Leafing through Lanka
The desire to share his motherland with Australian citizens prompted Sri Lankan, Victor Melder to open a library in Victoria, dedicated to Sri Lanka way back in 1968.
A unique library on Sri Lanka, perhaps the only one of its kind overseas, exists in Melbourne, Australia. Begun by Victor Melder in 1968, when he migrated to Australia with the one book he had with him then, it has today over 4, 300 books, 2000 magazines and journals, 25 years of Sunday newspapers and a collection of video and audio tapes all on Sri Lanka.
Victor, who grew up in a village in Peradeniya, says he has savoured village life to its fullest and attributes this to be the cause of his love for his motherland. This is what he seeks to share with everyone alike in Australia and what gave birth to the ‘Victor Melder Sri Lanka Library’, which today is used by many across Australia as a primary source of reference on Sri Lanka.
In 1968, Victor states many Australians were so ignorant of Sri Lanka, that most thought it to be a town in India. This annoyed him so much, he knew he had to do something to set the record straight. He wanted to make known the country’s rich and diverse history, culture and social standing dating back over 2,500 years. “I now knew why I was here, I had to get the message of Sri Lanka across,” he says.
He was pleased when those around him at work and in the neighbourhood began asking questions on Sri Lanka. “I could not answer them all, and so decided to get a book or two down from Sri Lanka which would assist me in this quest. Soon like an argument, where one word leads to another, one book led to another.”
Over the past 40 years the library’s popularity has grown, so much so, that queries on Sri Lanka come from every State in Australia. Victor proudly states that the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra often refers people to the library, for there among its collection lies an answer to every question.
This large collection has been amassed with the help of friends both in Sri Lanka and Australia, for Victor has not been back to the land of his birth, since he arrived in Australia. With a trace of a smile on his face he states, “I cannot go back to a place I haven’t left. I am here only physically, I’m there in spirit and still traverse those beaten tracks.” Like his father, Victor was an engine driver on the CGR and has travelled to most places around the island.
“A number of friends in Sri Lanka would send me books etc, and those going back on holiday would contact me prior to going to check what books were needed to be brought back.
With the help of a few individuals in Sri Lanka who have donated books from time to time, the library has grown to what it is.”
Victor’s proudest possession is a copy of ‘Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon’, which was donated to the library by the Rev. Galaboda Sri Gnanissara Thero of the Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo.
Another is the entire set of the Dutch Burgher Union journals issued since 1908 to date, in bound volumes.
These journals, along with the indexes of the Wolvendaal Church, Baptism and Marriage records (which the library has), help those doing genealogical research.
In 1993, the Government of Sri Lanka bestowed on Victor the title ‘Sri Lanka Ranjana’. This Victor cherishes, for he states “to be honoured by one’s motherland is the highest accolade a man can receive”.
The library website is http://tormel.brinkster.net/
Sri Lanka’s 60th anniversary of Independence was celebrated by the Sri Lankan community in Melbourne on a grand scale at the Springvale Town Hall on February 4.
During the evening’s celebrations, the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser, AC, presented Victor Melder with the ‘Sri Lankan Community Award’, in recognition of his outstanding contribution towards promoting the image and welfare of the Sri Lankan community in the State of Victoria, for the past 40 years.