Q and A with author Daniella Bernett
Talking Location With… author Isobel Blackthorn, the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
4th July 2019
#TalkingLocationWith… author Isobel Blackthorn, The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, one of the settings in The Unlikely Occultist, the biographical novel of Alice Bailey.
When researching my biographical novel of Alice Bailey, The Unlikely Occultist, I knew the controversial Theosophist hailed from the eminent La Trobe-Bateman family and that one of her ancestors, Charles La Trobe, was the founding governor of the State of Victoria, Australia. But when I created another character, Heather Brown, and made her an archivist at the State Library of Victoria, I had no idea how apposite that would be.
I was living in Melbourne at the time so a visit to the library was a must. The State Library of Victoria was conceived by Charles La Trobe and established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, the first in Australia and one of the first in the world. The grand neoclassical building, designed by renowned architect Joseph Reed, stands on its own block directly opposite Central Station in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.
I paid a visit to the library in 2017, taking a long walk from the train station through the city’s laneways and quieter streets and arriving at the library captivated by its grandeur. The building and grounds were teeming with tourists and city workers on lunch breaks and school groups. After beholding the stout columns and the swathes of neat lawn, I noticed a statue of Charles La Trobe and went over, almost as though to tell him about his rather special family member.
Inside, I approached the information desk and on impulse I told the librarian of my research. She warmed to me immediately and told me of a newly released biography of Charles La Trobe. She then went and retrieved the library’s copy yet to be shelved and let me have a flick through. That was how I discovered Alice Bailey and Charles La Trobe were both deeply influenced by the Moravian faith via a shared ancestor, Alice Bailey’s great, great grandfather, Reverend Benjamin Boneval La Trobe, a well-known Moravian minister.
As my novel developed I found myself exploring all the locations were Alice Bailey lived and worked. One of them, the office headquarters of her organization, was on the top floor of the Salmon Tower in 11 West 42nd Street, directly opposite and looking down upon the New York Public Library, Manhattan. It was an irresistible moment for me to have both Alice and Heather walk through those library doors, and for Heather to compare the two grand libraries. While Heather found the New York library undeniably grand, she couldn’t help preferring her own Australian version.
A walk around the State Library of Victoria includes taking in the domed reading room, enjoying the galleries and exhibitions and absorbing the two million books the building contains. The library contains a bookshop is situated in the library’s foyer and The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, established by Lonely Planet founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, is located on Little Lonsdale Street.
A tour would not be complete without a visit to the restaurant downstairs and accessed in the aptly named La Trobe Street. The Moat is a charming eatery with an excellent menu and walls adorned with all kinds of bookish memorabilia. I had lunch in The Moat on the day of my visit to the library and naturally so have Heather Brown with her friend Suzanne. A perfect way to round off a very pleasant ramble. Or head down to Chinatown or to a little bistro in one of Melbourne’s famous laneways.
Thank you so much to Isobel for choosing such a wonderful place of interest to feature here!
You can buy Isobel’s books on this link
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