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Melbourne Rare Book Week 2018: One of the world's leading festivals to celebrate the art and history of the book

With the permission of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB) who initiated and have organised the festival since 2011, we repost an extract of the 2018 report by Professor Chris Browne, Programme Director of Melbourne Rare Book Week.
Published on 06 Sept. 2018
MRBW cover

MRBW posterThe Seventh Melbourne Rare Book Week (MRBW), a celebration of the book and the importance of print on paper in this UNESCO City of Literature, was held from 29th June until 8th July 2018. It offered a rich and varied program of free lectures, events and exhibitions and an international antiquarian book fair, attracting local, national and international visitors.

The MRBW program is convened by Rare Books Melbourne Inc. and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB), with events hosted by a range of partners, including institutional libraries, literary and historical societies and bookshops throughout Melbourne. Sponsorship is pivotal to the running of MRBW and we wish to acknowledge the ongoing support of the University of Melbourne, Ellikon, and Roy Morgan Research. We are particularly grateful to Roy Morgan Research for making Tonic House available to us as a venue.

We also thank all who have supported us via advertisements in the printed program. For the third year we wish to thank and congratulate Alissa Duke, an Urban Sketcher who used her considerable artistic talent to record the events she attended. This report is based mainly upon the notes taken by the Program Director, Chris Browne and the sketches created by Alissa Duke. Chris and Alissa have attended 30 of the more than 40 events between them. Several partners have also reported strong attendances at the other events that could not be explicitly covered in this report. Free admission to all events ensures the participation of a wide and diverse section of the community, of all ages.

MRBW culminated in the Melbourne Rare Book Fair, properly The 46th Australian Antiquarian Book Fair, which was held at Wilson Hall at The University of Melbourne from Friday 6th July until Sunday 8th July 2018. 

Melbourne Rare Book Week 2018 Program Launch


Melbourne Rare Book Week 2018 was launched at Tonic House in Flinders Lane Melbourne on Monday 21st May 2018 by Ms. Heidi Victoria, the shadow minister for the Arts in the State of Victoria in the presence of more than 70 friends, partners and supporters of MRBW. The shadow minister was introduced by Jonathan Burdon, the president of ANZAAB. Ms Victoria, who admitted to a keen personal interest in photographs and photography, gave an entertaining and well-informed speech before formally launching MRBW for 2018. She was thanked for her speech and attendance by Mike O’Brien, the President of Rare Books Melbourne. The attendees were also privileged to hear a brief informal address by Ms Sally Capp, the new Mayor-elect of the City of Melbourne, in what she revealed was her first appearance at any event as the Mayor-elect. The organisers wish to thank the long-time friend and supporter of MRBW, Councillor Jackie Watts for facilitating the presence of the Mayor-elect. We also acknowledge Gary Morgan and Michelle Levine of Roy Morgan Research for hosting the event at Tonic House.

MRBW AD 2The Remarkable Library of Bishop Goold
The C. J. La Trobe Society

The events of MRBW 2018 were started off by this very entertaining presentation at Tonic House by Shane Carmody of The University of Melbourne, who was introduced by Dianne Reilly to an enthusiastic audience of 75. Shane introduced the audience to some of the research that he is engaged with on the Library of the first Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. The collection was originally housed in a custom-built library annex to the original Episcopal Palace, built in 1857, which was organised into separate “sacred and profane” halves on each side of the library building. Sadly, the original buildings only survive in drawings and plans. The inventory of 1865 recorded a library of 889 titles included in 2,300 volumes. Many were fine publications in English, as well as good representations of works in French, Italian, Latin and Greek. Much of the library seems to have been purchased during Goold’s frequent visits to Europe. Shane amused the audience with many observations on the Anglican-Catholic episcopal rivalry that was apparent from some of the documents.

Surveying the Rare Book Collection
Museums Victoria

This talk at the Melbourne Museum was presented by Belinda Gourley, a conservator from the Rare Book Collection of the Museum. Belinda recounted the conservation survey that was completed on the Museum’s Rare Book Collection between 2012 and 2016; she explained how the findings from the survey will inform the work of the conservators in the preservation of the collection into the future. Belinda’s presentation led to a lively discussion after the talk. Several notable, fine books from the collection were on display, including the very rare Aurora Australis (1908- 1909) by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic. Other fine books included the Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio (1734) of Albertus Saba, often called Saba’s Thesaurus of Animal Specimens. Belinda was assisted by Gemma Steele and Olga Hionis, both from Museums Victoria, in the management of the viewing of the books on display.


Rare Book Appraisals 

Three ANZAAB members, Peter Arnold (Peter Arnold Books), Mike O’Brien (Bradstreet Books), and Daffyd Davies (Sebra Prints) conducted a book appraisal session at Tonic House from 12noon until 1.30pm on Saturday 30th June. Around 30 members of the public brought items along for consideration by the three experts. There was an eclectic range of items that were presented for appraisal. The experts reported that the outstanding item for the day was a four-volume set of first editions of the four Pooh books of A. A. Milne in a custom-made box. The session was facilitated by Kay Craddock and Jonathan Burdon of ANZAAB.



Curators’ tour of World of the Book
State Library Victoria

Des Cowley and Anna Welch led the curators’ tours of the World of the Book exhibition, taking people on a journey from an ancient cuneiform tablet to sculptural contemporary artists’ books. The exhibition builds on the outstanding World of the Book published by Melbourne University Press for Des and the State Library in 2008. It was a joyful experience to see Des and Anna attract fellow bibliophiles to this exhibition dedicated to the history and culture of the book. This popular event, like most of the offerings from the State Library was run to capacity audiences on two occasions during MRBW.


The Australian Sketchbook. Colonial life and the art of S.T. Gill
Old Treasury Building

This talk was presented by the former La Trobe Librarian, Dianne Reilly, to an appreciative audience of about 50 on a cold Sunday afternoon in the historic Old Treasury Building in Spring Street. Dianne covered the life and work of S.T. Gill, the famous illustrator of the Victorian Gold Rush from his beginnings in Plymouth in England to his establishment as an artist in Adelaide, through his famous recording of the everyday life of the miners in the gold rush, and his retrospective volumes of sketches and watercolours, through to his decline and rather tragic death. Many examples of Gill’s art were shown and the lively nature of his record of the events of the 1850s in Victoria were greatly appreciated by all of us present in the audience.



This is only a small selection of events that took place in Melbourne during Rare Book Week. 

>> The full report can be downloaded here. 
Report by: Prof. Chris Brown
Illustrations: Alissa Duke, Australian sketch artist

The success of MRBW over the past seven years has been clearly demonstrated by the attendance at events by about two thousand visitors and by another two to three thousand at the Rare Book Fair. There are many reasons for MRBW's success. These include the interesting and entertaining lectures, presentations and exhibitions staged by a large number of enthusiastic MRBW partners, which have drawn international attention with similar Rare Book Week events now being delivered in many other international settings. Success does not come easily and events such as MRBW do not just happen. It is important, therefore, to recognise the enormous efforts of Kay Craddock and her team in organising the annual MRBW. 

See you again in 2019!

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