In December 2019, State Library of Queensland staff from three areas (Queensland Memory, Preservation Services and Information Services) visited the Brisbane Synagogue at the invitation of the irrepressible Dr Michael Briner. The Brisbane Synagogue is the second oldest synagogue on mainland Australia (built in 1886), with the oldest established in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1861. The oldest synagogue in the country still stands in Hobart.
Dr Briner is the Brisbane Synagogue’s Heritage Officer, and it was due to his diligence and love for this building and the Jewish community that State Library of Queensland has received major donations over the last 12 months. Dr Briner discovered in an old safe a marriage register dating back to the earliest days of the synagogue, and minute books of the Building Committee documenting the fundraising efforts involved in building the Brisbane Synagogue and then almost every aspect of its construction and finishes. The marriage register, covering the period 1868 – 1946, is a truly significant record of the Jewish community in Queensland and is currently on display in State Library’s Treasures Wall exhibition. Both the marriage register and minute book can also be viewed online via our One Search catalogue.
It was particularly fitting that Preservation Services staff visited the synagogue, as they worked so hard to stabilise, preserve and digitise the marriage register and minute book. Christine Ianna, Coordinator of Reformatting, took the opportunity to present Dr Briner with a beautifully hand bound copy of the Building Committee Minute Book, bound by Shane Bell, Binding Technician Assistant, who was also in attendance. Dr Briner was surprised and thrilled by the gesture.
The Brisbane Synagogue on Margaret Street is a beautiful building, with great attention to detail and reminders of the terrible suffering of the Jewish people in the recent past. Dr Briner also showed us the Torah (Five Books of Moses) used in most Hebrew services and other accoutrements of religious services. There is a large hall and Sunday School at the back of the building, still well-utilised by the community. Many parts of the building, including its furniture, are in original condition. In fact, it was Heritage listed in 1992.
State Library staff spent an hour at the synagogue, with Dr Briner giving us a lively and detailed history of the building and of the Jewish faith itself. It was truly an honour and a privilege to have been able to attend. The Brisbane Synagogue runs guided tours, usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, but these must be booked in advance. For more information, visit https://brisbanehebrewcongregation.com/guided-tours/.
Anna Thurgood – Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland
- Queensland Jewish History website (https://www.jewishqld.com/about-the-jewish-community/queensland-jewish-history/), accessed 13 December 2019
- Wikipedia, ‘List of oldest synagogues’ article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_synagogues), accessed 13 December 2019
- The Brisbane Synagogue website (http://brisbanehebrewcongregation.com/), accessed 13 December 2019