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A Library for Mentone

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Council Chambers, with Miniature Rifle Range and Public Lending Library on left, c1932. Kingston Collection courtesy T Smyth.

In the history of the suburbs that today make up the City of Kingston, there has always been a desire among many citizens to have a public library available to all. Cheltenham gained its Mechanics’ Institute and Library in the mid-1850s through community action. Moorabbin was somewhat later in 1908. Mentone came between these two towns, having a library by 1890, a remarkable achievement given that it was only a few year after Matthew Davies planned and sub-divided land purchased from Alexander Balcombe, shortly after the railway from Melbourne to Mordialloc line was constructed. However, it struggled to survive.

The Mentone group failed to get a donation for the Athenaeum and Free Library from the Moorabbin Shire Council in December 1890. [2] Yet they continued in their efforts to raise the necessary money with a grand concert in April 1891. At their annual meeting held in the Mentone Royal Coffee Palace the secretary was proud to report that there seemed to be a heightened interest in the library. A local reporter hazarded a guess that the library might be permanently successful; a goal which he thought should be the wish of every one interested in the progress of the township. [3]

Back in October 1890 a public meeting resolved to revive the previous unsuccessful movement for the formation of a public library in Mentone. A committee was formed and they negotiated with the Recreation Company to obtain possession of three rooms at the Skating Rink at a rental of 5/- per week. The rooms were furnished as a library, reading and amusement sections. Newspapers were placed on tables, and about three hundred books were purchased. Although the library was operating from 1 December it was officially opened on 15th December by the Chief Secretary, the Honourable George Landridge, who told his audience, ’Though only a young town you had progressed splendidly. Most young towns had churches and a skating rink, or a race course or a free library but Mentone had all these.’ [4] T Obbinson was nominated as librarian. Later a caretaker was appointed so that books could be borrowed in the day time. [5] But subsequently the committee decided to close the rooms during the winter months and transfer the books to Mrs Lannan’s estate agency shop in Como Parade so subscribers were not disadvantaged.

In the annual report of 1891, the library secretary, G H Murray, recorded his view that the committee had not received the support to which it was entitled. Neither the Government nor the Council assisted financially. The Melbourne Public Library helped by providing two boxes of books but they were only available as a short time loan.

By 1912 people of Mentone, under the leadership of Councillor W T C Kelly and the Moorabbin Shire Council, set about raising funds for the erection of a library building. To support this goal a garden fete was held in the Recreation Ground. The Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller, opened the fete and spoke of the importance of reading in education. He warned there was a great deal of trash in the way of books. He said there were books people were better without and many others once read left the reader the worse for reading them. He hoped that Mentone people would avoid such books. ‘The sloppy, trashy shilling shocker might be a reaction for an abnormally active mind or one that was usually engaged in considering the details of business, but it was useful only as recreation,’ he suggested. [6] By the end of 1924 the library no longer existed.

On 16 March 1925 a meeting of twenty five people was chaired by the Mayor of the Shire of Mordialloc and Mentone, Cr Bradshaw, at the Recreation Hall. They agreed to work together to establish another Mentone Public Library. At that meeting a foundation committee was elected to pursue the goal of setting up a library. The members were G E Ashley, A F Bellany, G Davis, G A Desailly, H L Dickinson, W Harry, A K Lemmon, G A Pepper, H Petersen, W Riley and W Wilson. G Maloney, J O Thomas and Mrs Lannan were appointed trustees. At a subsequent meeting G Maloney was elected President, H Dickinson Secretary, M Wilson Treasurer and A Bellany, a trained librarian, was appointed to that role. An annual subscription of ten shillings was set and by the conclusion of the meeting fifteen people had become members. [7]

The Argus newspaper informed Mentone residents later in 1925 that a temporary library was to be opened in rooms at the rifle range in Brindisi Street. The previous library had closed due to lack of support but the trustees of that venture held £165 which they were pleased to pass to the committee behind the new venture. This new thrust for a library was supported by the Mentone Progress Association and opened on 6 May 1925 with 120 subscribers and 550 books. [8] Phillips, in his 1967 paper, suggested this renewed drive for a Mentone library came at an appropriate time because the isolation and parochialism existing pre-World War One had been replaced by a thirst for knowledge and a belief that if peace was to be maintained an understanding of other cultures and how other nations lived was necessary. This understanding could only be achieved through travel and reading. [9] While not all could afford to travel the written word was accessible.

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Mentone Miniature Rifle Club and Mentone Public Lending Library. Photographer Ken Lemmon, Kingston Collection 1928.

