The Fryer Library and Me: Dr Lyndon Megarrity

Guest Blog
Historian and academic, Dr Lyndon Megarrity remembers some of the hidden gems he has used in his research projects in the Fryer Library collection. 

I have had a long and happy association with the Fryer Library. I first visited the Fryer when I was researching and writing my PhD between 1998 and 2001. My thesis was on Sir Robert Philp, Premier of Queensland (1899-1903; 1907-8), who made a great contribution to Queensland’s mining and sugar industries and was of course the co-founder of Burns, Philp & Co. Philp was one of the strongest campaigners for Federation in Queensland, although ironically he grew to resent the Commonwealth’s attitude towards the states. Philp seemed a cold, distant figure until I read his papers in the Sir Robert Philp Collection (UQFL 28) at the Fryer Library.

The letters in the Sir Robert Philp Collection reveal much about gender relations, race relations, family life and business in the Queensland of the 1870s and 1880s. For me as a young man, reading the letters of Robert Philp and his close relatives highlighted the importance of remembering that there is a private man behind each public figure. I believe that this collection helped me to present a more human, realistic portrait of Premier Philp in my PhD thesis.

My other major encounter with the Fryer Library was during my Council of Australian University Librarians/Australian Society of Authors Fellowship (2014-15), during which I studied the papers of James George Drake (UQFL 96). Drake was a Queensland politician, journalist and lawyer who was famous in the 1890s and 1900s and yet forgotten today. The treasures in the Drake Papers include business records from the Boomerang newspaper (a radical Liberal periodical co-edited by Drake and William Lane between 1887 and 1890); Drake’s clipping books chronicling his early years as a politician; and some delightful personal reminiscences of James George Drake himself.

Image: Dr Lyndon Megarrity, Adjunct Lecturer, James Cook University, delivering his CAUL/ASA paper on James George Drake.

As a Minister in the Barton and Deakin Commonwealth Governments,[1] Drake quietly amassed a number of achievements, including the creation of a national postal and telegraph system. Drake has also left behind an entertaining memoir of the occasion when 40 or so Senators and MHRs inspected all the towns competing for the honour of becoming the nation’s capital. He mentions that after visiting the Albury site,

a fire … swept up the hill and was right across our path and making its way up on the other side …. There was not time to take thought nor space to turn; we simply had to go on. The driver … spoke to his horses and with a flick of the whip on the leaders he pushed them straight through; the grass actually burning under the hoofs of the horses … many a heart went [pit-a-pat], and there was a sigh of relief when we were safely through … hopes of Albury being chosen as the capital went up that day in smoke.[2]

In the Drake Papers there is also a wonderful glimpse of political campaigning in the days before radio, TV and social media. Drake captures the excitement of this earlier age:

Has the reader of these lines ever been on the platform at a real, hot political meeting? It has a sort of fascination for me, and is not without pleasure when I haven’t to speak, or … if I have done my bit, and am off duty. It is certainly interesting to look down from the platform on to a sea of upturned faces, and watch the changes of expression as the waves of emotion and sometimes, alas! The gusts of passion sweep over them – more thrilling to me than opera or drama, the play is but the representation of life while the meeting of massed humanity is life itself.[3]

Papers from James George Drake collection
Papers from the James George Drake Collection, (UQFL 96).

The quotes I have shared with you from the Fryer Library’s collections have helped me find the missing pieces in my research jigsaw. They have also offered tantalising new clues about Queensland’s somewhat mysterious past. I have gained many insights about Queensland’s social and political history from my visits to the Fryer Library, and I am sure that many other historians would say the same.

The Fryer Library at the University of Queensland is a national treasure. I always look forward to returning to the Fryer, with its well-informed and enthusiastic staff. The Fryer Librarians are sincerely interested in the researchers they meet each day, and they make you feel that your research is special and worthwhile.


[1] Drake’s Ministerial positions were as follows: Postmaster-General (1901-03), Minister for Defence (1903) and Attorney-General (1903-04).

[2] James G. Drake, ‘The search for a federal capital’ ca. 1920s/30s, Box 1, James George Drake Collection, UQFL 96, Fryer Library.

[3] J.G. Drake, ‘Random Recollections: Past and Future No. 1’ circa 1926, Box 1, James George Drake Collection, UQFL 96, Fryer Library.

Last updated:
25 May 2017