Illuminations – National Library of Australia

4 - 14 March

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Explore Australia’s performing arts history with The National Library @Enlighten Festival.

Inspired by the National Library’s latest exhibition, On Stage: Spotlight on our Performing Arts, our Enlighten experience includes rich imagery and an audio selection of oral history recordings from the Library’s collection.

As you enjoy the Enlighten festival, we hope you will reflect on the challenges faced by our creative industries over the past couple of years. But perhaps you might also be reminded why participating in or consuming the performing arts is central to our culture.

Circus: Roll up, Roll up!

Run away and join the circus with these beautiful images linked to the library’s current collection-in-focus display. Discover posters, pictures and memorabilia from the Vivian James Carter Collection by watching the Curator Talk video with Dr Karen Schamberger.

The images are complemented by the voices of Doug Ashton of Ashton’s Circus, Dawn de Ramirez, who got her start in circuses as Buffalo Bill’s knife throwing assistant, and Jim Dimo, who was a circus performer, musician, political activist and an intelligence agent during WWII.

Images featured in the illumination:

Circus clown face and hands, nla.obj-643723523

Cole Bros. Circus, The great Con Colleano, world’s greatest wire artist performing forward and backward somersaults on the wire, 1945, nla.obj-136767748

Anzorge and Golikov, High Flying Gymnasts from the J. C. Williamson presentation of the Great Moscow State Circus, 1965,

Regis Lansac, Acrobat Scott Grayland, Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Sydney, September 1982, nla.obj-136523373

Acrobats from Ivan Bros. Top of the World International Circus, nla.obj-136847631

Perry Bros. Circus, Alberto’s Circus & wild animal show : presented by Perry Bros travelling Australia for over a 100 years, 1978,


Australia’s dance history is long and significant. Companies such as Bangarra Dance Theatre, The Borovansky Ballet, Kolobok Dance Company and the Australian Ballet feature here, showing the diversity of our dancers, choreographers and their collaborators. A beautiful waltz from Shane Lestidau’s New Albion Music Project, recorded at the Library in 2019, provides the accompaniment for Peggy Van Praagh to reminisce about her lifelong love of dance and its importance to her. You can also hear Kim Walker speak about ‘one of those moments you have as a dancer’.

Images featured in the illumination:

Ashley de Prazer, Bangarra Dance Theatre performance of ‘Ochres’, 1996, nla.obj-136832132

Walter Stringer, Iovanka Biegovic, Swan Lake, 1960, Borovansky Ballet, 1960, nla.obj-146854778

Jim McFarlane, Justine Summers in “Divergence”, the Australian Ballet, 1940, nla.obj-136367403

Jon Green, Katrina Lazaroff, Bridget Fiske and Rachel Usher in Buzz Dance Theatre dress rehearsal of Paige Gordon’s Fracture, Playhouse Theatre, Perth, Western Australia, 2003, nla.obj-136846719

Walter Stringer, Artists of Kolobok Dance Company, 1973, nla.obj-146898477

Tim Webster, Djakapurra Munyarryun in the Bangarra Dance Theatre production, ‘Ochres’, 1995, nla.obj-136834625


Martin Philbey’s vivid photographs capture moments from when music festivals were one of the biggest tickets in town. Images of hip-hop performers, guitars, crowd surfing and sweaty mosh pits evoke a time where audiences gathered in huge numbers without a second thought. Browse the larger collection of Martin’s shots in the Library’s catalogue, and view more on his Instagram @mphilbey. Accompanying these images, Kevin Carmody speaks about the importance of face-to-face musical performance to culture, Steven Tallis speaks about the power of live music and Ellen Bow recalls asking her mother to attend her ‘first big concert’.

Images featured in the illumination:

Martin Philbey, John Butler performing at Make Poverty History concert, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, 17 November 2006, nla.obj-151551410

Martin Philbey, Hilltop Hoods performing at Big Day Out, Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, 28 January 2008, nla.obj-151551215

Martin Philbey, Airbourne performing for the crowd at the Pyramid Rock Festival, Phillip Island, Victoria, 2005, nla.obj-147950096

Martin Philbey, Audience at the Falls Music and Arts Festival, Lorne, Victoria, 2007, 2, nla.obj-147950306

Martin Philbey, Crowd-surfing youth in the mosh pit at the Livid music festival, Brisbane, Queensland, 1999, nla.obj-147948944

Martin Philbey, Crowd-surfing young woman in the mosh pit at the Livid music festival, Brisbane, Queensland, 1999, nla.obj-147949050

Up in Lights

How do you get people to the show? The earliest surviving document printed in Australia is a playbill advertising a performance at the Theatre, Sydney, in 1796. Ever since then, posters, handbills, broadsides, billboards and programmes have advertised all manner of entertainment in performance spaces large and small.

James Morrison plays a trumpet solo and talks about the unbridled joy available to audiences once they get in the room. To the sounds of Georgy Girl, Gregory William Carrol remembers how things got big for The Seekers.

Images featured in the illumination:

For the benefit of J. Butler and W. Bryant : at the Theatre, Sydney on July 30, 1796 will be performed Jane Shore …  1796, nla.obj-1419486

Murray the most amazing, sensational and mysterious man of this or any other age: must be seen to be believed! : book now!, nla.obj-2632287217

The public are most respectfully informed that the first amateur performace in aid of the Hospital Fund will take place this evening, February 21st at the Theatre in Bourke Street … 1842, nla.obj-52753499

Maurice Biais, Wintergarten – Saharet, 1902, nla.obj-355224202

Lynch family bellringers, nla.obj-2701991792

Martin Sharp, Nimrod, 1982,

The swinging singing sound of the Seekers : smash hit recorders of ‘I’ll never find another you’, ‘A world of our own’, ‘Carnival is over’, nla.obj-268745680

Women in Performing Arts

Trailblazing, powerful and captivating, female performing artists step into the limelight in this scene. Images of prominent Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell, alternative rock icon Ella Hooper and acclaimed actor, writer and director Leah Purcell are flanked by Opera Australia sopranos. All the photographs are part of the Don McMurdo performing arts collection.

Underscoring the images is a beautiful performance from First Nations opera singer Lorna Beulah, recorded in Forbes, New South Wales in the 1960s. You can also hear Ruth Cracknell as she outlines her first theatrical experience in Sydney in the 1940s, and Lynda Nutter who speaks about the power of affirmation as a female performer.

Images featured in the illumination:

Don McMurdo, Portrait of Jennifer McGregor as Lulu in Lulu, Australian Opera, February 1994,  nla.obj-146343489

Portrait of Winifred Atwell, nla.obj-144625849

Don McMurdo, Portrait of Leona Mitchell in Idomeneo, the Australian Opera, 1979, nla.obj-146286848

Martin Philbey, Rock band Killing Heidi posing for Mascara Video Shoot, Melbourne, 1999, nla.obj-151551958

Robert McFarlane, Aboriginal Australian actress, director and writer Leah Purcell, 2002, nla.obj-152399719

Don McMurdo, Portrait of Jillian Anderton as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos (Ariadne on Naxos), Opera Australia, January 1997, nla.obj-146291290

Don McMurdo, Portrait of unidentified actress in Sugar babies, Her Majesty’s Theater, April 1987, nla.obj-146388057

National Library Of Australia