I’ve always loved reading. One Christmas, I was given 4 encyclopaedias. By two different family members. Let it be known, this was before you could get Microsoft Encarta on a CD-ROM and I should clarify, I love reading fiction, and whilst I wasn’t too pleased with the Christmas haul that year, they came in handy for school homework projects up until I was in about Year 9. By then, we were using “Google” as a verb so all in all, they were very useful gift. Over the years I’ve been given books and book vouchers; the entire works of Shakespeare which I haven’t quite got through yet; I’ve had texts recommended by friends and teachers; Goodreads and Bookbub, which, if you’re an avid reader yourself and you’ve never come across, you really should check out.
But seriously, give me a choice of a lengthy news article or a 20 second summary video of the headlines, I’ll choose the article every time. I don’t know exactly what it is about reading that inspires me. Maybe it’s because someone else has spent time and energy crafting the right words, the correct tone, the scribbling out, redrafting, editing; I like to read what they thought was their best version. Maybe I feel even more strongly about it now because I’m beginning to consider myself a bit of a writer. I appreciate the art form more than ever and it was with this feeling that I walked up the steps to the State Library of Victoria knowing that I had a really great couple of hours ahead of me. The thrid time I walked in. The first time I just rushed in to print off a bucketload of CVs to hand out to a bucketload of eateries (who never called me back by the way, but that was a non-issue, since I was employed one day into my job hunt… I am just that good…(!)). The second time I went in, I was meeting friends outside by the giant chess sets and I was early, so I dropped in to have a quick gander around the Big Issue exhibit on the ground floor.
This library is basically a museum. There is a guide to let you know what’s on each floor. There’s an exhibition about Ned Kelly, complete with his actual armour, reconstructed as best possible with all the bullet holes. I had to think back to the film with Heath Ledger & Orlando Bloom from a few years back (I just Googled it, it came out in 2003. Good God, I feel old!) and I still couldn’t recall the actual story. All I could remember from the deep dark depths of my mind was that he had similar ideals to Robin Hood, but beyond being an outlaw, I didn’t have that much to go on. Turns out, he was famous due to the fact that he practically brought up his family after his dad died when he was only 12 years old. He was wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer and then ended up killing three more. He went on the run, taking his siblings and their little group of friends, and robbed banks and flouted police authority at every given opportunity. When they were finally captured, naturally he resisted arrest, and his famous armour protected his body from no less than 19 individual bullets plus countless more that never touched him. He was later tried and sentenced to hang, but as I said, that armour is on display and is truly incredible to see in person. Unfortunately, the lighting and the glass made photographing it close to impossible, so take a look at this official photo from the internet. You know, if you want.
There was an awesome leather-bound complete works of William Shakespeare, and a wonderful stained glass window featuring the Bard himself, overlooking the truly magnificent Reading Room. There’s a quotation from “As You Like It” within the window, the extract was “All the world’s a stage”, but it’s written so you can read it. It looks really weird because Will’s got his hand on a scroll of parchment with a quill, looking off in the opposite direction to his masterpiece, and it looks like he’s written it upside down and back to front. Plus they spelled his name incorrectly. Not that I’m picking holes in a piece of glasswork created in the 1800’s… I mean, it is very well preserved, and the light shined through beautifully into the La Trobe Reading Room.
The Reading Room is one of those must-see things in Melbourne. It’s kind of odd because people are studying, writing essays, researching their thesis or whatever whilst people are constantly walking in through one door, taking pictures of the room and the ceiling and then leaving. Personally, I wouldn’t have been able to hack that level of disturbance if this was a regular occurrence whilst I was at university, but maybe that’s just me.
There is also a really cool exhibition about writing throughout the ages. Or rather, the consumption of literary material through time. It had a beautiful collection of Alice in Wonderland artwork, there were some biblical texts, some miniscule Thierry-sized books, some magazine covers from WW2 through the 80’s, and a few CD covers and their inserts. I enjoyed taking my time wandering around the building, and it was a round building, where each of these exhibits went all the way around the Reading Room on a floor of their own.
It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, just completely by myself, out of the rain, and best of all, it was free! Since now I’m nothing more than another British backpacker trying to save a bit of cash, that four-letter word is looking more and more appealing everywhere I go. And if you give me a choice between the book and the movie, the answer is as obvious as if I was to make a decision between free and expensive. Being a bit frugal every now and again never hurt anyone, right?