Memory House goes State-wide

In 2014 our Memory House exhibition celebrated  the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures of Western Australia.

To encourage representation of the entire state, we invited selected regional public libraries to host a Memory House letterbox giving their communities an opportunity to share memories of their area on postcards.

The Libraries set up displays around the letterboxes and held events to facilitate memory sharing and discussion. Libraries decorated their letterboxes in a style that reflected their region.

Broome Library gets into the Memory House spirit, 2014. Photo credit: Broome Library

Broome Library gets into the Memory House spirit with their display, 2014. Photo: Broome Library

There were some outstanding responses from the regions. We thank the following participating libraries and community members for their contributions: South Hedland, Exmouth, Narrogin, Merredin, Broome, Karratha, Dampier, Wickham, Roebourne, Geraldton, Laverton, Toodyay, Busselton and Albany.

View the full collection of letterboxes and postcards at the State Library on the 1 June for WA Day. Here are some of our regional highlights:

Pearl Ashwin (Baumgarten) attended a seniors morning tea at South Hedland Library as part of Memory House. There she was delighted to find an image of herself as a young nurse. Pearl’s photo was featured on a postcard promoting Storylines, an online archive relating to Aboriginal history in Western Australia.

Pearl Ashwin with  photograph, South Hedland Library 2014. Photo credit: South Hedland Library

Pearl Ashwin with photograph, South Hedland Library 2014. Photo credit: South Hedland Library

Pearl Ashwin was one of the first Aboriginal women in Meekatharra to become a registered nurse. In the postcard she is pictured working at Meekatharra hospital. South Hedland Library staff were able to capture this photo of Pearl with her postcard.

Toodyay Library hosted ‘Internment to Enlightenment’, a historical walk and guest speaker presentation by Beth Frayne from the Toodyay Historical Society. The talk began at the Old Gaol Museum and ended at the Toodyay Library, where participants shared Toodyay memories. Among postcard contributions were unique Toodyay smells including, “Coal being shovelled into the boiler of the Toodyay steam train” and sounds such as “Kookaburra’s laughing” and “Bees humming in a jacaranda tree”.


Toodyay Library ‘Internment to Enlightenment’ 2014. Photo credit: Toodyay Library

Merredin’s Local Fine Art Society produced this beautifully painted letter box displaying the vivid colours of the wheatbelt region.

Merredin Library letterbox (details), Merredin Artist Society 2014

Merredin Library letterbox (details), Merredin Artist Society 2014

Merredin Library letterbox (details), Merredin Artist Society 2014

Merredin Library letterbox (details), Merredin Artist Society 2014

Narrogin Library hosted an exhibition, ‘seniors through the eyes of youth’ at  Narrogin ARtSpace.  Seniors were paired with young people, and they were encouraged to share their stories. The activity culminated with a photographic exhibition during Seniors Week.

The Memory House regional engagement project was made possible through the generous support of the State Library of Western Australia Foundation and Lotterywest.

Five minutes with Shaun Tan

Our recent exhibition showcased original artwork from Shaun Tan’s award winning picture book Rules of Summer.  The Perth born artist, writer, and illustrator reveals what he thought about your summer rules, and insights into the mysterious world depicted in the book.

“Never wash your cat” 

I like this one, because we kind of know it’s unnecessary or difficult to wash a cat, but it’s never spelt out, or the consequences discussed. It would be wonderful to see an image accompanying this, where a good and earnest gesture has gone terribly wrong: you were only trying to help the cat! Suddenly it owns you as a pet, has shrunk into a tiny demon, or grown fins and must be set free at the beach, turned to stone, melted, the possibilities are endless. How often has something more or less like this happened in real life? It reminds me of my wife’s story of collecting snow as a child, to make a snowman, from the bonnet of a neighbour’s car: innocent enough, until you realise she was using a snow shovel! Often it’s impossible to know you are making a mistake until you’ve already made it, and not just as a child. It all carries on into adulthood, common sense doesn’t always win.

Never Eat A Turtle

“Never eat a Turtle” 

This is a good one too, because it might draw attention to the arbitrary nature of the human diet. ie. It’s okay to eat tuna or octopus (both quite intelligent and beautiful animals), but we might bulk at dolphins or turtles. Historically, a lot of cultural taboos have revolved around certain foods, without the consequences explained fully. Perhaps in this case, you will become a turtle yourself, or have to carry your own bedroom on your back forever, or simply be known as a turtle-eater and banished from society – and you might never know why. Of course, the real reason is probably that turtles are so vulnerable to exploitation, with many already extinct or heading that way. So any rule that stops people from eating turtles is probably a good one, no matter how absurd it is.


