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Australian sport collections

A Foundation donor’s generosity and passion have helped open up the Library’s sport collections to everyone.

Sport is part of the fabric of life for all Australians, therefore providing improved access to the Library’s rich sports holdings is a project of great merit and will help point the way for broader efforts across the many thematic collections held by the Mitchell Library.

— David Anstice AO, Foundation donor

The Library’s enormous sporting collections are of great interest to researchers, collectors and sport historians. But for a long time much of this material has been set aside in boxes waiting to be catalogued, placed in archival enclosures, and scheduled for preservation treatment and digitisation.

Dealing with this backlog of collection items is one of the ways the Foundation can support the Library. Last year, we were lucky to find a special donor whose personal passions align with this important work.

Mr David Anstice, a longstanding patron of the Library, is an avid collector of sports memorabilia, with a focus on cricket. Thanks to Mr Anstice, the Foundation was able to fund a special project to catalogue the sport collection.

A particular strength of the Library’s sport collection is material tracing the history of cricket — from the colonial era, via the famous bodyline series of 1932–33, to more recent times. Significant moments in cricket highlight the game’s influence on shaping the social fabric of Australia.

Over six months Specialist Librarian Ann Peck dedicated her time to identifying, arranging, and cataloguing the material, eventually sorting more than 20 different collections housed in 179 boxes (taking up 33 metres of shelf space!).

Ann uncovered more than 1000 photographic negatives, 79 digital photographs, 6 architectural drawings, and hundreds of badges, pins and other objects. She was surprised to discover records of sporting organisations, papers of sportspeople, and personal scrapbook collections of sports enthusiasts among the boxes. The largest of these collections was the Sydney AFL records, 1885–2006 — 77 boxes documenting 120 years of Australian Rules football in NSW.

One of the more personal finds was a collection of scrapbooks belonging to Robert L Wallace. From 1924, when he was 12, to 1938, Mr Wallace kept scrapbooks of press clippings relating to Australian cricket, including international tours and Test matches, the Sheffield Shield and local competitions. As time passed, he became more inventive in his choice of scrapbooks, filling exercise books, account books and eventually resorting to telephone directories to document the sport.

Another unusual item Ann discovered is a framed montage commemorating English pilot Amy Johnson’s 1930 solo flight from England to Australia — the first by a woman — and her visit to the NSW Sports Club. It includes two photographs of the visit, a print by artist Noel Cook and a letter of thanks from Johnson — all in an arched maple frame that looks as though it had a previous life supporting a dressing table mirror.

England takes the field, 1932
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Amy Johnson, Miss Veronica Mary Murphy (centre) and friend, before Captain S L Tyler took Miss Murphy for a joyflight over Sydney in his Curtiss biplane, 1927
View collection item detail

The research guide that will be developed as part of the Foundation funded project will make it easier for researchers, writers and curators to quickly identify items of interest. It will also help to engage sporting groups and associations that may contribute to the Library’s sport collections in future.

The Foundation is grateful to donors like Mr Anstice for their commitment to the work of the Library. Like-minded donors are also following their passion to support the music collection. We hope to continue aligning our donors’ passions with the Library’s collections, making more material accessible to our readers.

Sarah Miller
Partnerships Manager, State Library of NSW Foundation