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'I was Her Majesty’s body double!'

Poster advertising the Opening Day of the Macquarie Street building

Poster advertising the Opening Day of the Macquarie Street building.

We can’t believe it’s 30 years since our Macquarie Building officially opened!


On 4 May 1988, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened the building and reading room. This was one of Her Majesty’s many official duties on an action-packed royal visit to Australia: she also opened Expo ’88 in Brisbane and Parliament House in Canberra.

The Library’s unique national collections played a special role in commemorating the bicentenary of European settlement, and were featured in the major exhibition The Coming of the Strangers.

After years of planning, interim solutions, delays and controversies, the Macquarie Building was opened. The General Reference Library reading room , now the State Reference Library in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room, was relocated to the new Macquarie Building.

Thank you to all contributors, including Perry Goulder for some great photos and Dr Margery Hertzberg, daughter of Dr Mark Hertzberg AO, who was President of the State Library Council from 1986 to 1989.

Staff photo of 1988 visit from HM Queen Elizabeth

"The night before the official opening the builders were frantically trying to put the finishing touches to the areas through which Her Majesty would be escorted the following day.

In the early hours of the morning one of the painters working in the new Mitchell Reading Room stood back to admire his handiwork, trod on a paint roller tray and spilled paint all over the new carpet. A whole section of carpet was sliced out and replaced in next to no time, and no-one was the wiser - except the painter, who went home that day with the foreman's expletives ringing in his ears.

On the opening day, the Clerk of Work, Ron Curry, disobeying strict instructions, smuggled his camera into the SRL reading room where the Queen was to be presented to a selection of staff, including the architect, Andrew Andersons, myself and my wife, Mary.

This is one of the resulting shots. The late Mark Hertzberg, then chair of the Library Council, is on the right."

Dr David J. Jones (Building Project Coordinator, 1983 - 1988)

Macquarie Street building, prior to opening 1988 - Side view

"I do recall staff being arranged into a U shape at the entrance to what was then GRL (General Reference Library). We were about 3 deep and Alison Crook walked around guiding the Queen and introducing senior staff to her.

I recall reference book shelves had been removed to accommodate the number of staff present.

At that time, I was Collection Development Librarian and not considered senior enough to be introduced!

I think we were there for about twenty minutes or so and then returned to work."

Alan Ventress (Collection Development Librarian 1987 - 1993, Mitchell Librarian 1993 - 2001)

BW photo Queen Elizabeth II with man and woman

"The Queen arrived promptly at 5pm and left at 6pm. I showed her over the Bicentennial exhibition, The Coming of the Strangers, with Mark Hertzberg, President of Library Council. Elizabeth Ellis showed the Duke around and Rosie Block took the Premier Nick Greiner and Mrs Greiner.

Before they went upstairs to the Galleries the Queen unveiled the plaque which is now affixed to the right of the lifts on the ground floor. The Queen did not speak as she had already given a speech at Darling Harbour that morning and protocol dictated only one speech per day.

Alison Crook (State Librarian) spoke and I cannot remember if anyone else did. Probably Mark Hertzberg did. Alison’s speech paid tribute to the previous Labor Government and Neville Wran who started the building. The Premier’s Department tried to cut this out but Alison was insistent and said Premier Greiner would want this said.

The Queen was wearing a piece of the Koh-i-Noor diamond which was spectacular, if in my opinion, a little vulgar on anyone else.

William Bradley - Journal. Titled `A Voyage to New South Wales', December 1786 - May 1792; compiled 1802+, December 1786 - May 1792; compiled 1802+
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My outstanding memory of showing her over the exhibition was her knowledge.

No one had asked me to give a list of items I would highlight, so she could not have been briefed. When I showed her Bradley’s First Fleet journal she asked, quick as a flash, how did it survive the wrecking of Sirius. I have shown many people this journal and no one has ever asked this. Of course, the watermark is 1802 which means it is a later copy though it is so detailed there must have been an original now lost. That still does not answer the question of how the original survived, of course, but HM seemed satisfied with my reply.

She could run seminars on how to put people at their ease.