Left: Never drop your jar, Oil on canvas, 2013 Right, Cat person, Never give your keys to a stranger, Oil on canvas, 2013

You grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth. The illustrations ‘Never drop your jar’ and ‘Never step on a snail’ convey a sense of summer heat which could be likened to the scorching Western Australian sun. What do you remember most about growing up in Perth?

Well certainly the heat and light. The jar-dropping scene comes from memories of rock fishing, which was the main past-time of my family during summer holidays, usually either along the northern coast or down in Margaret River, and it was usually pretty hot with little shelter in sight either way. So not unlike fishing from rooftops (the water tanks in my picture come from New York, which can also be stifling in summer). I was not as good an angler as my brother, and prone to dropping things – fish, tackle, bait – among the rocks. He would then come and help me out, being nowhere near as mean or indifferent as the boy in the book. In any case, the overriding memory of my childhood in Perth is space, light and time. Everything seemed so much bigger and elemental, for better or worse. Summer holidays seemed epic back then, whereas everything these days seems more like diminishing little squares on a calendar!

The unnerving crow/ raven features in each of the paintings, often subtle, but always present. Can you explain a bit about why you chose the crow?

I used to paint crows (or Australian ravens, as they are actually are) quite a lot in my early twenties: large landscapes with quiet houses and trees, no people in sight, but lots of crows. In one respect, this is just what I saw when I went for long walks in the northern suburbs. I don’t see them as an evil or sinister presence, but more like something ancient and enduring, as if they are just watching us come and go in daily life as well as in history, and watching our mistakes too. In the Rules of Summer, they don’t actually do anything bad, but I feel that they might, if given a reason. By themselves, they are just crows. Perhaps they find humans to be the dark and sinister ones.


Left: Rescue, Always bring bolt cutters, Oil on canvas, 2013 Right: Never loose a fight, Oil on canvas, 2013

There is something about the rescue scene ‘Always bring bolt cutters’ which reminded one of our visitors of the famous bicycle scene in the film ET.  In the process of illustrating do you think about your artistic and cultural influences deliberately or do they appear automatically?

The E.T. similarity never occured to me, but I guess it’s there, and definitely many films have fed my subconscious over the years - The Lost Thing actually has an E.T. resonance also. When I’m drawing or writing, I don’t think so much about influences or references though, I just work with whatever comes to mind, so if they do appear, it’s automatic rather than deliberate. Often I only consider possible origins later, usually when I’m editing a story or painting, which I think is the longest and most thoughtful part of the creative process, more so than the initial flurry of ideas.

A lot of your work deals with surreal imagery. Where does this inspiration come from?

It’s quite hard to say. I also like to paint ‘normal’ things, but then get to a point where it feels too much like an imitation of reality, and it needs to comment on something else, to come from a more unusual perspective. It’s trying to see familiar things as if for the first time. Imagine you’d never seen a fish before, or a tree, or a cloud. That kind of revelatory experience is what I’m looking for in pictures and stories. Painting is a bit like having a second childhood as an adult, seeing everything as new all over again.

In Rules of Summer  the text illustrates the pictures and the pictures the text. Which comes first for you Illustrations or words?

They both come in drips and drabs, and I change them a lot as the book evolves over a long period. I often think of it as a ping-pong relationship, a bit of writing might trigger an image, which triggers another written expression, which that suggests something else to draw. At some point I stop when things feel sufficiently meaningful (or not!) but before they become too explanatory. I also end up removing a lot of stuff from the final version, trying to keep it all a bit mysterious, not giving too much away.

  • View more of your summer words of wisdom on our Flickr
  • Teachers can book Rules of Summer school programs by contacting The Literature Centre Inc Fremantle.
  • Copies of Rules of Summer can be purchased from the State Library book shop.
  • Find out more about Shaun Tan.
  • Watch an interview with Shaun Tan on our YouTube

Heritage digital content now easier to find

A new series of web pages makes it much easier to find some of the Western Australian heritage content which has been digitised by the State Library. Arranged by theme such as Birth, Marriage and Death, Crime and Punishment and Migration, you can browse these pages to find some hidden treasures!

Go to the Heritage Online page to see how to download and search content and then browse the list of themed pages on the left-hand side.

The first illustration below is from the Biographies and Directories page and the second is from the Births, Marriages and Deaths page.

The Ho. Edwin Rose from Men of Western Australia, Plate 4

The Hon. Edwin Rose from Men of Western Australia, Plate 4


Studio portrait of Mrs Nuttall in her wedding dress c.1917, 153000PD

Studio portrait of Mrs Nuttall in her wedding dress c.1917, 153000PD

What’s in a sketchbook?

