On this page
What is ephemera?
Ever kept a ticket from the first concert you went to? Or found an invitation to an event you thought you’d thrown out? Or stumbled across a handout from a protest?
This is what we call ephemera.
Ephemera are everyday items that aren’t considered special at the time, but may be cherished by future generations. Ephemera is something you use briefly, then get rid of (for example, a wedding invitation, a ticket or a wristband that gives you a day’s entry into an event).
The National Library has been selectively collecting Australian printed ephemera since the early 1960s so we can tell the story of Australian life, culture, and major events and issues.
Today’s ephemera can be hugely important to future generations. It gives an insight into how people live. They tell us the events, issues and lifestyle of that era.
Ephemera in the Library’s collection includes:
- The earliest known printed document in Australia, a playbill for a performance of Jane Shore. This gives an insight into the kind of shows and cultural experiences the early Europeans were enjoying in Australia in 1796
- Dance cards, programs and menus that give us a valuable insight into the experiences of soldiers serving in the Boer War
- Ephemera relating to the 1967 referendum that gives us insight into the political debate for this referendum which allowed the Commonwealth Government to make laws with respect to First Nations people
What are manuscripts?
When we hear the word ‘manuscript’ we often think of ancient parchment from another time or the early draft of a novel.
But manuscripts can come from any era. A manuscript can be as old as Captain Cook’s Endeavour journal, or more recent, like the papers of children’s author Mem Fox. A manuscript collection can include drawings, letters, diaries, blog posts or emails. Items that have been mass produced, like a published book, aren’t considered manuscripts because they aren’t original.
A manuscript collection might also contain objects, like Patrick White’s glasses, works of art or photographs. Because it can be made up of different formats, a manuscript collection tells the stories of people and organisations in a different way to a publication.
Manuscripts in the Library’s collection include:
- The papers of renowned Torres Strait Islander human rights activist Edward Koiki Mabo
- The papers of Aboriginal Australian academic, lawyer and author Larissa Behrendt
- The notebook of Royal Navy officer and colonial administrator Willam Bligh, which includes a list of the Bounty mutineers
- The papers of Graeme Clark, creator of the bionic ear
What are maps?
Maps are records that help people navigate and find their way or show where landmarks or specific sites are. They can also show plans of where things might be developed or built. Maps are an important part of telling the history of Australia.
Maps show us people’s perspectives and how things were valued. For instance, William Dampier’s map of his global voyages in 1679 to 1691 are fascinating. This is because they show us what the Europeans explored of the Southern Hemisphere at that time and their imaginings of what the rest of it looked like. Equally, a town planning map of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory from 1972 gives us a snapshot of the areas in which a community was growing and developing.
We hold around one million maps, from early European charts to current maps of Australia, in print and digital form.
Maps in the Library’s collection include:
- Norman B. Tindale’s important map showing the distribution of First Nations language groups across Australia
- Terra Australis – the earliest Dutch charting of the land that became Australia
- Plan of Queanbeyan, County of Murray – plan of the town of Queanbeyan, showing the first Torrens Title purchases
- Attack Pacific! – Japanese pictorial maps of Australia, Asia and the Pacific, 1940-45
What are pictures?
Pictures tell the story of Australian lives, history, culture and events in a unique way and through a certain point of view. They’re a vital part of our storytelling tapestry.
Pictures cover a wide range of materials. Pictures can be anything from a hastily scribbled sketch on a napkin to a painting by Johnny Warankula Tjupurrula. They can be a photograph of Cathy Freeman or a painting on a gum leaf by A. W. Eustace.
The Library collects pictures that document the Australian experience. The Library has a rich and wonderful picture collection with over 1.6 million items. It covers early images of colonial life, through to today’s pop culture in digital images.
Pictures in the Library’s collection include:
- Images of protesters taking part in the Women’s March4Justice
- Shots of the crowd, performers and activities at the OzAsia Festival in Adelaide.
- Ducie collection of First Fleet art – watercolour images of Australian flora and fauna.
- Ellis Rowan’s flower and bird paintings – beautiful watercolours painted in the late 19th and early 20th century.
- Anna Zhu’s Yah Yah, 2008 – an ongoing creative project that explores the photographer’s Chinese-Australian heritage.
What is an oral history?
People’s memories are untapped living histories.
Have you ever wished you could hear first-hand from a Nobel Prize winning scientist about what it was like to make their first discovery? Or wondered what it was like to live through the influenza epidemic that swept the globe after the First World War?
Oral histories are carefully structured audio recordings in which the interviewee works with an expert oral historian to tell their own story in their own words. Oral histories are a wonderful way of capturing individual perspectives and experiences that may not be found in other historical books and documents.
People who give oral history interviews for the Library’s collection can be from all walks of life. They don’t have to be famous, just share their perspectives and life story in their own words. While oral histories usually cover a person’s ‘whole of life’ experience, they can also be focused on a particular theme or an event.
The Library has the largest oral history collection you’ll find in Australia and it covers many eras and subjects. There’s over 55,000 hours of recordings, with more than 6000 available to listen for free online.
Oral histories in the Library’s collection include:
- The Australian lesbian and gay life stories oral history project.
- Famous Australian authors like Mem Fox, Kate Grenville, Norman Lindsay and May Gibbs
- The Bringing Them Home oral history project, which features interviews with members of the Stolen Generations
- The Voices of the Bush oral history project, capturing life experiences in rural Australia