State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 80 Spring 2007


John Arnold
A Note on the History of the Journal

This Issue celebrates forty years of the La Trobe Journal. The first number was published as the La Trobe Library Journal in April 1968 and, although this issue is No. 80, there have been, strictly speaking, only 78 separate issues with Nos. 47 and 48 and 51 and 52 being double issues.
The journal was flagged at the second provisional Committee meeting of the newly formed Friends of the La Trobe Library held on 20 December 1967. The minutes record that:
The Secretary was encouraged to inquire into the costing and possible contents and editorship of a periodical publication.
The Friends of the La Trobe Library itself had been formed at the instigation of Geoffrey Serle. The initial meeting of interested persons was held in his office at Monash University followed by a more formal meeting in the Manuscripts Room of the La Trobe Library held on 16 November 1966.
Around April 1967, Serle circulated a memo on the proposed journal, noting that he was struggling to come up with a suitable name, stating that the ‘best he and Miss Reynolds could come up with was the Bulletin of the Friends of the La Trobe Library’. He added that he felt that this was too much of a mouthful. Shortly afterwards the Committee voted on whether to call the journal the long-winded name or simply the La Trobe Library Journal. Succinctness prevailed.
No. 1 was a modest 16 pages, nine times smaller than this issue. Looking back over the near-eighty issues (full text of Nos. 1–75 available via: one is struck by the range and standing of those who have written for it, the regular contributions and guest-editing by Library staff, and its consistency in carrying articles and documents that describe (and thus promote) the Library's collections, particularly its Australiana holdings. The strength of the many special or theme issues also stands out. The first of these was the Matthew Flinders issue (No. 13), guest-edited by geographer T. M. Perry, the most recent No. 76 with its theme of photography. Others that could be singled out include two on Henry Lawson (Nos. 28 and 70), Victoria at the Great Exhibitions, 1851–1900 (No. 56), the bumper Children's Literature issue (No. 60), Charles Joseph La Trobe (No. 71) and the issue that focussed on the State Library of Victoria as a Melbourne icon (No. 72).
Reading through the minutes of Committee meetings of the Friends, one notes three issues regularly discussed. The first is concern over its cost, followed, understandably, by ideas and suggestions on how to increase its sales. The Journal always had a core circulation

Geoffrey Serle, Founding Editor. Photograph courtesy Jessie Serle.

