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Tuesday, 5 April  2005  Australiana Auction

Meet a man who has spent most of his life collecting books and other documents about early Australia.


JONATHAN WANTRUP (AUSTRALIAN BOOK AUCTIONS): It's very easy, in dollar terms and in terms of the numbers of rarity, to say that it's the greatest and the best in private hands. I don't think there'd be much dispute about that. But what makes this collection special is that there is an intelligence behind it. Rodney set out decades and decades ago to form a collection which told a story.

RODNEY DAVIDSON (AUSTRALIANA COLLECTOR): It was over 55 years of collecting, but it was just a great and wonderful adventure.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Rodney Davidson is surrounded by leather and gold leaf, browsing a collection he began 55 years ago as a schoolboy in Mrs Gill's second-hand shop. Back then, he would comb the illustrated 'London News' for engravings or plates of early Australiana, and for 20 pence, he could walk out with an armful.

With money in his pocket and an eye for the aesthetic, the young Rodney Davidson began to build something truly remarkable.

It's a sordid subject, but what is this collection worth, do you think?

RODNEY DAVIDSON: I haven't the faintest idea. We'll just have to see what happens at the auctions.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: But when people say $6 million to $8 million, is that some kind of fair reflection on what it might fetch?

RODNEY DAVIDSON: Well, that's what my advisers say.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: And this is why they say it. It's estimated that Rodney Davidson has collected nearly 1,000 books, manuscripts and maps which tell the pioneering story of Australian discovery and exploration, the most precious of which rest not here but in bank vaults.

Down the years, Rodney Davidson has both collected and saved. For 19 years, he was the Victorian head of the National Trust and, in the 1960s and '70s, fought some spectacular battles to protect the old from the new.

RODNEY DAVIDSON: If it wasn't for the National Trust, these things wouldn't be here.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Did you get into some really good blues with people?

RODNEY DAVIDSON: Oh, yes, some really stinking blues, and it became very, very emotional at times. I mean, when St Patrick's College - we were fighting to try and save that, the Archbishop and I used to get into quite strong discussions, I suppose is the best way of putting it, and in the end, he wrote me a letter and said, "I will not discuss anything further with you."

GEOFF HUTCHISON: It has been a most rewarding life of collecting and saving, but today, at 70, this most traditional Melbourne gentleman is preparing to disperse his library of a lifetime.

How would Rodney Davidson describe Rodney Davidson?

RODNEY DAVIDSON: Oh, a mixture. A mixture of loving life and at times being a little bit like a larrikin; being even stuffy at times.

It's a complete mixture, and I think most humans are.



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English Bites - Australiana Auction
story notes

the greatest
Notice that we use 'est' on the end of an adjective and 'the' before it to form the superlative.
more information: superlative adjectives

the best
The best is the irregular superlative form of good.
more information: superlative adjectives

told
Here, told is the past tense of the irregular verb tell.
more information: tell

began
Began is the past tense of the irregular verb begin.
more information: begin

Australiana
The term Australiana refers to a collection of items that are from or about Australia.
The suffixes 'ana' or 'iana' can be used to talk about any collection of items that relate to a certain person or place.

Example: Americana refers to a collection of items that are about America.
And Victoriana are things that relate to the Victorian era.

an eye for the aesthetic
Aesthetic means beauty and to have an eye for something means to be good at noticing or judging a particular type of thing.

I haven't the faintest idea.
The phrase I haven't the faintest idea is used to emphasise that you don't know anything. He doesn't know how much his collection is worth.

National Trust
The National Trust is an organisation that works to protect the country's history and environment.

fought
Here , fought is the past tense of the irregular verb fight.
more information: fight

blues
In Australian slang, a blue is a fight or argument. To have a blue with someone means to argue with them.

Example: We had a blue about who was doing most of the houswork.

stinking blues
Rodney uses the word stinking to emphasise that he had some really terrible arguments.
You might also hear someone describe the weather as stinking hot to mean very hot or unpleasantly hot.

became
Became is the past tense of the irregular verb become.
more information: become

mixture
A mixture is a combination or a variety of things.

larrikin
Larrikin is Australian slang. A larrikin is someone loud and rough. It's often used playfully rather than as a negative term.

stuffy
Stuffy means old fashioned and conventional.
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When is blue not a colour?

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