December 4 2019

Gala Opening of The Ian Potter Queen's Hall

By The Ian Potter Foundation

View of inside of refurbished SLV Queen's Hall
The Ian Potter Queen's Hall. Image courtesy of The State Library of Victoria. Credit: SDP Media.
This speech was given by Charles Goode AC, Chair of The Ian Potter Foundation, on the occasion of the Gala Opening of the State Library of Victoria's completed Vision 2020 project.

The event entitled Under the Night Sky was held in The Ian Potter Queen's Hall which was refurbished as part of Vision 2020 after having been closed to the public for the past 16 years.

It was attended by Her Excellency The Honourable Linda Dessau Governor of Victoria and Mr Anthony Howard; The Premier of Victoria, The Honourable Daniel Andrews; Minister for the Arts, The Honourable Martin Foley; President of the State Library of Victoria Board, Mr John Wylie; members of the State Library Board; and Chief Executive Officer of the State Library of Victoria, Kate Torney and other distinguished guests.

On behalf of the Governors of The Ian Potter Foundation, I am very proud to be standing in the wonderfully refurbished Ian Potter Queen’s Hall; one might say, the jewel in the crown of the State Library’s Vision 2020 redevelopment project.

The Queen's Hall was the initial building of the State Library in 1856 and since then 22 buildings have been constructed so that the current State Library encompasses a whole city block and is the fourth most visited library in the world.

Sir Ian Potter was a passionate supporter of the arts, of education and of excellence and innovation in all its forms. Similarly, our forebears who conceived this stately building believed in the importance of providing our citizens with access to the world’s knowledge and literature. 

Therefore, in 2015, it was an easy decision for the Governors of the Foundation to support the Library’s Vision 2020 project with a $10 million grant. It was a significant grant for the Foundation – the third-largest grant made in the Foundation’s history. 

The Library's Vision 2020 has been funded largely from the State Government of Victoria and they are to be congratulated for their support. Also, major gifts from the private sector were made, especially from the John and Miriam Wylie Foundation, The Hanson Little Foundation, Maria Myers AC and Allan Myers AC QC, and Gandel Philanthropy, as well as others.

Throughout its long history, the Library’s mission has remained steadfast: to be a place of learning, discovery and reflection – open to all. As we know, the building has had many different iterations, adapting itself to the changing needs of the community. This Hall, once the heart of the Library, has over time served many purposes but in more recent times has been effectively closed to the public.

Tonight, we celebrate its restoration to its original purpose as a superb reading room, offering people from all walks of life an opportunity to access a world-class collection of literature and other educational resources. Returned to its former glory, the Hall has also been enhanced and updated to meet the needs of this century and the digital age.

It will be a tranquil reading room by day, seating more than 200 people. At night it will be transformed into an exceptional and unique venue for special events.

I congratulate the Library Board, their staff, the architects and the cvontractors for the excellent restoration of the Hall with its shigh ceiling, skylights, timber floors and the restoried heritage furniture alng the sides. We can all feel very proud of what has been accomplished.

A library is a genuinely democratic space offering all comers equal access to its resources, its facilities, and its treasures. The State Library of Victoria has been a shining example of this for more than 160 years. 

The Library is now well prepared to meet the needs of the public for the next 100 years.

I am confident that the Library’s future patrons will appreciate the value of this important community asset as much as the patrons of the past. And here, I want to quote German immigrant Hermann Beckler*, who, in a letter back to his brother in Munich in 1859,  wrote of the State Library:

‘Here you can quench your thirst for knowledge; learn what is necessary or useful in your life or position; [and] raise your thoughts above the low, common path of daily life by reading sublime prose or poetry…

 ‘..what a treasury of books... Books on every corner of the world. There is a lifetime's reading in this travel literature alone. I see books, can actually handle them and look at the maps and pictures inside. And here they are, I take them out (only out of the rack, not out of the library), read them, make extracts, use them repeatedly and need appease no one. In effect the books are mine, are everyone's; this is a public library…’

The Ian Potter Foundation is very proud to support the Government of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria in restoring this Hall to its role as a place of learning and inspiration.  

The welcoming and democratic nature of this library has been the cornerstone of its success and appeal, earning it a place in the heart of all Victorians, who are able to experience the same wonder and delight experienced by Hermann Beckler 160 years ago.

The Vision 2020 renovation of the Library, and tonight we celebrate the opening of the Ian Potter Queen's Hall as part of that renovation, is a major step along its journey from a place of quiet study and learning from books to being a lively, cultural, community hub, where people of all ages, meet, greet, engage and educate themselves.

The State Library feeds our lust for learning and arouses our curiosity and we are very proud to be part of that.

Charles Goode AC, Chair of The Ian Potter Foundation

* The quote is from 'Visit to the Library in 1859', by Hermann Beckler. Published in The LaTrobe Journal, No. 25, 1980.