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History of the State Library of South Australia: Spence Wing

Details the Library's interesting history from 1834, its buildings, legislation, Board membership, staff and exhibitions.

Bray Study Rooms

The study rooms on Level 1 of the Spence Wing are named after a longstanding member of the Libraries Board and a lifelong user of State Library collections, Dr JJ Bray.

Dr John Jefferson Bray AC (1912-1995) was admitted to the SA Bar in 1933, becoming a Queen's Counsel in 1957. In 1967 he was appointed directly to the post of Chief Justice by Premier Don Dunstan. Dr Bray retired from the Supreme Court bench in 1978 because of heart trouble. He was an outstanding lawyer and thinker whose reputation spread throughout the legal world. Dr Bray was Chancellor of the University of Adelaide from 1968 to 1983, and a keen classical scholar and humanist. He wrote a number of works of poetry and was patron of the Friendly Street School of SA poets. He was the longest serving member of the Libraries Board of South Australia, serving from 1944 to 1987, and was honoured by having the Bray Reference Library named after him in 1987. The State Library holds Dr Bray's personal papers as Private Record Group 1098.

Ron Boland Newspaper Reading Area

The Ron Boland Newspaper Reading Area is located on Level 1 of the Spence Wing.

Mr Ron Boland OBE (1911-2000) was an influential figure in South Australian journalism. To acknowledge Ron Boland's 50-year career as a journalist, sports writer, editor and managing director, and in recognition of the State Library's contribution to the economic and cultural life of the state, News Corporation, through the auspices of its Chairman Rupert Murdoch AC, and Advertiser Newspapers former Managing Director Peter Wylie, gave a $400,000 gift to the State Library Foundation Appeal to help establish the Ron Boland Newspaper Reading Area.

The area is delineated as the newspaper reading area by use of the coffered hoop pine lit ceiling as an architectural and design solution to meeting the wishes of the donor for a separate room to acknowledge Ron Boland, but without compromising the open plan and the natural light coming in from the new windows. Hoop pine is a pale or yellow timber from coastal rainforests in New South Wales and Queensland and is an important plywood for veneers, furniture and boxes. It is also used by conservators for museum plinths and exhibition furniture because of its object friendly or harmless characteristics.

Spence Wing


Catherine Helen Spence B11192
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The Spence Wing is the central building in the State Library complex of three buildings. Built in 1967 it was known as the Bastyan Wing after the Governor who opened it. As part of the State Library redevelopment the building was reopened in 2003 and renamed to honour Catherine Helen Spence who helped to shape South Australia from 1839 to 1910.

Miss Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910) was born in Melrose, Scotland and educated in Edinburgh. In 1839 she came to Australia with her family, became a governess, and was in charge of her own school by 1845. She became the first female journalist in Australia, and over her lifetime wrote over 2,000 articles in magazines and newspapers. Her first book, Clara Morison, published in 1854 was the first novel written about Australia by a woman, and she went on to write seven other novels as well as stories for children, acting charades, puzzles, poems, articles about literature, and non-fiction. She was a preacher in the Unitarian Church, having left the Church of Scotland in 1856.

Spence had a continuing interest in politics but refused to align herself with a political party. For 50 years she campaigned for electoral reform in the cause of proportional representation, which she called effective voting. She stood (unsuccessfully) as a candidate for the 1897 Federal Convention in Adelaide, becoming the first woman political candidate in Australia. Spence was a member of most of the reforming boards of the colony. In 1866 she co-founded the Boarding Out Society of which she was an official for 14 years, and was a founding member of the State Children's Council. Her reputation spread overseas and in 1893 she travelled to the Chicago World Fair to address an international conference on charity, and lectured and preached across the United States, and visited Britain and Switzerland.

In 1891 she joined the fight for female suffrage and was in Parliament when the women's suffrage bill was passed in 1894. She was appointed to a Commission of Enquiry into the management and condition of the Adelaide Hospital in 1895, and so became the first woman in Australia to participate in an official commission. She died at her house in Queen Street, Norwood, and was buried at St Jude's Brighton Cemetery. There is a statue of her in Light Square Adelaide and a number of other memorials to her across the state.

The State Library holds her handwritten autobiography and other papers as Private Record Group 88. The Library has created a Catherine Helen Spence bibliographical website which lists her writings and details her significance to the State Library. Her name was a household word in her lifetime, and in her later years she was referred to as the Grand Old Woman of Australia. She became a symbol of what women could achieve. The Advertiser of 20 December 1999 included Spence in its list of the ten greatest South Australians of the twentieth century. The State Library of South Australia embodies what Catherine Helen Spence lived for. Like her, it is a supporter of education and self-education, of civic debate, of reading and writing and public programs. It reflects a government accepting its responsibility to provide access for all its citizens to information and literature, educational development, cultural growth, and to encourage civic pride.

Mabel Somerville Reading Room

The Somerville Reading Room for accessing preservation materials is located on Level 1 of the Spence Wing. Its name commemorates one of the great Library bequests in support of the South Australiana archival collections from Mabel Somerville in memory of her father James Dugald Somerville. In acknowledgment of their connection with archival materials the Library named the heritage reading room the Somerville Reading Room in 2003. More information is available on the Somerville family in the Benefactors and donated collections Library Guide.

Thomas Hardy Wine Library

The Thomas Hardy Wine Library is located on Level 1 of the Spence Wing.

More information is available on the Hardy Family and the Thomas Hardy Wine Library in the Benefactors and donated collections Library Guide.

Paul McGuire Maritime Library

The Paul McGuire Maritime Library is located on Level 1 of the Spence Wing and is a major component of the State Library's collection strengths in Ships and maritime history.

More information is available on the McGuire Family and the Paul McGuire Maritime Library in the Benefactors and donated collections Library Guide.

Bastyan Walkway

The Spence Wing was originally attached to the Mortlock Wing, but in 2002 during the State Library redevelopment, the two buildings were separated, and a walkway constructed to provide access between them. This walkway has been named after Sir Edric Bastyan.

Sir Edric Montague Bastyan KCMG KCVO KBE CB (1903-1980) had a very successful military career, including a period of duty as head of logistics during the Berlin airlift (1946-48) and Commander of British Forces, Hong Kong in 1957. He retired from the army in 1960 and was appointed Governor of South Australia on 4 April 1961. His astute governorship was highly respected by Premiers Playford, Walsh, Dunstan and Hall particularly in the circumstances of hung Parliaments in 1962 and 1968. In 1965 he laid the foundation stone of the new wing of the State Library. Sir Edric was Governor of Tasmania 1968-1973, after which he retired with his wife to North Adelaide.

An entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online gives further information.