IN TERMS OF LENGTH of membership Suzanne Mourot, who has died just a few weeks short of her 92nd birthday, was one of the oldest living members of the Book Collectors‘ Society of Australia. Just exactly when she joined I have not yet been able to ascertain, but she appears in a list of members from May 1954, ten years after the founding of the Society; and as part of the Society‘s celebration of the 60th anni-versary of Biblionews, she was for that reason in October 2007 offered honorary life membership along with another person on that list, Emeritus Professor Gerry Wilkes. Both accepted. Suzanne is perhaps best known inside and outside the Society as a sometime member of staff of the State Library of New South Wales and in that connection I cannot do better that reproduce here the late Jean Stone‘s article on the retirement of Suzanne that appeared in the December 1979 (246th) issue of Biblionews. I have added some supplementary information in square brackets.
SUZANNE MOUROT RETIRES
MEMBERS of the Book Collectors‘ Society, wherever they may be, will wish to record their appreciation of research assistance received from Miss Mourot, who retired as Mitchell Librarian on 30th November, 1979. From her appointment as Deputy (later Associate) Mitchell Librarian in 1968, and subsequently Mitchell Librarian, Miss Mourot helped members of the B.C.S. with a willingness to place the resources of the Library at their disposal which smoothed many a writer‘s and historian‘s task. Her special expertise is in the field of manuscripts and pictures and she was previously Dixson Librarian from 1964 to 1968.
Suzanne Mourot was born in Nouméa, New Caledonia. her family ties go back to the 1870s when her journalist grandfather and his Communard companions were exiled to the Island of Pines. She was educated in Nouméa and then went to France where she gained the Diplome de Professeur de Français à l‘Etranger [diploma of teacher of French abroad] at the University of Paris in 1936. Coming to Brisbane the following year, Miss Mourot taught French in schools privately, and was later a tutor at the University of Queensland where in 1942 she graduated in Arts with Honours.
After war work from 1942 to 1944, she attended, on a Carnegie Grant, the Library School conducted by the then Public Library of N.S.W., joining the staff in 1944. Outside activities included lecturing in Historical Bibliography at the Library School of the Public Library of N.S.W.; and later she lectured and acted as an examiner at the University of N.S.W. [at the time still called the University of Technology] Library School.
Suzanne Mourot‘s publications include Un an à Nouméa [a year in Noumea. – London: Longmans Green, 1939, 94 pp.] and Un an en Australie [London: Longmans Green, 1941, 86 pp.; repr. Melbourne: Brown, Prior, Anderson, 1947], two French school readers; Vaucluse House [: the Origin of this Historical Monument, the Residence of William Charles Wentworth, Founder of Australian Political Freedom and Parliamentary Constitution], prepared and published by the Trust, 1950; This was Sydney [: Pictorial History 1788-Present Time (i.e. 1969)], Ure Smith, 1969; and two Staff Manuals on manuscripts and pictures respectively. Also, The Great South Land [: Treasures of the Mitchell and Dixson Libraries and Dixson Galleries] with Paulette Jones, prepared for the State Library of N.S.W., Sun Books, 1979. Various articles and papers on the Library‘s collections have been presented at seminars.
Suzanne Mourot is a Trustee of Vaucluse House Historic Site Trust and a Councillor of the Society of Australian Genealogists.
Jean has, unfortunately, virtually nothing to say here about Suzanne‘s role in the B.C.S. itself. Equally unfortunately, I only came to know Suzanne, and the Society, some 40 years after her name appeared on the list of Society members. In 1992, before I myself became a member, I was invited by the Society to launch John Fletcher‘s last book Hermann Lau and his Sojourns (1854-1859) in Sydney, Goulburn, Braidwood, Araluen, Moruya and Shoalhaven (Sydney: Book Collectors‘ Society of Australia, 1991 – Studies in Australian Bibliography, Number 35) on 27 June, a few weeks after John had died (1 June). The meeting was held in Suzanne‘s apartment in the Sydney suburb of Darling Point. After my talk she, Rose Smith and Jeff Bidgood, all of whom I was meeting for the first time, said that with the loss of John the Society was left without a Publications Editor and asked me whether, as a longtime colleague of John‘s at the University of Sydney, I would be prepared to take over as Editor for the Society. Thus thanks to Suzanne and the others I became the Society‘s third Publications Editor in its by then nearly 50 years of existence and, of course, a member. I subsequently saw her at meetings and received useful advice from her until her increasing frailty caused her to have to sell her apartment and move to a nursing home quite some distance away.
