History of the John Oxley Library - Part One

The State Library of Queensland's John Oxley Library celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, first opening to the public on 5 April 1934.  A range of programs, exhibitions and events will mark this important anniversary and these will be outlined progressively throughout the year. 

The John Oxley Library's role within the State Library is heavily focused on the collection and provision of access to Queensland's documentary history, however, the John Oxley Library itself also has an interesting history.  This history will be outlined in a number of separate blog posts throughout 2009 commencing with Part One today.

The genesis of the John Oxley Library lies in the growing interest in Queensland’s history and development, particularly in the period following Federation.  Having a similar genesis and also important to the establishment and evolution of the John Oxley Library was the Historical Society of Queensland, now the Royal Historical Society of Queensland (the Society) and its interactions with various groups and individuals within the early Queensland arts sector.

The Queensland Jubilee celebrations of 1909, combined with community enthusiasm about statehood in the period following Federation, encouraged some level of interest in Queensland history and culture.  Soon after, the Society was formally established (August 1913) with two main aims, the study of the history of Queensland, New Guinea and the nearby Pacific Islands and the collection and preservation of relevant historical material. Also, the Society was to be involved in the publication of relevant historical research as well as the collection and preservation of public records.   

But it was to be the Brisbane Centenary Celebrations of 1923/4 which first  raised significant public interest and awareness in Queensland’s history. 

Opening ceremony of the Brisbane centenary at Albert Square, Brisbane, 1924, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 24773

 Crowds watching the Brisbane centenary celebrations, 1924, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image no. 201331

In August 1926, following the celebrations, the Celebrations Committee found itself with a surplus of some £2,000, which it then set aside for the following purposes:

1. The erection of a memorial to John Oxley in the form of a granite block with a suitable plaque.
2. The establishment of a memorial library to be called the Oxley Memorial Library of Queensland Literature (Oxley Memorial Library).  The proposed Oxley Memorial Library was originally intended to be part of the proposed Municipal Library of Brisbane.

The story of the John Oxley Library will be continued in Part Two soon.


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I have a pencil case of a deceased relative. It is like a time capseul.The case is the same as when he, Graham Spark , attended the first State High School in Brisbane when he was 13/14 years.(c. 1945/6 ).The case still has the student tran tickets in it.If the object is of interest, I am contactable by email.Regards Val MacGregor

That sounds really interesting Val. We'll be in touch.