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Attractions in Borroloola

 

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The Story of the Borroloola Library & The Old Police Station Museum

Attractions in Borroloola - The Old Police Station Museum - Country Airstrips Australia

One of the interesting attractions in Borroloola is the Old Police Station Museum, and the legend of the Borroloola library.

The most persistent legend about the town relates to a huge outback library. The story goes that in the 1890s the resident officer in charge of the Borroloola Police Station, an Irishman named Cornelius Power, decided to establish a town library. He was granted a small sum of money and duly ordered some books from Mudie’s Select Library in London. From that point the story becomes blurred. Somehow, by the 1920s, the library had grown to 3000 volumes. Northern Territory mythologising being what it is, the rumour mongers had a field day.

Some people suggested that a grant of books had been made by Lord Hopetoun, the Governor of Victoria. Lord Hopetoun later became the first Australian Governor-General. Another theory was that the Carnegie Trust of USA or the Andrew Carnegie Foundation were asked for some good reading material. They had sent books to a number of isolated settlements and consequently the library at Borroloola was expanded.

The library was initially housed in the Court House. However when it was demolished the books were transferred to the local lockup. The predictable joke of well-educated criminals is supposed to have become a reality. W. E. (Bill) Harney was gaoled for six months for cattle duffing. Harney went on to write a number of books and by 1958 he had been appointed official curator at Uluru.

Over the years Borroloola has been a haven for eccentrics with exotic names. There was ‘The Freshwater Admiral’, ‘The Redbank Hermit’ and ‘Death Adder’. None of these people was more interesting or unusual than Roger Jose, the Hermit of Borroloola.

It was said that he was the brother of the Dean of Adelaide. In 1916 he walked to Borroloola from Cunnamulla in Queensland. Here he lived in a shed at the rear of Tattersalls Hotel until a cyclone severely damaged it in 1938. He then rolled a damaged 1000 gallon tank from the hotel to the top of the hill opposite the present clinic. With his Aboriginal companion, lived in it until his death in 1963. Roger was an eccentric who took full advantage of the library and knew vast sections of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin. He also had a good working knowledge of Shakespeare.

Today the remnants of the library have been dispersed. At the end of World War II the library was taken to Darwin where it was stored in a shed behind the Administration Buildings. Those books which weren’t destroyed by silverfish, cockroaches, mildew, and the humidity of the tropics, found their way into private collections or simply disappeared.

Visitors to the town today can go to the Old Police Station Museum where a single volume from this great library is on display. Janet Webber at the Museum explains that “We have only one of the library books. We received it about three years ago – a large Webster’s Dictionary  – the family who had it, decided that it deserved to go home to Borroloola as it had survived the big Katherine floods of 1998. It had originally been borrowed/taken in the 1930s and had been in the family since then.”

Address: The Old Police Station Museum, John Street, Borroloola