Alumni Friends and Fryer Library: a personal reflection

Manager of Fryer Library, Simon Farley, reflects on what fifty years of friendship with the Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc has meant to the library. From gifts of rare first editions, to financing the purchase of precious manuscripts and creating new purpose-built spaces for students to interact with unique and rare collections, UQ alumni have been important to the development of the Fryer Library. 

Banner image: Album du Musée de Boulaq, comprenant quarante planches photographiées par MM. Délié et Béchard avec un texte explicatif rédigé par Auguste Mariette-Bey (1872). Donated by Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc.

Ninety years ago, the first of the books that would form the Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature were purchased with a gift of £10, made by the UQ Dramatic Society. Since that time, the Fryer Library has benefited from the generosity of alumni, friends and supporters.

The role of Alumni Friends and their support for Fryer

Formally constituted 50 years ago in May 1967, the Alumni Association (as it was then known) was formed ‘to foster mutually beneficial relations’ between UQ graduates and the University itself.

The Alumni Friends have contributed to the Fryer Library in many ways. They have made financial contributions, actively pursued manuscripts in the field, built links with the public and potential donors, helped through volunteer work and, since 1979, contributed through proceeds and books from highly successful book fairs.

Most recently, they have made a donation of $50,000 to help us transform part of our FW Robinson Reading Room into a dedicated teaching space that will benefit students.

Len and Fedora Fisher

Len Fisher was the President of the Alumni Association from 1971 to 1974. Len and his wife Fedora were popular ambassadors for the Fryer Library. They displayed an enthusiasm and energy for building our collections that has left a lasting legacy. Their zeal ensured the acquisition of such treasures as handwritten notebooks from Donald Friend, acquired in Bali, and valuable and rare first editions by Jack Lindsay donated in the wake of a visit from the Fishers to his home in Essex, England. Fedora produced engaging accounts of their collecting adventures for Alumni News, the Association’s regular journal.

Derek Fielding, University Librarian, receiving Dick Roughsey's papers from
Len Fisher at opening of Central Library, University of Queensland, 1973
Donald Friend's An Alphabet of Owls (1981)
Donald Friend's An alphabet of owls et cetera : with a text suitable for all children, grown-ups, non-readers, ornamental hermits, et alia (1981), purchased for the Len Fisher Memorial Collection established in 1988

Enabling the development of a great research library

The Alumni Friends of UQ have helped the Fryer Library develop significant cultural and heritage collections that are among the University's great treasures. Regular comments from researchers and visitors illustrate its importance. On 16 May 2017, a researcher recorded their thoughts about Fryer Library in our Visitors Book:

A superb library – a true treasure house.

The day before, another had written:

This Library acts as a great distraction from the inevitability of death. Five stars!

More than a pleasant distraction, the Fryer Library affords intellectual and cultural sustenance. As Andrew Carnegie once remarked, 'A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.' 

Australian flower paintings of Ferdinand Bauer
(London: Basilisk Press, 1976), purchased 2006

A place of Australian literature

The University has been a very important place in my life, as it has for so many others who have studied here.

Returning to UQ after 20 years, I recalled the lines from Gwen Harwood’s poem, 'In Brisbane':

In flaring sunlight a ghost is waiting, with my face of twenty years ago ... my self, most intimate stranger ... who longed to hazard the pure space of experience.

And the Library was for me a particularly magical space, with its extensive volumes covering the many territories of world literature that I yearned to explore.

Thea Astley's 1999 prize-winning novel Drylands and her green Hermes ‘Baby’ typewriter
that she used from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In the Fryer Library, the domain was, as it remains, the realm of Australian literature.

In my Honours year, spending many happy hours in the Fryer Library's FW Robinson Reading Room, I accessed original manuscripts that took me to the source of literary creation.

I did not know it at the time, but the manuscripts of Thomas Shapcott that I handled as a student were acquired, like so many other treasures, through the financial support of the Alumni Friends of the University of Queensland, as were the manuscripts of Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, David Malouf, Thea Astley, John Blight, Janette Turner Hospital and many rare and valuable books such as Captain Cook’s Florilegium and Aldine Press volumes from the library of Cardinal Manning.

Fryer Library's acquisition of one of the 100 printed copies of Captain Cook’s florilegium (1973) was made possible through a generous donation by the Alumni Association. 

A special place in our hearts

As Helen Gregory wrote in her history of the first 25 years of the Alumni Association, assistance to the Library in general, and to Fryer in particular, became ‘one of the Association’s most significant contributions to the University’. Likewise, in the March 1976 issue of Alumni News, it was acknowledged that ‘The Fryer Library has a special place in the hearts of Alumni’.

In this milestone year, I can say that past and present members of the Alumni Friends of the University of Queensland hold a special place in our hearts too, working tirelessly now and over the years to ensure that we remain that ‘never failing spring’ for students and researchers who come to us from within Australia and around the world.  

I wish the Alumni Friends of the University of Queensland a very happy 50th anniversary and offer deep thanks for the generous support and benefaction that has made the Fryer Library what it is today.

Read more about the Alumni Friends' Golden Jubilee: 50 years of Celebrating, Supporting, and Encouraging UQ’s ‘Future Alumni’. 

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Last updated:
6 August 2019