At one point when I showed her an item (which I think may have been the Wedgwood Sydney Cove medallion) she said that she spoke about it at Darling Harbour – “oh, I must tell Phil” she said but Phil and Elizabeth Ellis could not be seen.

I had the easy job because the Queen went where I led her (the Galleries and indeed the whole Library was closed to the public). The Duke on the other hand darted about and poor Elizabeth had to keep up.

Plate 1. The entrance of Port Jackson, and part of the town of Sydney, New South Wales Plate 2. The town of Sydney in New South Wales Plate 3. Part of the Harbour of Port Jackson, and the country between Sydney and the Blue Mountains, New South Wales.
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At the end of the tour, the Queen was presented with number 1 of the limited edition of the Major Taylor Panorama. This had recently been published from the original plates owned by the Library.

After this there was a cocktail party in the SRL reading room for the invited guests. People formed a giant circle and the Queen and Duke walked around in opposite directions, meeting people.

On the dot of 6pm the royal party left but just before this a member of the royal staff said to me that the Queen would particularly like the Panorama to be brought to the yacht that evening so she could look at it and when the driver had taken her back to Britannia then he would come back and collect it.

This was a great honour because usually these official gifts are just packaged up and sent to London later."

Paul Brunton (Curator of Manuscripts)

Opening of the Macquarie Street building, 4 May 1988

"We had a row of dignitaries lined up to welcome the Queen and Prince Philip, starting with the Premier, Nick Greiner and his wife and ending with me, then Alan my husband.

The Queen and Prince Philip proceeded down the reception line shaking hands. When Prince Philip got to the last in the line, Alan, he said to him, “Ah, I see, another hanger-on, like me.

We were the last opening of three (at least) that day, and the Queen seemed pretty tired. Mark showed the Queen through the building and I showed Prince Phillip through, he was very chatty and pleasant.

We went from the opening up through the old part and the through the galleries, into the Mitchell and back down through the tunnel to the reception in the then new reading room."

Alison Crook (State Librarian, 1987 - 1995)

This free exhibition opened on January 20th, 1988.
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"My principal memory of the opening of the Macquarie Street Building of the State Library of New South Wales by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is of standing on the glass walkway with Paul Brunton awaiting the arrival of the official party with nervous anticipation.

Paul was to guide the Queen through the Library’s Bicentennial exhibition, Coming of the Strangers in the Mitchell and Dixson Galleries; I was to follow, escorting the Duke of Edinburgh. As one would expect, the Duke was very knowledgeable about naval matters. The tour passed quickly and in something of a blur as I tried to keep our pace behind the Queen and Paul.

However, I have a vivid recollection of the party entering Mitchell Gallery 2 and being greeted by a barrage of press photographers with their lights and cameras all flashing at once. It was blinding, and quite unexpected, at least as far as I was concerned.

After that, there was a great flurry behind the scenes while the cocktail party was proceeding, when a request was received from the Queen’s Private Secretary that Her Majesty would like the Library’s official presentation (the reprinting from original plates in the Dixson Galleries collection of the Major Taylor panorama of Sydney) to be sent directly to the Royal Yacht Britannia, moored in Farm Cove.

This was because the Queen wished to study the images that evening. The mission was accomplished and the portfolio containing the Taylor panorama was duly delivered post-haste."

Elizabeth Ellis (Curator of Pictures, 1985 - 2008)

Macquarie Street building, prior to opening 1988

"The day prior to the official opening, I was asked to go to the State Librarian's office (which was Level 1 of the Mitchell building). I was introduced to Dr Mark Hertzberg (President of the Library Council) who was to escort the Queen into the new building from the 'old' Wing. 

It was explained to me how the party would proceed and my task was to take Dr Herzberg on a practice run as I was familiar with both buildings.

We walked from the State Librarian's office, down the corridor past the glass doors overlooking the 'new' Mitchell Reading Room, down the marble stairs, across the Mitchell Vestibule, down the stairs into the Dalgety Walkway and through to the State Reference Reading Room. 

You could say I was Her Majesty’s body double!

On the day, only a few staff could stay when the event began, but most stayed with the crowd on Macquarie Street."

Wendy Holz (Librarian, 1984 - Present)

Letter from representative of HM Queen Elizabeth 1988