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Vale Barbara Burdon

Barbara Burdon, the founder of Asia Bookroom and beloved mother of Burdon Family Booksellers' members Sally, Jonathan and Elisabeth, and mother-in-law of Kay Craddock, died on March 20th after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.  

By Paul Feain


Barbara was born in Sussex UK on 6th October 1924 where she lived her first five years. Her family then migrated to Switzerland because her father had been gassed during WWI and his medical advice suggested that the Swiss climate would suit him better. After five years there Barbara’s father died and the family moved back to the UK. In Switzerland Barbara began her love affair with the French language.

After finishing school she went to study medicine, but these studies were interrupted when she met a handsome young superintendent of the Indian Police, and within 3 weeks Barbara married this man, Tom Burdon, and went off to India where Tom was a 21 year old Superintendent of Police. It was in India, in what is now Pakistan, that the first of her five children were born. India was a great adventure for the young Barbara. It was the last days of the Raj, and times were often dangerous for young English colonials, and Barbara is said to have slept with a gun under her pillow.

Jonathan, her eldest child, and now a member of The Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB), was born in 1946 in India and then followed four other children who were born in Singapore and the UK.

Over the next 13 years the family lived in Penang, Singapore and Jamaica and other West Indian Islands. Tom was working as a marine zoologist for the UN or local Governments. Barbara reared the children and maintained her interest in books and literature.

The Burdons moved to Australia in 1964 settling in Canberra in 1967.  Here they commenced a business called Weekend Gallery in Hughes in 1969. The business was run from a converted flat under the house and was renamed Weekend Gallery Books in the early 1970s, and sold books, prints and maps. Tom sadly suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and could take no part in the business of antiquarian bookselling from the early 1970s.

In 1982 Barbara’s daughter Sally returned from her youthful travels around the world with  partner Martin and soon after Barbara and Sally commenced a business called The Old Bookroom. Barbara, although not a foundation member, joined ANZAAB in its early years.  She was the first antiquarian bookseller in Canberra, and worked as such until she retired just a couple of years ago due to ill health.

Barbara attended all of the ANZAAB Book Fairs and always had a positive attitude about the fair. When sales were slow, Barbara always believed that the rainbow with the pot of gold at the end was just around the corner and all she had to do was keep working.

Barbara had a very big influence on antiquarian bookselling in Australia. Two of her five children, Sally Burdon and Jonathan Burdon, are members ANZAAB  and a third, Elizabeth, is a member of ABAA, whilst one daughter in law, Kay Craddock, and one son in law, Martin Nagle, are members of ANZAAB. Another daughter in law, Jill, for a number of years compiled Australian Book Auction Records.

Barbara encouraged others in bookselling. She always gave me great encouragement in my early days of bookselling, and convinced me that I should apply for membership of ANZAAB. She always encouraged all my mad ventures. Whenever in Canberra I would stop by for a meal, and in fact this was often the main attraction in going to Canberra.

Barbara, despite having to cope with family illness, ran the business with optimism, enthusiasm and scholarship, and the fact that she has left behind a business, run now for some years by her daughter Sally, and offspring who are prominent booksellers, is a testament to Barbara.

Barbara Burdon died on 20th March 2013 in Canberra.

(Published in BookFare, presented here by permission of ANZAAB.)

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