For Suzanne‘s “career” in the Society prior to my joining it in 1992, I have heard only that she assisted Jean Stone in aspects of its administration. She also assisted me with information on Jean when I was compiling a memorial issue of Biblionews (299th Issue, September 1992) for Jean and John Fletcher. Unfortunately, this information was given over the phone and resulted in my mishearing Jean Stone‘s maiden name as Faxelby instead of Saxelby and this wrong name‘s subsequently appearing on the cover of the memorial issue. (This had nothing to do with the fact that she retained her French accent throughout her life.) In view of Suzanne‘s not inconsiderable publishing output referred to above by Jean, I expected to find a considerable number of contributions to Biblionews from her. However, a search by Jeff Bidgood of the computerised index to Biblionews recently completed by him and Neil Radford shows that, while she rates a few mentions by others in the journal, she only ever furnished one contribution herself: “East-West: Books make a bridge. An exhibition in the Mitchell and Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales, until 30 April 1978, described by Mitchell Librarian, Miss S. Mourot” (Biblionews, 238th Issue, December 1977, pp. 64f.).
As to Suzanne‘s “career” in the Society prior to my joining it in 1992: the very first time Biblionews lists the Sydney Committee at all – in the 268th Issue of December 1985 (as today on the inside front cover) – Suzanne is there along with Rose Smith, Tim Hotimsky, Eric Russell and Selby Old. They were presumably elected at the previous September AGM. She remains a member of the Committee till the 318th Issue of June 1998 and would thus have not stood for election at the following September AGM, possibly because of her move from Darling Point to the nursing home.
I should perhaps add that when I became Publications Editor I discovered that the Society did not have its own collection of issues of Biblionews, so I began to put together what I called the Editor‘s Archive, at first largely thanks to the generosity of Jeff Bidgood, who passed on to me a lot of his spare copies. However, I had almost none of the issues from the early years of the Society. When longtime member Eric Russell died, it was through Suzanne‘s mediation that his large collection of issues was passed via Judy Washington of the Lane Cove Historical Society, of which Eric had been a member, to Neil Radford, who passed it on to me. While some of the very earliest issues were lacking from Eric‘s set, the Editor‘s Archive is now fairly complete and has proved a marvellous resource for me and will be for my successor, Richard Blair.
The only other interesting details about Suzanne Mourot that I have found through the internet are: that she is listed in 2008 as a Fellow of The Women‘s College within the University of Queensland and as such was considered by the College to be a person “of eminence and distinction”, and that a portrait of Suzanne painted by Aileen Rogers won the National Trust‘s Portia Geach Memorial Award in 1993. The Award, which is held annually at the Trust‘s SH Erwin Gallery in Sydney, is, according to the relevant website, available for “the best portraits painted from life [by a female artist] of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters or the Sciences”.
I represented the BCSA at Suzanne‘s funeral service. Although Suzanne never married, I was warmed to learn there that she had been a close friend of Eve Ross for some half a century and Eve‘s family had become, as one speaker put it, Suzanne‘s “adopted grandchildren and great grandchildren”. The family organised the service and provided the order of service, which contained no fewer than 25 photos of Suzanne, alone and in company, ranging from a portrait photo on the front cover of her as teenager taken in Paris in 1935 to one on the back cover in her late years and looking just as I remember her. As well as Eve herself, her three sons, Fergus, Sean and Liam Semler, each spoke warmly of this adopted grandmother; Paul Brunton and Baiba Berzins spoke of their experience of her at the State Library of New SouthWales; and clarinettist John Nicholls played three pieces by Schubert, a great favourite of Suzanne‘s amongst the classical composers she loved. Handed out with each order of service was, very appropriately, a bookmark with an admittedly posed picture of Suzanne holding an open book, evidently at the State Library.
As a coda I might add that I mentioned on the phone to BCSA member Frank Carleton, now living in Victoria, that I had attended the funeral. He then told me to my surprise that pretty well fresh out of school he had worked for a year in the State Library with Suzanne. One of his jobs was to rule off the staff attendance book at 9 am sharp, with the result that Suzanne was often shown by her signature below his line to have been a little late. This caused her then boss to carpet her for this lateness, but, as Frank said, the boss took no account of the fact that she regularly stayed back and worked for hours after her notional knock-off time. And that is entirely consistent with her devotion to her work remarked on by Paul Brunton and Baiba Berzins.