The annual meeting of subscribers in November 1926 once again elected G Maloney as president while H L Dickinson and W Wilson continued in their roles of secretary and treasurer. Dickinson had the additional task of librarian. Members on the committee of management were Messrs W Harry, R Riley, H P Peterson, G Pepper, G Lemmon, G Croker, E A Pleasants, Mrs Richardson and Miss Phillips. One seat on the committee was reserved for a nominee from the Mordialloc-Mentone Council. [10] By this time the book collection had grown to 1600 volumes and the subscribers had increased to 169. [11]

Initially the Rifle Club in Brindisi Street generously provided accommodation for the library, although later there was concern that the space available was inadequate for the efficient functioning of a library. For example, there was not a room available for committee meetings and as a consequence they were held in the homes of subscribers or at the adjacent Skating Rink. Protracted negotiations with the Rifle Club to extend the premises failed. One answer to the problem of accommodation was suggested by the Recreation Committee which offered to build a suitable facility for which the library committee would pay an annual rent of four pounds. To facilitate this proposal the Mordialloc Council donated £20 which was added to the offered financial support by the Mentone Progress Association. [12] But it was not until 1927 that a small timber construction was built next door to the Rifle Club in Brindisi Street for the benefit of the library and its subscribers.

Records for 1928 show that 1,946 books were circulated in the month of August when subscribers numbered 261. In one month seventy new books were added to the collection and three hundred books were sent free of charge to people in the country in conformity with the library’s policy of removing books for which there was little demand. Books were also sent to clergymen to be distributed to outback settlers and to men employed by the Country Road Board in road making in isolated areas. [13]

In the late 1920s unemployment was affecting many families and despite the efforts of government and councils it accelerated further in the following decade. The stock market crash in New York on 29 October 1929 had repercussions for many. Towards the end of 1929 there was a sharp decline in the number of books borrowed from the Mentone Library. Economies were introduced in August 1931 to offset falling revenue. In that same year there was a loss of 80 subscribers. In 1932 additional space was gained for the library in the Rifle Range Rooms by utilizing the passage leading from the front of the building to the Rifle Range Club Rooms. By 1933 there was a feeling of unrest amongst the committee about the future of the library. There was a further steep decline in liquidity and it was believed the Council would compulsorily acquire the building for municipal purposes. While the expectation was that the Council would provide an alternative location the committee feared any transfer would be beyond their financial resources.

In 1935, H L Dickinson, the long serving secretary of the library, was writing to the Argus alerting its readers of the success of the Mentone library. He suggested success was due to co-operative effort of members. [14] Another element in its success was the fact that the librarians who were members of the committee of management did not attempt to dictate to subscribers what they should read but rather to encouraged them to reveal their reading preferences. In ten years since its creation 175,000 books had been exchanged. A stock of 4,500 books was held by the library, with 500 to 600 new books purchased each year to cater for the needs of 160 subscribers who paid 10/- a year. Members were entitled to one book daily and three additional books at 2d a volume. For children there was a free section. [15]

The twentieth anniversary of the library established in 1925 was celebrated in 1945 when there was a membership of 190. Two years later H P Petersen was elected president and continued to serve in that role until 1959. He was a member of the original committee of 1925 as were Dickinson, Pepper, Lemmon and Mrs A Richardson who continued to volunteer. By 1949 memberships had increased to 255 and a grant of £25 had been received from the State Government and £21 from the Mordialloc Council. Earlier a grant was made by the government in 1944-5. Additional grants were provided in 1954-5 and 1955-6.

The library was transferred in 1955 to a room in the Council Chambers where £200 was spent on refurbishment and removal costs. Membership had increased substantially reaching 532 and reached the peak of 643 the following year, yet there were some troubling factors arising. The reading patterns and practices of many individuals were about to be influenced through the introduction of television and the establishment of a Free Library Service at Parkdale.

Discussions about the establishment of a Free Library Service in the municipality were intense in 1960 with arguments being made for initially locating the library either in Mordialloc or Mentone. The councillors favoured Mordialloc but other people were also proposing Parkdale as the location. Eventually the first free municipal library in the City of Mordialloc was opened in the former Lincoln Mills building in Parkers Road, Parkdale, in August 1962. Vida Horn from the Footscray library was appointed as the Chief Librarian. At the end of the first fortnight of operation 1976 adults, 600 teenagers and 953 children had joined and borrowed books from the library. [16] Soon it was established that the building was too small and on November 5, 1976 the council purchased from K & E Rogers Pty Ltd the menswear factory in Parkers Road, Parkdale with the intention of moving the operation of the municipal library there to almost double the space available. The aim was to broaden the nature and number of services available. [17]

