Written by Kirby Fenwick
Pictures by David Studham
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The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places—so said Roald Dahl. I thought about his words this week when I stepped through the doors of a library that was only recently brought to my attention. That a library could exist, quietly and without fanfare, in a space that is indubitably a Melbourne icon—something about that stirs my imagination. A secret library. Or at least, secret to me.
If our city has a spiritual home, it must be the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Home to our first Olympics and the setting for countless historic sporting moments. Every summer the stands fill with cricket fans, just like they fill with footy fans in the winter. Its immensity sits quietly in the city’s skyline; its hallowed turf possesses a magic that seems otherworldly. And tucked away in the Members’ Pavilion on the third level, is the Melbourne Cricket Club Library.
All dark timber panelling and monogrammed carpet, its shelves are packed with an enviable collection. The kind that would have any sports fan salivating. Founded in 1873, its near one-hundred and fifty years lend it an understated elegance. This is not a regular library. Here, unless you’re an MCC member, you must make an appointment. And there is no borrowing; the MCC Library is a reference and research library. But that doesn’t make it any less appealing.
As I take a seat at the large, oval-shaped timber table, the one that offers a stunning view of the city out of floor to ceiling windows, I’m struck by how I’m reminded of my favourite library: The British Library.
Here, in the MCC Library, there are glass-topped display cases, currently housing an exhibition called ‘The First Australians XI’, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Indigenous Australian cricket team that toured the UK and played a series of matches at the MCG. Atop the low bookshelves that sit under the windows of the library’s offices, are pages of yellowed newspapers from 1956, hailing our Olympic stars. There is a collection of rare books, some dating to the 1600s and volume upon volume of cloth-bound journals and periodicals.
These things evoke the British Library, but it’s more than that.
As a reference library, the MCC holds an incredible amount of our sporting history. While their collection is heavily skewed towards cricket and AFL, other sports are also covered and of course so are the Olympics. It’s this sense of history, this collecting of books and journals and stories that reminds me of the British Library. If not for the work of our state and national libraries, and libraries like the MCC, so much of our history would be lost to the passages of time.
At the oval table, I sit with the friend who alerted me to the MCC Library’s presence. We alternate between sharing the discoveries of our respective research and staring out the window at the view. It’s quiet—apart from a couple of tour groups that swing through the doors and the murmurs of the library staff, the air is still.
I don’t feel the broader community presence at the MCC Library, the one that I so often feel in a public library. But that’s ok. Libraries are not a homogenous group. They serve different purposes and exist for different reasons. As a gatherer and collector, as a custodian of history, the MCC Library serves a valuable and important purpose.
Sport runs through this city like the water of the Yarra; twisting and turning and wrapping itself around us. We mark our seasons by who and what is playing. Much of Melbourne’s identity is tethered to our sporting endeavours. But we are also a City of Literature, home to a great many libraries and bookstores and writers and poets and storytellers. I feel a connection between the two, an unspoken bond that links them.
And as I descend the stairs at the MCG and push through the doors into a splash of brilliant sunshine, I think about how lucky are we to have the best of both worlds.