Elaine Forrestal

Boxes of Treasure Discovered in Library!

Finding historical treasures in music and literature – Festival of the Winds

This weekend a remarkable story unfolded. Our friend, Linda, who is the Music Librarian at the University of Western Australia, had known about the boxes stacked away in a corner of the storeroom there, covered in dust. She had glanced inside and knew that they contained old, unpublished sheet music, some of it handwritten, but Librarians are busy people. It was not until a request came from a researcher overseas for a scan of a particular piece of music, written by Meta Overman in the mid 20th century, that she had occasion to delve into the boxes. They were full of treasure! Meta Overman was a composer who was born in Holland and came to Perth in the early 1940s after the street where she lived was bombed. In all she spent 15 years in Perth and much of her prolific output of music was created here. Linda found the relevant facsimile, but needed to find the owners of the copyright before she would make the scan. This process, in turn, uncovered more treasure and created a ground swell of interest in Meta Overman’s work which culminated, last weekend in not one, but two Concerts in which the incredible range and variety of her music was showcased.

A similar thing happened to me when, after a protracted search of published and unpublished material, accounts of Clara Saunders’ arrival in the goldfields of Western Australia in 1892, and subsequent pioneering of the town of Coolgardie, lead me back to the Battye Library in 2017.

The Battye Library is full of priceless treasures. But Clara’s ‘Memories’, which had been mentioned in one or two of the documents I had read, had remained hidden in spite of all my efforts. It was not until I realised that the person whose name, C.Paton, which kept cropping up from time to time, circling around the edges of my search, was actually Clara herself. That was the lightbulb moment, the key to unlock the treasure. Clara’s ‘Memories’, originally hand written in an old exercise book, had been typed up after her death and bound in a sturdy red cover. They had then virtually disappeared from view in the library archives, catalogued under the name C.Paton. By the time Clara died in 1957 she had been married three times. During the eighty years of her remarkable life she had changed her family name, to that of her current husband, each time. John Paton was the last.

I share Linda’s excitement at the discovery of these precious documents which have opened up such rich veins of pure gold running through our musical and literary history.