The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center on the campus of Texas A&M University, with flags at half mast to mourn his death this week. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty
The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center on the campus of Texas A&M University, with flags at half mast to mourn his death this week. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty

Does a library actually need books?

In the grand tradition of Australia inevitably finding itself in the slipstream of all things American, the nation this week opened the doors to the Howard Library.

Just as the majority of US Presidents have their own Presidential Library (some presidents are inexplicably buried at their library), we now have our first such institution to honour a former prime minister.

And what better choice to launch this type of memorial, in the southeast wing of Old Parliament House in Canberra than John Winston Howard?

Howard remains bookish, he wears large spectacles, and he can actually write, having published his best-selling autobiography Lazarus Rising, and the well-received history, The Menzies Era.

It's progressive of the new library to include Howard ephemera, in this modern era of short attention spans and the desire for lots of colour and movement, by not just including boring old books and government papers.

Who won't thrill at the sight of Howard's morning walk tracksuits, APEC T-shirts and a selection of former National Party leader Tim Fischer's ties? (He's an author too. Who could forget Trains Unlimited in the 21st Century?)

John Howard at the official opening of his library at Old Parliament House yesterday. Picture: Gary Ramage
John Howard at the official opening of his library at Old Parliament House yesterday. Picture: Gary Ramage

The library and the possible future tradition it may or may not spark, will have its naysayers. This is Australia after all.

But why shouldn't we begin a tradition of bespoke libraries that will encourage the study of this thing called government, in all its frustrating glory? If we studied it more closely, and reflected upon it more thoughtfully, we just might inject into the bloodstream of Australian life a better understanding of the process and possibly an antidote to the most recent model that has seen a string of prime ministers standing on a sequence of trapdoors, to the detriment of the nation at large.

It was US President Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in leaving his papers to the public, that the materials from his administration were part of America's rich heritage, to be preserved and made accessible to future generations.

But other presidential libraries err on the side of fun. Take former Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan. His shimmering library on a clifftop outside Los Angeles has a tradition of holding historical exhibitions.

They have included the history of baseball and a display of First Lady Nancy Reagan's evening gowns. A current exhibit is "An American Christmas". As the library website says: "Guests will enjoy a tour through our winter wonderland featuring 25 trees decorated to celebrate the defining moments of America's road to greatness …"

Such confidence. Such national pride.

The library of Richard "Tricky Dicky" Nixon is, well, a little tricky. It is set on nine acres in Yorba Linda, California, and while not as flash as Reagan's, it remains a permanent monument to the man who sensationally resigned over the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.

The library and museum has a gallery dedicated to Watergate, which the library website obliquely describes as a place that "help(s) visitors make sense of the web of personalities, actions, and intentions at the heart of the Watergate scandal … ending with former President Richard Nixon's public explanations of Watergate after he left office."

After he left office? That's putting it mildly.

Appropriately, the website link inviting browsers to explore the Watergate evidence comes up with Page Not Found.

What might a Donald J. Trump memorial library look like? Perhaps a bookless mausoleum to endless Twitter feeds with a number of fast food outlets attached.

So what might we expect of future prime ministerial libraries in Australia, after all the excitement over the Howard Library has died down?

Poor Frank Forde. He was PM of Australia from July 6 to July 13, 1945, following the death of John Curtin. His papers and memorabilia might fit in the cleaners' cupboard of the Howard Library.

How about the Bob Hawke Library? Should it have a fully functioning bar and a walk-in cigar humidor?

And Tony Abbott? Surely an array of Speedos under glass and a sack of onions.

These Speedos could be part of a future Abbott Library’s collection.
These Speedos could be part of a future Abbott Library’s collection.

Kevin Rudd? His lumbar support pillow, Barry, would be a hit with library visitors. Rudd could easily fill all the shelves of his library with the remaindered copies of his two door-stop-sized memoirs. His shrine could also have a little tea room that just served his Twinings Australian Afternoon Tea blend. And display constant video loops of the Great Earwax Incident, his epic swearing tantrums, and his 22-minute election night concession speech in 2013.

They should build the Kevin Rudd Prime Ministerial Library close to the Howard Library. After the concession speech, visitors could slip into Howard's memorial and sink into a coma on one of the library's big green Chesterfields.

And what of ScoMo? Given his tenure in the top job may not be quite as short-lived as poor Frank Forde, but close, there's only one thing that would best capture the essence of PM Scott Morrison. Not a library, heaven forbid, well but a giant 24/7 electronic billboard, positively alive and chirruping with his bite-sized slogans.

And given ScoMo's passion for author David Malouf, the billboard should be in Brisbane, near Malouf's childhood home in Edmondstone St, West End.

Appropriately, right next to Stefan's sky needle.



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