In praise of the National Library

John Ulm in Canberra, 5th December 2014

What a fantastic place! Along with the Battye Library in Perth, the National Library in Canberra is one of my favourite places to work. I never cease to be amazed at the documents, manuscripts, photos and other records the staff will find and pull out for me from amongst the vast treasure trove of material, held in various formats, within the walls of the National Library.

This week I have been reading the hand-written log books of Charles Ulm, written whilst flying, with Charles Kingsford Smith, where no man had ever flown before. His accounts of the first ever trans-Pacific flight, in 1928, and what became known as the Coffee Royal incident in the Pilbra in 1929, are going through the National Library’s preservation process at the moment. I was, however, privileged to be able to read, from the scanned pages, all of the ups and downs, the bumps and jerks, the anxiety and elation of those incredible moments in history, recounted by Charles Ulm from the cockpit of the Southern Cross, as they were taking place.

It was also thanks to Susan Hall, publisher at the National Library, that I was able to interview Charles Ulm’s son, John. A remarkable man who, at 93 years of age, knows and remembers everything about those early days of aviation and so generously shared his memories with me.

Now it’s back to my own desk and the task of doing justice to all of the fascinating material I have gathered.

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