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 "WA Museum"

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 

For centuries sketchbooks, notebooks and diaries have recorded daily life, observations from great explorer expeditions, personal accounts, and intricate details of past lives and times.

Call to mind the journal of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, or Da Vinci’s curious inquiry into human anatomy in his 16th century sketchbooks. They are forms of storytelling and communication grounded in time and place, and shaped by the personalities and identities of their makers.

The State Library holds the notebooks of Edward T Hardman including an 1871 sketchbook which records his geological survey of the Kimberley region in pictures and words. A vellum bound book of poems written by Irish convict John B O’Reilly,1868 demonstrates his creative pursuit and passion as a poet, while Revel Cooper’s History Book speaks of his education as a 13 year old Aboriginal boy during Australia’s assimilation era. These records provide a rare insight into the culture and concerns of past Western Australia.

What would the diary or sketchbook of a young  person living in the 21st century look like?

Thoughts, musing, observations and vignettes of daily life are revealed in a collection of over fifty sketchbooks produced by young Western Australians. The sketchbooks feature illustration, photographs, poetry and collage, and were created through Propel Youth Arts WA’s Sketchbook Project, part of the KickstART youth festival.

“My sketchbook is my reflection”, writes 23 year old Soolangna Majumdar, “…a month long observation of what’s on my mind. One 60 page long selfie.”

Following an eight month tour throughout WA public libraries from Port Hedland to Manjimup, the sketchbooks have returned to Perth and are on display at the State Library.

One sketchbook by 24 year old artist Amanda Fernandez has caught the eye of our staff with its aesthetic beauty and descriptive watercolour sketches.

How many scenes are familiar to you?


View Amanda’s sketchbook and many more on display in the Discovery Lounge Ground Floor until 30 January 2015. Open during library hours.

More information:


Books from your Backyard Family Day

Books From Your Backyard

Where you can find 12 Western Australian authors and illustrators in one day?
In The Place at the State Library of Western Australia! 

Join us this Saturday for Books from your Backyard, a free family fun day in The Place. Be amazed by the local talent in your backyard as 12 writers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (WA) read, perform and create drawings before your eyes.

10.00 am -Karen Blair – 0-4 years
10.30 am – Elaine Forrestal – 0-8 years
11.00 am – Briony Stewart – 4-7 years
11.30 am – Samantha Hughes – 5-12 years
12.00 pm – Chris Owen – 4-7 years
12.30 pm -Wendy Binks – 4-8 years
1.00 pm –  Teena Raffa-Mulligan – 4-7 years
1.30 pm –  Meg McKinlay – 4-8 years
2.00 pm –  James Foley – 5-12 years
2.30 pm –  H.Y. Hanna – 8-12 years
3.00 pm – Cristy Burne – 8-12 years
3.30 pm – Frane Lessac – 5-12 years

Make a day of it while you’re here and visit the Rules of Summer and On a Small Island exhibitions as well.

 Saturday 10 January, 10am – 4pm
Where: The Place, Mezzanine Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Ages: 4-10 years
Entry: Entry is free. No bookings required.

Briony Stewart illustrating: Photo by Alanna Kusin

More information:

  • Books from your Backyard
  • All venues at the State Library are wheelchair accessible
  • Parents/ caregivers need to attend with children.
  • Books will be for sale and all sessions will be followed by book signings.

The longest name in Western Australia?

Wanerenooka track, north of Northampton, 1948, 067385PD

Wanerenooka track, north of Northampton, 1948, 067385PD

Anyone researching their family history will have come across interesting or unusual names in the course of their research. I recently found just such an entry in the Historical indexes to Western Australian births, marriages and deaths on the Department of the Attorney General website.

The entry was the birth registration for a baby girl who was given eleven forenames! She was named:

Charlotte Elizabeth Mary Eliza Octavie Therese Margaret Edith Blanche Olympiad Jane Du Boulay.

Her parents were Julius and Elizabeth Du Boulay and the birth was registered in Greenough in 1864. Sadly she only lived for a few months. Interestingly, the Dictionary of Western Australians lists this child as being eleven separate children, all baptised at the same time. This led me to do some research on the family to find out whether or not this was the case.

Using the London Parish Records on Ancestry, which is available here at the State Library, I found that Julius Houssemayne Du Boulay married Elizabeth Solly at Jesus Chapel in the parish of Enfield, Middlesex in England on 20 June 1860. They had their first child, Flora H (probably Houssemayne) in Capetown, South Africa in about 1862. By the following year their second child, Emma Mary Houssemayne was born at Wanerenooka near Northampton in Western Australia. Charlotte Mary Eliza Octavie Therese Margaret Edith Blanche Olympiad Jane Du Boulay was born in 1864 before the family returned to England.