By 1964 the Mentone Library was operating as a loss and eating into its financial reserve to maintain operations. However, the situation was corrected two years later when a small profit was recorded for the year after small increases in charges for extra books and the amount of money spent on the purchase of books was reduced. The committee of the Mentone Library asked the Council to provide them with a new building while at the same time stressing the urgency of forming a regional library as soon as possible. If the latter was achieved, the committee undertook to cease their library’s operation. Clearly they did not view the Parkdale library operation as meeting their needs although President O C Phillips commented upon the good relationships existing between the two libraries. [18]

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Mentone Public Library celebrates its Golden Jubilee. From left Mr Fred Hobill, treasurer, Mrs I Hockin, librarian, W Gault trustee, Mrs K Brooker, trustee and Mr Max Taylor secretary. Seated are Mrs Harvey and Miss Anderson, committee members, 1975. Courtesy City of Kingston Leader Collection.

In 1967 the Mentone Library once again moved its location. This time it was to a container, a prefabricated structure 40’ by 20’, placed in the Recreation grounds. The transfer of books, equipment and re-erection of fittings was all handled by the Council. Library committee members formed working bees to efficiently get the place operating to their satisfaction. This was not the last replanting as further moves followed.

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Mrs Foster former secretary of the Mentone Library Committee and Mr M Walmsley president outside the library in the Recreation grounds, 1975. Courtesy City of Kingston Leader Collection.

On 25 August 1986 the Mayor, Cr Bill Nixon, signed a three year contract with the Mentone Library Trustees giving access to a room at the rear of the Council Chambers in Mentone Parade. The peppercorn rent was $10 per annum ‘payable upon demand’. March 1997 saw the fifth move of the library to a room at the rear of the Citizen Advice Bureau in Florence Street Mentone where nine volunteers, the sole members of staff, continued to provide services to subscribers. President Jean Critchley noted in her 1997 report that while some volunteers had library experience the main qualifications were an interest in books and people. Training was given on the job. As for subscribers, she noted an increasing number were elderly residents, many living alone and to whom reading was important. Light reading was the preferred choice with an emphasis on popular fiction, Australian history and biographies. While acknowledging the existence of municipal libraries in adjoining suburbs, Critchley pointed out most of the Mentone members did not drive or travel by train hence the importance and justification for the Mentone operation.

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Council Chambers at Mentone 1976. Courtesy City of Kingston Leader Collection.

The 2000s saw several new initiatives. Following the incorporation of the library in 2009 a literature discussion group called Page Turners was implemented and monthly Book Talks were initiated. Over the years with the operation of the Series, An Author for All Seasons, Australian authors have had the opportunity to introduce their books to subscribers and library visitors.

Some authors and their books that have been included in the program are:


  • Pamela Holko, Wednesdays at Gam's;

  • Shirley Whiteway, Juliet: the Hat-Maker’s Loves;

  • George Ivanoff, writing for kids and teens as well as grown-ups has had a total of seventy plus books published. His latest presentation was You Choose;

  • Jessica Hooper, an emerging writer;

  • Amanda Apthorpe, Whispers in the Wiring;

  • Christine Heart Savage, Living Beyond Stress, Anxiety and Overwhelm; and

  • Cheryl Threadgold with her series The Riddle-O-Pedia.


Today the Mentone Public Library continues its dedication to book lending and discussion, promoting local authors and community events. It claims to be the longest surviving community library service in the City of Kingston and promotes itself as an organisation ‘in a humble home but with a literary heart that is panoramic.’

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Volunteers at Mentone Public Library; from left Jean Critchley, Joan Templar and Ivy Scarff, 1998. Courtesy City of Kingston Leader Collection.

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. The assistance of Tony Brooker, president of the Mentone Library 2014, is gratefully acknowledged.
  2. Cheltenham Leader, 6 December 1890.
  3. Mornington Standard, 17 December 1891.
  4. Mentone & Moorabbin Chronicle, 20 December 1890.
  5. Mornington Standard, 24 December 1891.
  6. The Argus, 1 April 1912.
  7. Phillips, O C., The Mentone Public Library 1925 – 1967, manuscript.
  8. The Argus, 27 March 1925.
  9. Phillips O C., op.cit.
  10. The Argus, 15 November 1926.
  11. Phillips, O C., op.cit.
  12. Phillips, O C., op.cit.
  13. The Argus, 18 September 1928.
  14. The Argus, 6 March 1935.
  15. The Argus, ibid.
  16. Mordialloc News, 13 September 1962.
  17. Whitehead G J., Getting a Library for Mordialloc, Kingston Historical Website, Article 341.
  18. Phillips, O C., op. cit.

Category: Did You Know?
Reference Number: 606
Date Created: 3/03/2015
Date Revised:

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