Earlwood library is a red brick building on the high side of the intersection of three main roads. Earlwood is the point in the inner western suburbs when the car becomes the dominant form of transport. Cars race through Homer Street as if something very urgent is awaiting them. From inside the library the roar of traffic can constantly be heard.
The library is a 1950s red brick building situated on a wedge of land, with an early childhood health centre at the very tip of the intersection. In front of the entrance is an uninviting fenced courtyard with wire benches and a view over the intersection and shops of Homer Street below (many old advertisements for photo processing, a diving smelling Continental cake shop, a bottle shop with a big bottle of Retsina painted on the front window).
No one was using this unappealing perch, despite the view. Just inside the entrance to the library was a row of plaques commemorating local authors, a detail I have seen at no other Sydney library. The Earlwood authors are Nadia Wheatly, Debra Adelaide, Joan Dugdale and Leslie Haylen, and each plaque had a quote and a date in 1999 on it, perhaps when the plaques were unveiled.
At the back of Earlwood library is a Viking ship, with a shiny gold eye, and striped sail. As I wandered around it seemed to watch me. It was an after school kind of time, and the only people in the library were school students. A girl with a huge pile of lever arch folders, so many I couldn’t imagine her carrying them in a schoolbag, eating tabbouleh from a plastic container and reading her notes. A girl using one of the computers, taking notes on her arm with a felt tip pen. Her arm already had a lot of notes on it, but she continued to write. I thought of offering her some paper but only had a tiny notebook. Around the corner from the arm notes girl was a boy sitting in a corner reading a book called “Storm of Swords”.
Affixed to a cupboard door was a laminated poster of a man smiling and holding a book, with the background of a galaxy in deep space. Down one side was the legend READ. I looked from the poster to the man behind the desk – it was the same guy. I like the idea of DIY literacy posters.
Around the corner was another poster encouraging people to read. This one was in the teen area, and a little more polished than George in Space. Who do you find more compelling?
On the top of the non fiction shelves was a large book about volcanoes, Earth on Fire. It was a big, heavy book with a photograph of hot lava showing through the cracks in a black landscape. I don’t know if Earth on Fire was usually shelved up there, but I took it down for further investigation. It is hard to believe that the world contains all these volcanoes and geysers, black sand beaches, smoking craters and strangely coloured lakes. Mutnovsky Volcano! The Grand Prismatic Spring! Some of the photographs of the brighter volcanic lakes made me feel as if I was hallucinating.
Behind the Morning Glory Pool in this photo is the Valley Times, which this week had a cover story about the 2012 Premier’s Spelling Bee. The local student pictured on the front just missed out on the title of Senior State Champion because she incorrectly spelled the word “rhododendron”. She will hate rhododendrons for the rest of her life! I wondered about her being pictured in a thoughtful pose under the word, as she probably relives the moment of misspelling that word with mortification.
I returned Earth on Fire to its spot on top of the shelf. On the way there I could see that the arm notes girl had stopped taking notes and was now looking at positions vacant on the McDonalds website. On the wall above the computers where she was sitting was a framed painting of the Earlwood tram terminus. Though trams stopped running in 1957, they are a ghost presence in Earlwood, the terminus is marked on the street corner, where there is now the Senior Citizens Centre.
Across from the the once-tram terminus and the library is a small, sedate park, with lawn and benches, however the peaceful ambience is ruptured somewhat by a warning sign.
There may not be volcanoes in Earlwood, but that doesn’t mean it is safe.