Amassed over 70 years and strewn across a room of a Catholic presbytery 160 kilometres west of Brisbane lay one of Australia’s greatest literary collections. Half a century later it continues to make a substantial contribution to teaching and research at UQ.
There was a buzz in the air, matched with a sense of sadness, as a team of UQ staff pulled into the driveway of the Catholic presbytery in Oakey on 19 October 1967.
Their task was to collect a trove of literary and other treasures, gifted to UQ by the ailing Father Edward Leo Hayes. What confronted them was absolute chaos.
“The house was beautiful and everything in the public area was clean and polished,” former UQ librarian Marianne Ehrhardt recalled during an interview in November 2007.
The size and diversity of the bequest was astonishing: 25,000 books, of which 19,000 were about Australian subjects; 30,000 manuscripts; more than 4000 geological specimens; and 1500 anthropological artefacts.
It took a convoy of trucks two days to move the collection to UQ’s St Lucia campus.
Two floors of the Library and up to 35 staff members were devoted to processing and cataloguing the collection, which continued into the mid-1970s.
Among the manuscripts were letters and poems from well-known authors, including Dame Mary Gilmore, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Steele Rudd, Henry Lawson, William Morris, Miles Franklin and Banjo Paterson.
The book collection included rare items, such as a first edition of Terra Australis by Matthew Flinders, a set of Birds of Australia, by Gregory Mathews, as well as other limited editions and sometimes sole-surviving copies of fiction, essays and poetry from Australian authors.
Every item tells a story, from a signed copy of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s Journal of an overland expedition in Australia 1844-1845, inscribed to “my hospitable hosts Mr and Mrs Bracker in remembrance”, to poet and scholar Christopher Brennan’s transcription of a French poem, scribbled on blank cataloguing notes from the Public Library of NSW.
The collection also includes a bottle of American whiskey presented in appreciation to Fr Hayes by General Douglas MacArthur, for the loan of books and maps of the Pacific.
As a priest, Fr Hayes spent time in Ipswich, Kilcoy-Woodford, Toowoomba, Chinchilla, Crows Nest, and Oakey, but he was also an amateur geologist and ethnologist.
He joined three expeditions of the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia to the Carnarvon Range in the 1930s and 1940s.
He developed his passion for books while at the seminary and became an inveterate collector.
In the 1960s, senior lecturer and reader in English at UQ, Cecil Hadgraft, borrowed some of his books to use in literature courses and initiated the relationship that saw Fr Hayes entrust his precious collection to the University.
At an acceptance ceremony, then-Vice-Chancellor Sir Fred Schonell announced it was “a great day for the University”.
In recognition of his services to literature, UQ awarded Fr Hayes an Honorary Master of Arts honoris causa in 1967 and established two scholarships in his name, including The Venerable Archdeacon Edward Leo Hayes Adult Undergraduate Scholarship that continues to support mature-aged students from regional areas.
Fr Hayes died on 17 November 1967. His collection was acknowledged worldwide as one of the great Australian collections and the pre-eminent private collection accumulated in the 20th century.
The majority of the Hayes collection resides in UQ’s Fryer Library. Other materials have been transferred to the UQ Anthropology Museum, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the RD Milns Antiquities Museum.
Former director of the UQ Anthropology Museum Leon Sattherthwait and the Museum’s current Operations Coordinator Jane Willcock described the significance of the Hayes collection in the Fryer Folios magazine in 2007.
“Each object has a story to be deciphered and poses a puzzle to be solved through research on it. Furthermore, the scope of the (anthropological) collection offers many opportunities for comparative studies.”
The Fryer Library this year celebrates 50 years since the Hayes bequest and the 90th anniversary of the library itself.
Librarian Simon Farley said that the collection continued to make a substantial contribution to teaching and research.
“This gift of artefacts, manuscripts and bibliographic treasures significantly boosted the diversity and depth of Fryer holdings,” he said.
“It was, in its day, considered the largest private collection of Australiana in the Commonwealth and remains a testament to the passion and power of collecting.”
The Fryer Library and the RD Milns Antiquities Museum have curated displays of a selection of items from the collection, along with online exhibitions. The UQ Anthropology Museum’s exhibition, From Relics to Rights also references Fr Hayes.
To view the Fryer Library's online exhibition, visit uqlibraryonlineexhibitions.