via its membership and from subscriptions from other individuals and institutions. Counter sales at the library itself or via other outlets have always been modest. Margins and sales meant that it was not worth other outlets stocking the Journal other than on a pro bono basis. Only a few issues have sold out. One of these was issue No. 17 containing the reminiscences of Judge Streeton where sales were boosted by a favourable reference in the Age by Michael Cannon. The first number was reprinted sometime in the eighties, while demand for No. 43 — ‘Koorie History: Sources for Aboriginal Studies in the State Library of Victoria’, guest-edited by Tom Griffiths — was so great that it was reprinted within six month of publication.
The third theme relates to comments, often by those not usually involved in its production, on the Journal's regular lateness. Following the appearance of No. 6, Editor Serle was complimented on its contents but indirectly criticized for omitting the usual details about the Friends in the prefatory pages. The lateness and delays — almost inevitable for an organization dependent upon volunteers — became a real problem in the early nineties during transition stages between editors. This was the main reason for the two double numbers mentioned above. It allowed for the Journal to catch-up with its publication schedule.
Another obvious thing one sees when dipping into the complete run of the La Trobe Journal is the gradual change in its method of production and the related quality of reproduction of images. Initially there were no illustrations, gradually half tones appeared on the same quality paper as the text, later separate good art paper was used for the reproduction of black and white images. The double issue (Nos. 51 and 52) devoted to Medieval manuscripts in the Rare Book Collection of the State Library of Victoria was, thanks to sponsorship from Mobil, the first to carry colour illustrations. Now there would probably be complaints if there were no high-quality colour images in each issue of the Journal.
In terms of production, the Journal has come the full gamut from being typeset with
galley- and page-proofs through to elaborate computer setting and design. The author well remembers cutting and pasting proofs to make up the layout for the pages for issue No. 40 that he guest-edited. He also hand-drew the graph it carries and played around with it on a photocopier to reduce it to the required size and to obtain the best clarity.
Over its forty-year history the Journal has had three publishers: the Friends of the La Trobe Library, Nos. 1–34; the Friends of the State Library of Victoria for Nos. 35–59; and the State Library of Victoria Foundation from issue No. 60 onwards. Issue No. 41, ‘The Great South Land’ was published jointly with the Library Council of Victoria as a catalogue to accompany the Library's bi-centennial exhibition of the same name. The name was changed to the shorter La Trobe Journal in 1998 to reflect the incorporation of the La Trobe Library and its staff into the wider State Library of Victoria. In an editorial slip, however, No. 59 appeared as being published by the (no longer existent) Friends of the La Trobe Library.
In addition to being the founder and first Secretary of the Friends, Geoffrey Serle was also the foundation editor of the journal. He was followed in turn by John Thompson, Paul Macpherson, Tony Marshall (all three on the staff of the La Trobe Library), Mimi Colligan, Teresa Pagliaro and, from issue No. 61 onwards, John Barnes. There have also been guest-and fill-in editors from within the Library staff (John Arnold, Des Cowley, Tom Griffiths, Deborah Breen, Sandra Burt and Shona Dewar, Margaret McCormick, and Brian Hubber) and the Friends (Wallace Kirsop). Details of the various editors' tenures, guest-editor issues and publishing details of the journal can be found in Wallace Kirsop's bibliographical note to issue No. 57 (Autumn 1996). This issue was the first not to carry a volume number. It was felt that having two running series — volume and number — was confusing and henceforth each issue would bear only the number and have separate pagination rather than the previous sequential volume pagination.
The same issue had announced that Professor John Barnes would take over as editor beginning with No. 60, but his editorship did not actually commence until the following number. The first number edited by Barnes (Autumn 1998) carried a memorial dedication to Geoffrey Serle (1922–1998) and a tribute to him by Wallace Kirsop.
This issue, No. 80, is the last that John Barnes will oversee. For the whole period, he has been assisted by Sandra Burt, a librarian in the La Trobe Manuscripts Collection, who was also the last secretary of the Friends. Under his editorship and with increased support from the State Library of Victoria Foundation, the Journal has grown in both size and stature, and now has an international reputation. Senior library staff believe that the State Library of Victoria is one of the few, if not the only, major state or national library in the world which has its own scholarly journal published at no direct cost to the institution that it promotes and supports. The founding Editor, Geoffrey Serle, once wrote on a student's essay that the writer could take ‘proper pride’ in it. This was rightly considered to be high praise from the historian. We can all certainly take proper pride in the history of the journal that he founded.

Charles Joseph La Trobe

Of all the the portrait medallions created by the English sculptor, Thomas Woolner, that of Charles Joseph La Trobe is probably the best known — in Australia, at any rate. It was part of the cover design of the La Trobe Library Journal for the first 36 numbers, and a colour photograph of it is now on the cover of Latrobeana, the journal of the C. J. La Trobe Society. However, while the work of art itself is widely known, Caroline Clemente's article is the first detailed account of the relationship between the sculptor and his subject. Her research, completed when she held a Creative Arts Fellowship at the State Library earlier this year, adds depth to our knowledge of early Melbourne when, as La Trobe told his friend, publisher John Murray, the ‘arts and sciences’ were ‘unborn’.
La Trobe has attracted more interest than any of the other colonial administrators in Victoria, and for good reason. Although his tenure as Lt.-Governor was comparatively short (1851–54), his total service as the senior official (1839–1854) was longer than that of any other. Added to that, he had a foundational role and was exercising power before a system of representative government was introduced. The unconventional family background and the personal qualities of the man also mark him out from the rest. Although his standing in the colony was not high in the nineteenth century, the use of his name in the mid-twentieth century for two important institutions in Victoria — the La Trobe Library and La Trobe University — recognized his centrality in the history of the place, and emphasized his association with culture.
The State Library has an unrivalled collection of materials, published and unpublished, relating to the history of Victoria. Especially rich is the collection of material relating to La Trobe which, thanks to the efforts of Dianne Reilly, the current La Trobe Librarian who has made a special study of La Trobe, now includes copies of the substantial La Trobe archive at Neuchatel. Included in the collection are letters and journals which are yet to be transcribed and published. The letter to his sister, held in the State Library and published here for the first time, complements the selection of his letters from Port Phillip held in the Murray archive and published in The La Trobe Journal wholly devoted to La Trobe (No. 71). For the benefit of scholars, a note on the transcription of the letters appears below on page 78.
The contributions in this issue represent some of the continuing research into the life and times of La Trobe, for which the materials in the State Library are the main, but not the only, source that is being investigated.