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A Passionate Collector

Video clip synopsis – Through his passion for collecting, New Zealander Rex Nan Kivell invented a new aristocratic identity.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - Australian History, botanical, colonisation, discovery, exploration, maps, see all tags


A Passionate Collector

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About the Video Clip


From the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia
The National Library of Australia is the country’s largest reference library with over nine million items in its collection, including a surprising number of art works. In a new series of Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library. From her unique vantage point, Churcher makes intriguing historical connections between paintings and engravings, photography, manuscripts and artefacts, illustrated journals and diaries. These are fascinating tales about the creative process and the works themselves that offer a tantalising insight into Australia’s culture and heritage.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:

5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.8 locates, selects and organises relevant historical information from a number of sources, including ICT, to undertake historical inquiry
5.9 uses historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts

It also gives students the opportunity to learn to use primary sources to describe features of lifestyle of a variety of social groups and identify the working conditions of men and women.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


New Zealander Rex Nan Kivell was an avid collector of anything to do with 18th century exploration and the early settlement of Australia and New Zealand. His fine collection of 12,000 items ranges across a third of the globe and spans three centuries. Among its priceless treasures is one of the earliest maritime atlases of the world, Dell’Arcano del Mare (Secrets of the Sea), compiled in Italy in 1643, as well as a catalogue of sea monsters, the first map of the coastline of Australia and even a handsome silver kettle with built-in spirit lamp given by Queen Charlotte to Sir Joseph Banks. But Sir Rex de Charambec Nan Kivell, as he became, concealed a secret from the world—he was born Reginald Nankivell, the illegitimate son of a New Zealander.

Classroom Activities

  1. Look at the example of the earliest maps of the world, without Australia.
    1. Why did people believe that a southern land mass would exist?
    2. What effect might that have had on exploration of the area?
    3. What other factors would have determined whether explorers were able to enter the area where they believed a southern land mass might exist?
  2. When did ‘Australia’ exist as the name of the continent? What had to happen before that name could be given?
  3. The National Library has a silver kettle presented to Sir Joseph Banks, who is a giant of early Australian exploration. What does this silver kettle tell us about one type of explorer?
  4. Summarise in just one or two sentences why these items are ‘treasures’ in our knowledge and understanding of aspects of Australian history.
  5. Imagine that the National Museum has asked you to recommend an object for its collection that symbolises the experience of the most common type of explorer of Australia, the ordinary seaman. What would you choose? You will need to carry out some research to recommend a symbolic item. You can start your research at the National Maritime Museum.

Further Resources


Go to Screen Australia Digital Learning’s Arts Portal

Go to a selection of images from the Paradise Possessed
exhibition at the Rex Nan Kivell Collection