It was 1968 when Laurel Dingle first started with State Library of Queensland.
The aspiring young librarian rang the State Librarian’s office and asked if she could possibly come in for an interview. (This was after several years working under the tutelage of Betty McDougall, Deputy University Librarian at University of Queensland.)
Her request was granted, and Laurel found herself being interviewed by James Stapleton, the first appointed State Librarian, in ‘my little white gloves that [one] always wore, and my hat and frock’. Known, as she was, for her chic sense of style, the vision of a young Laurel sitting in the State Librarian’s office is one of 60s sophistication.
In 1971, after two years with the Government Department Libraries of the Animal Sciences Institute and Main Roads, Laurel returned to the University of Queensland. This time, it was to the Fryer Library, where she and Spencer Routh co-wrote a bibliography of Australian Literary Studies which was published in the journal of the same name. They still catch up for coffee and discuss their work.
Laurel by now had earned her music degree and completed her librarian qualifications, and at 22 felt the capital calling. Three weeks before Gough Whitlam started his term as Prime Minister, she moved to Canberra and a role at the Navy Library.
Despite her love for her new role, it wasn’t long before she found herself at the National Library of Australia (NLA) in Canberra. She had been appointed by the revered Prue Neidorf as a Music Librarian, building the newly created Australian Music and Sound Recordings section, with Peter Burgess looking after the Sound Recordings.
Laurel and Prue resurrected the dormant IAML (International Association of Music Libraries) in 1974, where she has held nearly all of the executive positions, including President of the Australian Branch for the first international conference in Sydney in 2007.
Laurel has a vast collection of anecdotes from her time at the NLA. At some point or another almost every Australian composer came in to view the music collection. She recalls fondly a visit to the National Library in the late 1970s by John Cage, the radically innovative American contemporary composer and his partner Merce Cunningham, dancer and choreographer, whose 50 year career was spent at the frontier of American modern dance.
When offered a tour of the music collection, John Cage replied, ‘I’m sure the collection is interesting, but even more interesting for us would be if you could take us somewhere where we could listen to some gumnuts. We want to hear some gumnuts.’
Off they went, Laurel noting the elegance with which lifelong dancer Merce performed as simple a task as getting into the car. It was fortuitously windy that day, and at the Brindabella Ranges the trio listened as gumnuts clinked in the breeze. Even more memorable for John and Merce was the sight of snow falling later that day.
In 1984, Laurel returned to Queensland as State Library’s first Music Librarian and over the years she built up our collection to its current state as one of the best music libraries in the country.
In the late 1980s, Laurel moved to Darwin with her husband and two daughters for a role building the Northern Territory Library music collection. Noting the popularity of the guitar among musicians and budding musicians, Laurel began sourcing a large collection of guitar sheet music. The inaugural Darwin International Guitar Festival in 1993 speaks to the impact that this abundance of guitar sheet music had on the capital’s music culture.
After a two year secondment in Darwin described by Laurel as ‘Superb, different and challenging’, she and her family returned to Queensland. The timing was right for re-joining the State Library of Queensland, as on her last day at the Northern Territory Library they began relocating the music collection to the University Library.
Laurel’s return was part of a performance-oriented period. Programs such as “Coffee Classics” involved staff performing music from a donor’s collection and making lamingtons in the tearoom for 100-strong audiences who packed out the Auditorium.
For a 20-year period, Laurel presented “From the State Library” on 4MBS Classic FM, sharing the studio with the late Howard Ainsworth AM, 4MBS Classic FM’s General Manager. It was broadcast on the last Sunday of each month, and showcased a selection of music from the State Library’s collection.
She also worked with Prof. Peter Roennfeldt and the Queensland Conservatorium on the project “Music Queensland,” recording 30 pre-1930s pieces of music from State Library of Queensland collections for the first time.
In the early 2000s, Laurel and her husband John bought Bellevue Homestead (in part for convenience due to its close proximity to their existing business property). On their first Saturday morning, as they were enjoying their tea and reading the paper, they were surprised to see people driving in. (As the property was previously managed by the National Trust, these visitors were expecting tours and scones.) Laurel and John picked up where the Trust left off, guiding visitors, cooking lunches and hosting weddings for the 15 years that they owned the Coominya, Brisbane Valley homestead.
Laurel worked with the general music collection until 2011, before moving to the John Oxley Library where she focussed exclusively on building the Queensland specific music collections. Now, after a career spanning more than 50 years, Laurel is retiring.
She is one of the very few who have worked under the direction of every State Librarian of Queensland. She has raised her children, been present for the digital evolution from card catalogues to the Internet and seen the physical library through two locations and three iterations, from William Street to Stanley Place in South Brisbane.
Laurel has been integral to the success of music library collections across the country, from the north to the south, throughout her career. Her legacy will be seen and heard whenever someone picks up sheet music on Level 3 or in the John Oxley Library, or when the notes of the piano being played waft through the Library from the Poinciana Lounge.
Following her retirement, Laurel plans to spend time with her family and grandchildren, with family weddings and graduations on the horizon; playing the violin; guide dog training and growing a fruit and vegetable garden. No doubt, she’ll embrace these pursuits with the same enthusiasm and dedication she has shown throughout the entirety of her professional career.