The 1911 census for England and Wales is available on both Find My Past and Ancestry within the Library. This census is often referred to as ‘the fertility census’ because, for the first time, questions were asked about the length of a couple’s marriage, how many children had been born and how many had died. The Du Boulay family’s entry in the 1911 census confirms that Julius and Elizabeth had a total of eight children of whom four had died and four were still alive in 1911. Using the free website FreeBMD, I traced the births and deaths of the couple’s English-born children. All were registered in the district of Elham, Kent and the family is known to have lived in Sandgate which is within this district so it is likely that all the births and deaths occurred there.

Flora H – born Capetown, South Africa c1862 – survived
Emma Mary Houssemayne – born Wanerenooka, WA 1863 – died aged one month
Charlotte Elizabeth Mary Eliza Octavie Therese Margaret Edith Blanche Olympiad Jane – born Greenough, WA 1864 – died aged 3 months
Minna H – born Elham registration district, Kent, England 1866 – survived
Francis Houssemayne – born Elham 1868 – died aged a few months
Lola Houssemayne – born Elham 1870 – survived
Isabel Violet H – born Elham 1871 – died aged 12
Thomas William H – born Elham 1875 – survived

Almost certainly, those children with the initial ‘H’ were given the name Houssemayne. It’s interesting that Charlotte appears to be the only child who wasn’t given this name – perhaps the eleven forenames were to make up for that! Julius and Elizabeth Du Boulay only lived in Western Australia for a few years although other members of the Du Boulay family settled here.

Is this the longest name registered in Western Australia or do you know of someone with more names?

Rules of Summer

‘This is what I learned last summer:’, begins Shaun Tan’s latest award winning picture book Rules of Summer.  Be amazed by enigmatic oil paintings from the book on display now at State Library of Western Australia.


Shaun Tan, Never drop your jar, 2013, Oil on canvas

In a dramatic series of paintings Tan maps the activities of two boys through their memories of last summer. Themes of friendship rivalry and imagination are explored in a series of pictorial contrasts between urban and natural, real and extraordinary, excitement and foreboding, familiar and strange, in both frightening and comforting moments.

Each painting explores a rule skilfully woven together to form a narrative that is open to multiple interpretations.

According to Shaun Tan, “Each picture might be seen as the chapter of an unwritten tale that can only be elaborated in the reader’s imagination”

Discover possibilities beyond the picture frame and journey into an oddly familiar emotive landscape.

The exhibition which features original works curated with pages from the picture book and exclusive video footage is on display at the State Library of Western Australia until January 27. 

When: 19 December 2014 – 27 January 2015
Where: The Gallery, Ground Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Entry: Entry is free. Open during library hours

More information:

  • Family friendly exhibition
  • All venues at the State Library are wheelchair accessible
  • Copies of Rules of Summer are available from the State Library Shop
  • Find out more about State Library Exhibitions 
  • Rules of Summer official website

Five minutes with Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Kyle Hughes –Odgers is a Western Australian artist and author known for his innovative illustrative style and public art.  Dazzling original illustrations from his new book On a Small Island are on display now at the State Library of Western Australia.

We spent some time hearing from Kyle about the inspiration and ideas behind his work. Here’s what he had to say…

Kyle Hughes-Odgers: Photo by Chad Peacock

Kyle Hughes-Odgers in his studio: Photo by Chad Peacock

1. Describe your book making process. Which comes first for you, the narrative, illustration, or the idea?

I had the initial idea for On a Small Island and I could visualise the flow of the artwork and some ideas I wanted to explore. I sketched all the artwork as a story board, then wrote the narrative to work with the images. After this the painting process started. For my next book the narrative has been very clear from the start so I have focused on developing this before starting any artwork. So I don’t seem to have a consistent process when approaching books.

2. You are known for your picture book illustrations and public art. How do you switch between extremes of scale and medium?

I love working across many different scales. I like the challenge of painting buildings and getting to spend time outside but I also love when I have time to be in the studio and work on paintings, drawings and children’s books. The variety keeps me slightly sane and it’s great to change my head space!

3. Your illustrations for On a Small Island include a lot of repetition, geometric shapes, and a variety of textures. How did this style evolve?

Very naturally – I think because I am constantly driven to make new work, the time spent exploring ideas and techniques has helped develop and progress my work to what it is today. I’m sure in another 5 -10 years it will have evolved again.


