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The Mortlock Chamber exhibition bays showcase the richness and breadth of State Library collections, with historical and contemporary materials used to illustrate particular themes. 

Comprising nearly 1,000 items, the exhibition bay themes highlight areas of particular relevance to South Australia, and largely reflect State Library collection strengths providing an entry into those collections. The themes are:

A trunk full of books 

State Library history

South Australia was fortunate that its first Colonial Secretary, Robert Gouger, had the foresight to bring with him a trunk full of books, the nucleus of South Australia's first public library.

Opened in 1861, the South Australian Institute Building on North Terrace was built to house a developing range of cultural collections and services. The Jervois Wing followed in 1884 and the Bastyan Wing in 1967.

The trunk full of books has grown into 50 kilometres of material as at 2004. Most of this is housed in the redeveloped Bastyan Wing that was reopened in 2003 as the Spence Wing.

The State Library continues to provide access to books and a myriad of other information sources for the people of South Australia.

A rich tapestry 


Leaving all behind, men, women and children arrived on South Australia's shores, shaping new lives and re-forming this most ancient of lands.

From ships' deserters, whalers and sealers to 'boat people'. From the carefully planned migration schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, through the importation of Irish brides for lonely bushmen, to Barwell boys sent out as agricultural labourers. And more recently from those escaping nightmares in war-torn Europe and Asia.

The South Australian landscape is a rich tapestry in private ownership, in the traditional ownership of Aboriginal communities, or in the stewardship of local, state and commonwealth governments.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

Wooden walls and iron sides 


Shipping in South Australia began with the immigrant ships, and traffic was largely one way as there was no outward cargo in 1836. Gradually exports of mineral ores, grain and wool built up as the colony grew, and cargoes went overseas or to the other colonies.

Steam took over from sail, although sailing ships were still taking the grain harvest to Europe in the 1930s. River trade on the Murray was an important component of South Australian trade.

Intercolonial passenger ships, gulf and river cruises, as well as overseas cruise ships were all part of the shipping at Port Adelaide and the outports. Sponsored by the Friends of the Paul McGuire Maritime Library

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

South Australia's Christian heritage 


This exhibition is dedicated to South Australia's founding men and women who brought to the state a rich Christian heritage that helped shape its unique identity.  Many Christians believed that South Australia was distinctive because, unlike other Australian colonies, it was established by godly men and women on a religious basis. They saw it as a colony founded on the principles of religious and political liberty: a great and free colony...under the Blessing of Divine Providence as stated by Governor Hindmarsh in his Proclamation address on 28 December 1836. 

During the nineteenth century, Christians worked vigorously to spread the Word, on horseback, by paddle-steamer, bicycle and camel-buggy; in the German, English, Ngarrindjeri and Aranda languages; in the bush, in farmhouses, stone chapels and cathedrals. Adelaide became known as 'the city of churches'.

Taking it to the edge 


The discovery and exploration of South Australia by Europeans began long before colonisation in 1836. The coast was charted in 1627 and 1802, but no further exploration occurred until Charles Sturt followed the River Murray from the Great Dividing Range in the east to the sea in 1829-30.

After the establishment of Adelaide in 1836, the colonists gradually pushed out the boundaries of settlement in their search for pastures and minerals. The salt lakes of the arid interior barred initial progress, but 26 years after the first colonists landed at Glenelg, the north coast of Australia was finally reached by John McDouall Stuart.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

To be a child 

Children's literature and games

The games children play, the toys that amuse them, the books they read, all play a part in forming the adult that will be. Whether the toys are elaborately manufactured or hand made, they are an inherent part of childhood. In the world of books, children learn about the world outside the walls of their home or school or are carried away to magic worlds beyond their own.

Children's books, toys and games are ephemeral items usually lost over time, but those displayed here have nearly all been read or played with by South Australian children and donated to the State Library for safekeeping.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

The radical dream 

Social and political reform

South Australia was born of the ideas of a prisoner serving three years in Newgate Gaol on a conspiracy charge relating to marriage with a 15 year old heiress at Gretna Green. Edward Gibbon Wakefield's experience of the English penal system convinced him of the need to alleviate the social problems of overpopulation by emigration to the colonies. Thus began a continuing social experiment in South Australia with high ideals being proclaimed if not always achieved in practice. When taken up they have placed South Australia at the forefront of reforms such as Women's Suffrage, Aboriginal Land Rights and Equal Opportunity. South Australia in the 21st century is a society that Wakefield could hardly have imagined, but the tradition continues.  Detail: Some recent SA Art. Flinders University Art Museum, 1989.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

This sporting life 


Sport has always been loved by South Australians, whether as participants or spectators, playing netball or bowls, cheering on their team in a Grand Final or participating in a watermelon race at a community picnic.

Because of this tradition, athletes from South Australia have tested themselves in local, national and international arenas. The colour of those areas are part of the fabric of the community.

Some of South Australia's favourite sons and daughters are sporting icons, known around the world. The memorabilia of sport adds to the tradition, through photographs, films and videos, medals, badges and trophies, many donated to the State Library by the community.

State of the arts 

Arts and culture

The arts are regarded as one of South Australia's strengths. The state enjoys an impressive reputation for creative achievement and vibrant artistic activities. South Australian artists continue to succeed nationally and internationally, in diverse fields such as visual arts, writing, film-making, music and dance. Known as 'the festival state', Adelaide and regional centres host approximately five hundred festivals and special events each year. These range from the multi-arts Adelaide Festival of Arts and Adelaide Fringe, to the Barossa Vintage Festival, Kernewek Lowender, and Coober Pedy Opal Festival.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory

Wine literature of the world 


The State Library of South Australia has the largest collection of wine literature in the southern hemisphere and one of the biggest in the world. This is appropriate for a state whose wine industry is one of its major economic activities.

The collection ranges from an 11th-century manuscript leaf detailing punishments for drunken monks to recently published books and magazines in different languages.

Donations of wine and beer labels, menus and wine lists from the community, and diaries from wine-makers add colour and life. Although the collection is strong in South Australian and other Australian material, the aim is to cover the whole world of wine.

Wine literature of the world website

From the ground up 


The architecture of South Australia is characterised by six chronological styles, beginning with Old Colonial to 1840, Victorian to 1890, Federation to 1915, Interwar, Postwar and the Late Twentieth Century from 1960. Many of the beautiful buildings standing today date from short periods of exceptional prosperity, such as the wheat boom of the 1870s and 1880s.

Architects were not required to be registered until 1939, but the major figures such as George Strickland Kingston, Thomas English, and Edmund Wright are well known.  South Australia is noted for the use of corrugated iron, for underground houses at Coober Pedy, and for 'Adelaide lace' decorative cast iron on verandahs.

Read more about this theme in SA Memory