Recently, whilst visiting Canberra, Jennie Bales had the opportunity for a tour of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL). What a treat this was – a highlight of the holiday and a breathtaking and enchanting experience under the expert and informed guidance of Dr Belle Alderman AM, the Director of the NCACL
This visit was long overdue – originally planned as an excursion during the ASLA conference in 2019 – unfortunately the trip to Canberra was cancelled for personal reasons. However, ongoing communications with Belle over the years has ensured we have established a firm long distance friendship inspired by a shared passion for children’s literature. Belle is a stalwart in writing about the NCACL’s many initiatives far and wide and regularly for this very blog! When I let Belle now that I was heading to the ACT in September an invitation to visit was quickly forthcoming and just as quickly accepted.
An easy bus trip out the University of Canberra, clear signage led us to the library where Belle arrived to escort us down to the lower level. The NCACL sits below the library and faces onto a pleasant courtyard and adjacent café so sees lots of traffic. On entering, it was lovely to meet some of the volunteer staff where coffee and home-made cake were consumed along with some interesting personal tales of favourite books, authors, aspects of the collection and insights into the various forays we had each made exploring this fascinating world of children’s literature.
The public space is divided between a working area for the maintenance of the collection and a small open area with some framed illustrations, tables, ephemera, books on display and a table area used to showcase a particular creator or work for visitors. During the visit this table was laden with just a tiny sample of the treasures that are housed around the lower levels – space being of a premium and in short supply. Spread out on a display table during my visit was the stunning artwork for Desert Lake. The story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (2016) written by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli. This was accompanied by a fascinating array of accompanying material including Anelli’s notes on the manuscript, drafts, dummy book and so much more. To get a taste of the scope of material collected by the NCACL it is worth watching a video produced by Liz Anelli – a fascinating and informative behind the scenes sharing of the work and material generated for the more recently published Dry to Dry: The Seasons of the Kakadu (Freeman & Anelli, 2020).
|Photograph of original artwork by Liz Anellie for|
Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thankda-Lake Eyre (Freeman & Anelli, 2016)
As we traversed the corridors Belle opened door after door filled with filing cabinets, archival boxes, filing drawers and so much more! Each section carefully labelled to assist in finding requested material and to ensure incoming material is stored safely and in the right place! And of course there are the practical Resources – the databases, curated lists, catalogue, bibliographies and so much more to assist teacher librarians, librarians, educators and book lovers to help them find ‘just the right book’!
But the ‘pièce de résistance’ was opening the door to the book collection – Wow!
|Dr Belle Alderman with the NCACL book collection|
As a proud owner of a signature bear, decorated by Marc McBride as part of a fund raising auction run be CBCA in 2003, it was also a treat to see that some other bears have found their way to the Canberra and been added to the collection of ephemera that is just as fascinating to behold.
I could write endlessly about this memorable and special visit and the warm welcome I received. It was so inspirational that I asked Belle if we could offer a presentation to interested children’s literature fans – there may well be something that you have stored away that could add to the collection or something that you could take on board in a volunteer capacity as the NCACL relies on volunteers and donations to maintain and continue this vital work. If this post has piqued your interest, consider joining Belle and Jennie on the 15 November, 2023 when we are Lifting the Lid on a Literary Treasure. Or catch the recording at a later date at Eduwebinar, which is kindly donating a percentage of the proceeds to the NCACL.
Retired teacher librarian and adjunct lecturer
CBCA Tasmania Social Media Coordinator