Albert Ullin’s fantasy world is real. Perched high above the CBD streets, his apartment is crammed full of children’s books and illustrations.
It’s been many years now since he passed on custodianship of the Little Bookroom but his private collection is bursting at the seams.
Unlike some other forms of publishing, children’s books have never really translated across to the digital world.
These wondrous tales and images are rightly packaged between hard covers which, when opened and pages are turned, invade and infect developing minds with possibility and awe.
Mr Ullin, 85, jokes that his two vices are smoking and collecting children’s books and illustrations.
“I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t,” he says on both counts.
The best of his collection of original illustrations is on display until October 4 at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, under the title Bunyips and Dragons.
The title is a clue to how Mr Ullin’s obsession started. His first pieces were acquired as acts of patronage for struggling and emerging young illustrators.
Mr Ullin explained that original illustrations from Ron Brooks’ The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek and Peter Pavey’s One Dragon’s Dream, started the ball rolling.
Both artists “haunted” the Little Bookroom seeking, and finding, inspiration in Melbourne’s pre-eminent children’s bookshop.
“Ron would sit on the floor for hours, studying the designs,” Mr Ullin said,
Albert’s third piece was from Graeme Base’s My Grandma Lived in Goligulch.
Mr Ullin’s late wife was involved in art galleries at the time and assisted emerging book illustrators by exhibiting and selling their works.
Sadly, the couple didn’t have children of their own. “I love kids,” Albert said.
Mr Ullin established the Little Bookroom in 1960 and sold the business to staff in 2004. He still has regular contact with the current owners. It was first established in the now-demolished Metropol Arcade and is best known for its Elizabeth St location, opposite the GPO.
Soaring rents later saw the store relocate to Carlton, but a small branch can be found in Degraves St.
Mr Ullin lived in a large, double-storey house in North Melbourne and downsized to a CBD apartment in Exhibition St three and a half years ago. And, while he down-sized his living space, his ample collection means there is even less room for him.
These days he is sorting out his valuable collection of books, illustrations and memorabilia with the intention of donating the best of it to the public.
He loves the amenity of the city, but has a couple of pet hates – skateboards and pedestrians who don’t walk on the left.
He also misses having access to hardware stores but also admits that he has no real need for tools and garden supplies in his new environment.
Mr Ullin is very upbeat though and displays a broad grin and the cheeky heart of a child.
“Being so close to all the restaurants is fabulous,” he said. “And I am so close to the State Library. I spend a lot of time at the library and asked the staff whether they could set up a flying-fox from my window.”