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National Library of Australia

Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
January 2003

This site allows users to search through the digitized image collections of 43 participating agencies. All of the cultural agencies involved, bar the National Library of New Zealand, are Australian institutions. They range in size and scope from small regional libraries and private galleries to state and national libraries and art galleries. The site currently has access to more than 600,000 images. A list of the participating agencies outlines the contents of each collection. The attraction of this site is that it allows for a centralized search across the accumulated resources of all participating agencies.

The collection includes both black-and-white and color images derived from photographs, artworks (such as paintings, drawings, prints, and posters), and objects. The site covers “all aspects of Australiana,” but this term is interpreted broadly to refer to the wider Pacific region. Images must have some connection with Australia to be included, but this might mean, for example, an image created by an Australian artist or photographer of a non-Australian subject. The main strength of the site, however, lies in its images of Australia and the surrounding region. They range in time period from 17th-century voyages of European expansion to the present day. The site does not include contemporary items restricted by copyright or textual items unless the text forms part of an artifact. Nor does it include video or audio clips. Image quality is variable according to when, where, and for what purpose the original digitization was made by the participating agencies. The site also provides links to 32 Australian and five international institutions, including archives, art galleries and universities, that provide digitized images.

There are several ways of navigating through this vast resource base. A simple search can be conducted from the home page. The advanced search facility allows users to search according to a wider range of information fields (such as “title,” “creator,” “date,” or “place”) and to restrict their search to a particular participating agency if desired. The site provides a clearly laid-out and easy-to-use “search help” section that details how to search constructively in both simple and advanced modes. Searches bring up a list of thumbnail images with titles and the names of contributing agencies. Full images are housed on websites of the various participants, so clicking on the image takes the user to another website where more information and a larger image are available.

PictureAustralia’s collection can be used in a variety of teaching situations. The images can be incorporated into lecture presentations (although quality varies). The very clear reproduction of “Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay,” for example, can be used to discuss popular representations of transportation as well as images of women, criminals, and the poor at the end of the 18th century. Students can find primary-source material for research papers on subjects as diverse as Antarctic exploration, changing kitchen technologies, or the Ballets Russes. Searches by subject allow images from the Pacific region to be incorporated into world history courses in a thematic way, from European encounters with Indigenous peoples to the Pacific as a site of war. The “Picture Trails” that have been set up within the site make this easier and are an especially useful teaching resource. They bring together highlights from the collection on particular themes. Certain themes are self-contained such as “Indigenous Australia” or “Trade and Industry.” Others trails, such as “Society” and “History,” are broader and contain subthemes, including “Bushrangers,” “Magic, Oddities, and Travelling Shows,” “Blind Australia,” and “Murder and Mayhem.” As these examples suggest, some theme titles are more self-explanatory than others. PictureAustralia encourages users, especially teachers and exhibition curators, to suggest new picture trail themes.

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