The Wolanski Foundation Project


What happened to the collection?
















Dennis Wolanski Library research files, programs and indexes



The University of NSW Library became the caretaker of the collection in November 2016.

The collection had been transferred from the Sydney Opera House to the library in 1997 before being passed on to the Seaborn Broughton and Walford (SBW) Foundation in 2005. At the time, the SBW Foundation had formed a partnership with the National Institute of Dramatic Art to develop a performance arts archive, based on collections at NIDA and the SBW Foundation, and with financial support from the Wolanski Foundation. After a change of management at NIDA and the death of Dr Rodney Seaborn, these plans fell apart.

In 2016, after the SBW Foundation decided to scale back its collection and move its offices from Rosebery to Neutral Bay, the UNSW Library came to the rescue when it offered to store the Dennis Wolanski Library research files, programs, card indexes and related material while plans for its future were worked out.

In the role of an incubator, it has formed a partnership with UNSW Theatre and Performance Studies, the Wolanski Foundation and AusStage to develop the Performance Memories Project, involving management of the Dennis Wolanski Library collection.

The SBW Foundation continues to hold some material previously held by the Dennis Wolanski Library, including a proportion of the books and serials and a small collection of archival material. The Wolanski Foundation will be assisting the SBW Foundation to process the archival material in 2018.

The Dennis Wolanski Library research files, programs and press clippings form a collection of national significance. For those undertaking performing arts research, they can be an important first port of call in combination with other complementary sources such as AusStage, Trove, and AustLit.

Professor Julian Meyrick, Strategic Professor of Creative Arts, School of Humanities, Flinders University, and Chief Instigator of AusStage, has stressed the importance of the collection as a comprehensive, ordered and accessible body of information, with material not readily available elsewhere. Without the collection, the costs for discovering individual items would be prohibitive.

“For a theatre culture like Australia, with little secondary literature on its activities, newspaper clippings are overwhelmingly where its story is to be found. The Wolanski collection covers the so-called 'digital black hole', the time just before theatre journalism went on-line. It was an unusually productive period for Australian theatre, and the collection contains the narratives of many companies and artists which could disappear forever if the information its lost.”

The collection at the University of New South Wales Library consists of the following parts:

Research files

An estimated 3 million items, including extensive material on performers and performances at the Sydney Opera House 1972-1997, as well as on the performing arts in Australia and overseas in the 20th century. The collection includes a considerable quantity of newspaper clippings, original manuscript material such as correspondence, discographies, CVs, invitations, funeral service programs, program notes, publisher blurbs, press releases, material from the Publicity Department and other business units of the Sydney Opera House and clippings from newspapers and magazines such as ABC’s 24 Hours, ABC Weekly, The Theatre, The Bulletin and News Limited newspapers.

Press clippings 1843-1973

A chronological run from 1843 to approximately 1973 in 135 boxes, with clippings from The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and other sources. This collection is organised in two sub-groups – [a] 45,000 ‘editorial clippings’ in 85 boxes and [b] 22,500 ‘advertisements’ in 49 boxes. Although there are gaps in the run, researchers have commented on its value in providing convenient browsing and leads to information elsewhere. The collection is also being considered as a potential source for creating AusStage data.


A collection of 80,000 items, including duplicate Sydney Opera House programs (arranged under company and performer names (complementing the official chronological file at the Sydney Opera House and State Archives and Records NSW), as well as holdings on the performing arts in Australia, mainly in the 20th century, including theatre, dance, opera, music, popular entertainment, film, radio, and television.


A performing arts card index of 80,000 entries including cross-references to all plays, operas and dance productions performed at the Sydney Opera House and other venues in Australia 1973-1996, select entries for productions from previous eras and overseas productions, and comprehensive entries for the British theatre review periodical Play Bulletin, the Australian periodical Theatre Australia, the JC Williamson Magazine Programme series and articles published in Australian sources during the 1950s to the mid-1970s and acquired by the library as part of its Australian Theatre and Drama Project. .

An Australian drama index of 5400 cards, with information on Australian plays, including performances, published editions, and the location of manuscript playscripts.


Related information

Allowing for Depreciation: GLAM Sector Convergence and Collaboration (2016)

The Theatre and Concert Program: Documenting Australia's Performing Arts Heritage (2013)
Catching Lightning in a Bucket: Archiving the Performing Arts in the Digital Age (2013)

Being There Without Being There: the Arts in the Age of YouTube (2012)
Evolving Stages: Australian Performing Arts Online (2005)


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Page last updated: 9 January 2018