A unique library on Sri Lanka, perhaps the only one of its kind overseas, exists in Melbourne, Australia. This library was begun by Victor Melder in 1968, when he migrated to Australia. Victor, who had only one book with him then, has today accumulated over 4,600 books, 2000 magazines and journals, 25 years Sunday newspapers and a collection of video and audio tapes all on Sri Lanka.
Victor, who grew up in a village in Peradeniya, states he has savoured village life to its fullest and attributes this to be the cause of his unpretentious love for his motherland. This love, admiration and respect for this beautiful island is something he wishes to share with everyone alike in Australia. This is what gave birth to the ‘Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library’, which today is used by many Australiawide, as a primary source of reference on Sri Lanka.
In 1968, Victor states many Australians were ignorant of Sri Lanka, most thought it to be a town in India, this annoyed him so much, that he knew he had to do something to set the record straight. He also wanted to make known its rich and diverse history, culture and social standing dating back over 2,500 years. He states, “I now knew why I was here, I had to get the message of Sri Lanka across”.
He was pleased when those around him at work and the neighbourhood began asking questions on Sri Lanka, and Victor states, “I could not answer them all, and so decided to get a book or two down from Sri Lanka which would assist me in this quest, and soon like an argument, where one word leads to another, one book led to another, which today is an unique library.
Over the last forty three years its popularity has grown, so much so, that queries on Sri Lanka come from every State in Australia. Victor proudly states that the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra often refers people to the library, for there among its collection lies an answer to every question. He describes it as a learning process, for he states, “I learn something new on Sri Lanka everyday whilst researching material for others”.
This large collection has been amassed with the help of friends both in Sri Lanka and Australia, for Victor has not been back to the land of his birth, since he arrived in Australia. With a trace of a smile on his face he states, “I cannot go back to a place I have’nt left”. I am here only physically, I’m there in spirit and still traverse those beaten tracks”. Like his father, Victor was an Engine Driver on the CGR and has traveled to most places around the island.
A number of friends in Sri Lanka would send me books etc, and those going back on holiday would contact me prior to going to check what books were needed to be brought back, and with the help of a few individuals in Sri Lanka who have donated books from time to time, the library has grown to what it is. Since Victor retired from the workforce eighteen years ago, his ‘buying power’ has since dropped and he now relies on donations from individuals and organizations.
The library has its books classified into many headings, some of them being: History, Geography, Tourism, Politics, Religion, Culture, Language/Literature/Writing, Law, Sports, Poetry, Portugues/Dutch/British Periods, Economics, Art/Architecture, Dictionaries, Year Books/Commemmoratives, Agriclutre, Education, Anthropology, Wildlife, Flora/Fauna, Cookery, Ethnic Conflict etc.
Students from Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Institutions use the library frequently. With Primary students, the ‘lesson’ begins with a giant map of Sri Lanka, which adorns the wall. Currently there are four Tertiary students using the library for research purposes for their dissertations and writings. A point in reference, 18 students accompanied by three teachers from Peninsula Grammar College, Mount Eliza, visited the library and spent the morning looking up references on Sri Lanka for a joint project on Sri Lanka they were working on.
Expatriate Sri Lankans too use the library, to keep in touch and also read the Sri Lanka Sunday newspapers which are available in the library by noon on Monday. A number of NGO’s and quasi government departments also use the library services. Victor spends most of his day in the library, researching material on requests or preparing news summaries etc on Sri Lanka for the various Sri Lankan Organisation newsletter Australiawide.
A number of authors writing books on Sri Lanka also keep Victor busy. He helped Paul Croucher, an Australian Buddhist who wrote “A History of Buddhism in Australia 1848-1988”. Currently two Australians are using the library for novels they are writing with a Sri Lankan background. A number of schools invite Victor to display Sri Lankan artifacts at their ‘open days’, he also visits schools, groups, clubs and organizations giving talks on Sri Lanka and also arranges video and slide displays.
Victor’s proudest possession is a copy of ‘Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon’, which was donated to the library by the Rev Galaboda Sri Gnanissara Thero of the Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo. Another is the entire lot of the Dutch Burgher Union journals issued since 1908 to date, in bound volumes. These journals, along with the indexes of the Wolvendaal Church, Baptism and Marriage records (which the library has), help those doing genealogical research into their family history. The library also has copies of two volumes of the Dutch Company Servants in Ceylon.
The services of the library are entirely free, the only charge levied on those writing a thesis or dissertation etc, is that a copy of their writings be lodged with the library, so that it would be of help to someone in the future.
This library, in its entirety, has been left by Victor in his Will to Melbourne’s Monash University, where it will not only be preserved for posterity but used by those seeking material and information on Sri Lanka.
In 1993, the Government of Sri Lanka bestowed on Victor the National Title ‘Sri Lanka Ranjana’, in recognition of his then twenty five years meritorious service to Sri Lanka in Australia. This is something which Victor cherishes very much, for he states “to be honoured by one’s Motherland is the highest accolade a man can receive”.
Victor welcomes donations of book etc on Sri Lanka by any individual, organization or government departments. He assures everyone they are being put to good use and helping Sri Lanka in being better known. Sri Lanka seems to be in the news today for the wrong reason – the ethnic conflict that raged in the island. Sri Lanka is much more than that, he states and one has to get this message across. Sri Lanka has enough of knockers, she needs all those who are willing to support her and support her we must.
The library has its own website, which is easily accessible to those connected to the internet. The entire collection of books (5,000) in the library, have been catalogued online. Currently, the many articles contained in the many journals and magazines housed in the library are being catalogued, to make their contents easily accessible to all (almost 3,500 articles already catalogued). An up to date listing of all Sri Lankan Associations, Groups etc in Australia is also maintained on the website and is an easy point of reference to many.
For those wishing to contact Victor, his address: The Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library, 7 Benambra Street, Broadmeadows, Victoria 3047, Australia.