Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Mr Townsville's Municipal Library

In July 1938, Townsville Mayor, JS. Gill, the man who went on to become one of the city’s longest-serving public officials, ushered in a new era in the history of Queensland by placing the first free municipal library in the State under the control of a Local Government Authority.
Townsville Municipal Library, 1950. By this date, the library was located on the second floor of the City Buildings in Flinders Street. Pictured are library staff Meryl Gorman (left) and Mabel C. Classen (right).
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
At this time, the School of Arts library in Walker Street, which operated through public subscription and meagre state government subsidies, was in financial decline. The council agreed to take over the existing liabilities of the institution, which amounted to £1,200, and acquire the assets - which included the library and land and buildings, valued at £16,500 - for the sum of £1,000.

At a small ceremony to take possession of the title deeds to the School of Arts, Alderman Gill remarked hopefully:

“On behalf of the Townsville City Council and the citizens of Townsville, I now enter into possession of the School of Arts, and I hope that it will always be an institution of help and education to the younger people of this city.”

The council also took on the staff of the School of Arts, including Secretary-Librarian, Mrs Mabel C. Classen, who had served in her position for 17 years, from 1921 to 1938. After the council took over Mrs Classen held the position of Librarian in Charge at the new Townsville Municipal Library for the next 26 years.

Although it was considered to be a “free” library, borrowers were required to pay a security deposit of five shillings per book, to encourage their return. This doesn’t seem to have deterred borrowers though, and membership of the library more than doubled in the first year. In late 1964, security deposits were waived, which finally made it a truly free service.

The council’s decision to take over the School of Arts in 1938 was an unprecedented move, never having occurred before in the history of Queensland. It was, in many ways, a testament to the leadership of the city’s Mayor, Alderman JS. Gill.
John Stewart Mitchell Gill, no date.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
After arriving in Townsville in 1885 from Devon, England, John Stewart Mitchell Gill worked for the firm Burns Philp & Co. as a clerk, and later shipping manager, for close to 25 years until 1909.

Long, loyal stints must have been in Gill’s nature, because in 1910 he became the Clerk of the Thuringowa Shire Council, where he remained for the next 23 years. He only resigned from that position because he wanted to run for Mayor of Townsville, and the Local Government Act prevented him from holding this position at the same time.

After a decisive victory, Alderman Gill, aged 66, was sworn in as Mayor of Townsville in 1933, a seat which he went on to occupy for the next 19 years.

In 1952 he retired from the Mayoralty at age 85, after having successfully contested six local government elections. He continued to serve the council as an Alderman for another six years, by which time he was 91 years old.

Because of his long record of civic service in Townsville, in a 1951 news report about a luncheon held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australia’s Federation, the Townsville Daily Bulletin, in noting his presence at the function, dubbed him: “Mr Townsville”.
 

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