Rare birds of a feather flock together for Newcastle Libraries' exhibition  

02 May 2023

City of Newcastle will shine a light on some of Australia's finest bird illustrations as part of a new exhibition from its rare book collection. 

Gould – Treasures of the Hunter celebrates the legacy of renowned British ornithologist John Gould and his talented artist wife Elizabeth, whose strikingly beautiful lithographs helped bring her husband's seminal work, The Birds of Australia, to life in the mid-19th-century. 

Rare original copies of John's books form the centrepiece of the exhibition, surrounded by a selection of Elizabeth's vibrant illustrations, which have been digitally reproduced and enlarged to highlight the finely-detailed nature of the hand-drawn works. 

Newcastle Councillor Carol Duncan said the Gould – Treasures of the Hunter exhibition provides an insight into our local connection to the Goulds. 

"City of Newcastle are the custodians of one of the country's largest collections of John Gould's Birds of Australia publications, which were donated to the city in 1945 by Dr Roland Pope and are a treasured part of the Newcastle Libraries collection," Cr Duncan said. 

"What people may not know, however, is that the Goulds visited Newcastle and the Hunter in 1839 as part of their project to publish this first comprehensive record of Australia's birds, spending time on Ash and Mosquito islands before travelling via paddle steamer up the Hunter River to visit Elizabeth's brother in the Upper Hunter. 

"Many of the illustrations in the much-loved Birds of Australia books were based on sketches Elizabeth produced during their two-year trip around the country, including their time spent in the Hunter." 

The Birds of Australia featured descriptions of more than 681 species of birds, including 328 that were new to science and were first described by John Gould. The books included more than 600 hand-coloured lithographed plates of Australian birds, which are regarded as among the finest examples of bird illustrations ever published. 

City of Newcastle Director of Museum, Archive, Libraries and Learning, Julie Baird, said City of Newcastle's cultural institutions played an important role in preserving local history and sharing the stories of our region. 

"This exhibition demonstrates Newcastle Libraries commitment to telling stories of and for the people of Newcastle and the wider Hunter Region, enriching Newcastle's cultural offering through its annual temporary and touring exhibition program," Ms Baird said. 

"It explores a fascinating chapter in our local history, displaying examples of the collection's rare, beautiful and much-loved volumes of Birds of Australia with additional images and maps drawn from the library's historic archives." 

Ms Baird said the Library's exhibition provided the perfect complement to the Australian Museum's multimedia Birds of Australia Storybox installation, which is currently on display in the Newcastle Museum forecourt until 12 June. 

Gould – Treasures of the Hunter exhibition will run from 1 May to 21 October in the Local History Lounge at Newcastle City Library.