruited European war refugees for programs like the 1949 Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme, which saw the establishment of post-war refugee communities during the 1950s, such as Italians, Greeks, Polish and German, who brought a rich multiculturalism to the fabric of Australia. For Aussies, it became the ‘suburban dream’ – a good job, good standard of living, family-focused, with a house of one’s own. Through this decade, the Arthur Holt Library continued to grow, and insightful additions were continually offered in the ‘Library notes’ in the Triangle.
Today in the library, we have a wonderful thing called a computer, which contains a catalogue of all the resources we have at the library. Before computers, librarians had to use a card catalogue where they painstakingly wrote each resource on a card to be filed into alphabetical order. If you wanted to know the location of a book, you would have to sift through the cards to find it, and the call number (where the book is located in the library) will be on that card. We groan when we think of a card catalogue system, but in the ‘50s:
“The members of the Committee have carried out their duties willingly and efficiently this term and all members shouted for joy at the arrival of a thousand’ new cards which will help to make the filing system more effective.”
(The Triangle, August 1950)
University of Michigan Library Card Catalog
These cards did not hold any details of comic books however, as these were not considered the literature of a learned man:
“Some people still bring comics into the library and expect to be treated leniently when discovered reading them. No mercy will be shown towards these rags or their readers as an all-out blitz on comic-reading in the library has been instituted and will be continued.”
(The Triangle, August 1950)
Cover scan of Planet Comics, No. 42, Fiction House, May 1946. Joe Doolin cover.
The library period was back in action:
This term has seen the re-introduction of library periods for each of the first-year forms. These periods, which should prove extremely valuable, will enable all first year boys to become completely conversant with each of the now many sections of the library.
(The Triangle, May 1952)
With much success:
“Library periods have been used on the whole to much better advantage than ever before and the library is now being used much more intelligently by most boys. The continued vigilance of this year’s librarians has reduced the abuse of the library until, at the present moment there is very rarely any necessity to take corrective measures.”
(The Triangle, Dec 1952)
Some fabulous nautical-themed decorations were added:
“This term has witnessed an almost complete transformation in the appearance of the School Library. The new and colourful curtains with their ship motif, have added a nautical touch to the room. We are indeed grateful to Mrs. Hogg for her interest in making these for us.”
(The Triangle, May 1951)
And the collection and the involvement with the library itself increased:
“The section which deals with the criticism of English Literature has, for example, been increased twofold. An innovation this term was the placing of weekly book reviews in the library. This stimulated interest in books as well giving readers some idea of the book itself.”
(The Triangle, December 1953)
It is here, sadly, that the library notes reduce to a trickle, and so ends this 3-part series. Some more archaeological digging is required to continue this in-depth journey of the Arthur Holt Library, and we look forward to presenting you with some interesting findings in the next installment.
Australia in the 1940s. Retrieved from http://www.myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1940/decade_landing_6.html
Australia in the 1950s. Retrieved from