On a Small Island exhibition. Photo: State Library of Western Australia

4. You grew up in and currently reside in Perth. Is there anything unique or iconic about the Western Australian environment that influences your work? 

There are many unique and iconic aspects to the Western Australian environment, but I’m not sure it has had a direct influence on my artwork. I’m inspired by many different parts of life

5. Would you describe On a Small Island as more universal or more autobiographical?

I wrote it with a universal reach in mind, but I do connect with it personally. I think the idea of being positive and productive to change your situation is something that most people can connect with.

6. In 2012 you collaborated with author Meg McKinlay to produce the book Ten Tiny Things. What was it like to be both author and illustrator with On a Small Island? How was it different or similar to working on Ten Tiny Things?

The artwork process was fairly similar in terms of planning and creating, the writing process was challenging compared to making artwork for Ten Tiny Things. I’m a very visual person and have never thought of myself as a writer so it was something I was really excited about but also cautious because it is very new ground for me.

7. Where do you find your creativity? Which artists and authors inspire you?

I’m really inspired by nature, creativity, human behavior and life! I draw/paint every single day and I really love it. My favourite illustrator of all time (at the moment) is Charley Harper.

A number of original illustrations from On a Small Island have been included in the State Library of Western Australia’s Children’s Literature Collection. The exhibition is on display in The Place on the Mezzanine floor, State Library of Western Australia and is open until 28 February. For more information visit our website.

On a Small Island exhibition. Photo: State Library of Western Australia

J J Talbot Hobbs’ WWI diaries online

Landing at Gallipoli (ANZAC 1915), BA780/23

Landing at Gallipoli (ANZAC 1915), BA780/23

Sunday April 25th off Anzac Cove
“6 a.m. Enemy commenced firing on ships. Some shell fell within 150 yds of Minnewaska. Launches & boats returned bringing some dead & wounded. Watching shell falling on our men ashore. We have not landed at the place where it was intended but to the north of it.”

“Conference of Gen. Birdwood, Gen. Bridges & staff as to whether we shall clear out or try & hang on. The position is extremely serious. I could not from where I was sitting help hearing the discussion. I think they would decide to clear out but the Navy can’t do it (take us off) so they have decided to stay if we can hold on.”

April 28th. Wednesday
“The stream of wounded at Beach Hospital continues. Some have most ghastly wounds but heard no moaning no complaint.”

Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, 1919, 011114D

Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, 1919, 011114D

These extracts are taken from the first volume of Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs’ personal diaries which were kindly donated to the State Library by his descendants. The five volumes cover the period from April 1915 through to July 1919 and have recently been digitised and made available online.

Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs is well known and respected in Western Australia as both an architect and soldier. At the outbreak of World War One he was given command of the artillery of the 1st Division of the Australian Imperial Force and went to Gallipoli. Later he served in France, commanding the 5th Division. In 1918 he was largely responsible for the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux.

After the war he took a keen interest in the commemoration of war dead through memorials and, sadly, he died at sea while en route to Villers-Bretonneux for the unveiling of the war memorial there in 1938.

Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs personal diaries
Notes on tour of Australian cemeteries and war memorials in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium, 1930
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry

MEMORI: Live Action Escape Room

Friday 21 November – Sunday 23 November
State Library of Western Australia, Kimberley room

Are you interested in the mysteries of the human brain?
Perhaps you are experiencing deja vu right now?
Have you ever considered being a test lab subject?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you’re the person (or animal, or robot) that we are looking for. BAISMENT Labs, a top secret research centre located underneath the State Library of Western Australia, have begun an exciting project that will break new ground (and minds) – scientifically and historically. We have developed a new device which enables direct connection between our computers and the minds of anyone (living or dead), allowing us to view and record anything and everything. What could go wrong?

Whilst the full details of the project are considered highly confidential, we are looking for new members to join our team of memory explorers — or MEMORInauts — who will be tasked with the memory exploration and recording.

MEMORI: Live Action Escape Room

MEMORI is a live action escape room experience at the State Library.  Come as an individual or a team, and test your wits against an array of puzzles.

Created by FTI’s Excalibur Productions and Games We Play, MEMORI incorporates historical Western Australian documents from the State Library into a fun, sci-fi themed challenge.

MEMORI is presented as part of the State Library of Western Australia’s 125th anniversary celebrations and is supported by the State Library Foundation and Lotterywest.  Book now to secure your place.

Be Inspired @ The State Library
Public Talk Series –  MEMORI
Tuesday 25 November 6pm

State Library Theatre

In addition to the escape room experience, a free public talk will provide a behind the scenes insight into the production of the escape room experience. Not to be missed! Register now to secure your seat.