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Steve has had a long and distinguished career working in the JS Battye Library of West Australian History and with its unique collections. He joined the State Library in March 1977 and soon built a formidable reputation as a foremost expert on the materials and research sources in the Battye Library. His retirement in January 2018 brought the curtain down on 41 years of dedicated service to the Western Australian public.

One of Steve’s greatest boons to family historians was his book Dead reckoning: how to find your way through the genealogical jungle of Western Australia which was published by the Library Board in 1997. With funding from the Friends of Battye Library’s Sholl Bequest, Steve’s work was updated as an online publication and remains an essential source for researchers. He has also compiled numerous subject specialist guides which have served to make the Battye Library accessible to everyone from novice researchers to the most eminent historians.

Steve has written and given lively presentations on diverse topics in our early history and often little known aspects of the lives of well-known pioneers. Many of Steve’s articles have been published in specialist journals as well as the Friends of Battye Library Newsletter. He has also curated important exhibitions and mounted historical displays which have showcased the collections of the State Library and State Records Office. Crucially for researchers, he was responsible for liaising with the National Library over digitisation of selected WA newspapers for Trove.

As a reference librarian, Steve was unfailingly gentle and patient with people seeking help with their research and will be irreplaceable as the go-to Battye Library expert for staff and researchers alike.

Colleagues who were privileged to work with Steve over the years have wonderful memories of his companionship, generosity, commitment, incisive wit, and dreadful puns. He is a gifted wordsmith and his wickedly witty and incisive poems delighted, and on occasion scandalised, his colleagues and audience. At the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Battye Library in December 2016, the recitation of Steve’s Ballad of the Battye Library was a highlight. 

Steve’s influence on Western Australian research is an enduring one and although we wish him a wonderful retirement, he will still be very much missed by all who benefitted from his expertise, breadth of knowledge, and kindness.

The Friends of Battye Library (Inc.) would like to add to Steve’s many achievements and show our appreciation of his contribution to Western Australian history by listing him as a ‘Gem of Time’, an award that celebrates living treasures who have had a long-term and significant commitment to the Battye Library and the State Records Office. The list of Gems will last to acknowledge the contribution of outstanding men and women to the recording, collection, and preservation of Western Australia’s history.

In honour of Steve’s award, Patrick Cornish (Journalist and author) penned the following poem which was recited at the November meeting.

Ode to our Steve

For the future we must relish the past

And seek sources whose range can be vast.

For wily Steve Howell, as wise as an owl,

Our respect and affection will last.


Looking long back over the years

We need guides who stand out from their peers

When it comes to a reference

Steve Howell was our preference

For knowledge, for wit, give three cheers.

Celebration for the anniversary of 60 years of the

J S Battye Library of West Australian History

14 December 2016


Steve Howell, who has been the Battye Library expert for more than

three decades, is also a noted versifier of wit and humour.

He penned the following commemorative ballad.


The Ballad of Battye Library


His name was Jim and his sight was dim

by the winter of Fifty Four

He’d lost his vim, wasn’t sound of limb

by July he was no more


But back in his prime,

Battye was a collector sublime

who’d travelled all over the State

He deemed it a crime, not to grab at the time

documents of importance great


Records of the CSO, manuscripts from high and low

newspapers, maps, books and serials

Battye Library’s seeds did he sow, although this he wasn’t to know

but at least he got the materials


Battye began the State Archive, way back in 1945

but it didn’t go far enough

under Mollie Lukis it would thrive, and for a time she would strive

to collect Government stuff


Battye’s replacement was Sharr, who was to become a star

although he started off green

but he raised the bar, and he would go far

in the WA library scene


So Sharr had a thought, for which he long fought

to reorganise the old place

Enthusiasm he brought, which would have come to nought

if he couldn’t revamp the space


All through 1956, old SRL they did fix

and on 14th of December it opened with a good mix, of sundry subject topics

which we’re here today to remember


In honour of old JSB, records of WA history

all came together at long last

to recognise the role that he had played in provision of free

access to WA records past


Thanks to Lukis, Medcalf and McCall; Allen, Jamieson, Carter and all

who ever over the years gave their best

the staff always had a ball and they never hit the wall

working hard for the people of the West


So that’s the Battye story and if I’ve been too laudatory

I’m sorry but that’s just the way I think

It’s been sixty years of glory, from many people contributory

so let’s all salute them with a drink

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