Open Conversations: Public Learning in Libraries and Museums

Open Conversations: Public Learning in Libraries and Museums

Open Conversations: Public Learning in Libraries and Museums

Open Conversations: Public Learning in Libraries and Museums


John McDouall Stuart (1815–66) was a surveyor and a pioneering explorer of Australia. Born in Scotland, he emigrated in 1839 to Australia where he worked in surveying and made many expeditions into the outback. The treks he undertook from 1858 to 1862 are the focus of this account, published in 1864, and are compiled from Stuart's notes by William Hardman (1828–90). During these periods of exploration he managed - though suffering from scurvy - to cross the continent, and he also discovered various rivers and geographical features. Hardman's account uses Stuart's journals to give an account of six historic and often gruelling expeditions. The first was to the north-west; the following two were explorations around Lake Torrens; the fourth was an attempt to find the centre of the territory; a fifth involved a forced retreat after an aboriginal attack; and in the final one Stuart traversed the continent.


These essays have challenged my confidence as I wrote and rewrote them and reconsidered their purposes. As a writer I often find it difficult to live up to the ideas that move me. It may take months to be articulate, yet I am likely to remain unsure. Two observations remind me of this daunting fragility and my obvious limits.

It surprises me first, though it shouldn’t, to find that the intention of this collection extends ideas in my previous work, especially the concept that our cultural institutions are both places and not-places. It surprises me to find that I write from an unfinished space inside my life, exposed in the process of writing itself. In the title essay of my 2006 book A Place Not a Place, I wrote,

We will discover our answers only when things are happening, and
when we have made places for new things to happen: places where
words can be heard that help us to live up to ideas; places where we
can contribute our gifts to civic culture: our time, our resources, our
ideas; places where we can volunteer and assist; places where we can
observe and experience the energy of each other.

When a community has created the right kinds of institutions, its
citizens can discover in themselves what de Tocqueville called “the
habits of the heart”—the ways that prove and shape our common
character. (Carr, 2006)

The museum or the library as a place is a beginning, a grounding and a situation that inspires thought. As a place not a place, it leads us into a world we . . .

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