FAW, or, the Fellowship of Australian Writers, was established in Sydney in 1928. Its exact origins are uncertain but the Oxford Companion of Australian Literature believes that the poet Dame Mary Gilmore was encouraged by another poet Roderic Quinn, to hold a meeting of writers. Poet, critic and professor of literature John Le Gay Brereton became the president. I have written before about the triumvirate – Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Frank Dalby Davison – who were actively involved in the Fellowship in its early days. Indeed, in 1937, Davison was elected President, and Eldershaw, one of the vice-presidents.
My aim today is not to discuss the origins, but I will just share this from an early 1929 newspaper report about the Association’s early days:
it is evident, that before very long the organisation, in a numerical sense, will be remarkably representative, and in a position to increase in a practical way the popularity of Australian literature. At the present time local unattached writers, with very few exceptions, have an extremely hard row to hoe, but it is hoped that the efforts of the Fellowship, will materially alter this position and open up new avenues of hope and actual success.
Now to today’s topic which is to have a look at what events and talks FAW ran for its members over its first decade, from 1928 to 1937. I found the information in Trove, of course, mostly from announcements of coming meetings rather than reports of meetings held, so the detail is minimal.
Most of the “events” in these early years were part of their regular meetings, rather than being offered as separate events (like today’s festivals, workshops, and so on). And most were speakers, but there were also discussions, readings and performances. Below is a small selection of those I found, with the year-links being to the appropriate newspaper article.
Talks and papers
The talks and papers varied, with the most common topics being the lives of writers or other figures in the arts, the practice of writing, and the state of the Australian literary scene. I’ve listed my selection alphabetically by speaker.
- Fred Broomfield, a journalist, on “Henry Lawson and his critics” (1930): according to the ADB “Tradition has it that Broomfield accepted Henry Lawson’s first Bulletin contribution”.
- Jack Adrian Clapin, a solicitor, on literature and copyright laws (1929)
- Winifred Hamilton on “Critics and Gloom” (1929)
- Professor Le Gay Brereton on “Some Australian books” (1931)
- Dr. G. Mackaness, President of FAW, on the progress made in the quality and quantity of Australian art and literature (I wonder what he said?) (1932)
- Dorothy Mannix and John Longden, of Cinesound Studio, and Eric Bedford, of United Artists, on “Writing for the Talkies” (1935)
- Sydney Elliott Napier, writer and poet, on “Books, Libraries, and Places I Have Visited.” (1930)
- Rev. Father Eris O’Brien, “an authority on early Australian literature”, on “The Work of Dr. Ullathorne” (1930)
- Very Rev. Dr. M. J. O’Reilly on “John O’Brien” (author of Round the Boree Log“): A report on this meeting said that “Dr. O’Reilly said that O’Brien’s poetry was not great. It provided recreation, however, and also preserved the image of the old type of Irish settler”. Is this a case of being damned with faint praise? (1931)
- Peardon Pearce Packham on the life of past Bulletin editor, JF Archibald (1929)
- Roderic Quinn on his associations and friendships with various Australian writers and editors (1929)
- Steele Rudd on “How I wrote On our selection” (1929)
- Sir Keith Smith, who, with his brother Ross, was the first to fly from England to Australia, on “The Pen and the ‘Plane” (sounds intriguing, eh?) (1931)
- Percy Reginald Stephenson, writer, publisher and political activist, on “The Future of Literature in Australia” (1932)
- E. M. Tildesley, honorary secretary of the British Drama League, on “The British Drama League and the Australian Dramatist” (1937)
There was an interesting report of a 1933 meeting. It’s not clear whether the meeting comprised a discussion or three papers, but it notes that:
- Cecil Mann, journalist and short story writer, said, regarding what editors wanted that “there were no standards; it was all a matter of appropriateness. Each paper had an inner spiritual character, and every freelance writer must make an acquaintance with this if he hoped to have his articles accented”.
- Percy Reginald Stephenson said that ‘there was no recipe for a “best seller.”‘ He said that only one book in a hundred was a good seller, and only five or six out of 15,000 published became best sellers. “To be successful, he said, books must be deliberately constructed, filled with inspiration, and polished and repolished before they were published. The public was not interested in anything not original, and the publisher was not running a correspondence course in authorship. The author must sub-edit his work, knock out about one-third of his words, “ring the bell” every five chapters, and round off a great character.” (Your heard it here!)
- Eric Baume, journalist, novelist and radio personality, suggested there things were currently good for the freelance writers, that was “a greater call for Australian stories”, and that “Australian short stories were just as vital as those from elsewhere”.
Performances, readings, etc
Other sorts of meetings included discussions and debates. At an early 1929 meeting “an enthusiastic discussion took place on ways and means of winning the Australian public over to a practical interest in Australian literature”, and in 1936 the Fellowship debated the Sydney University Union on “That literature should be romantic rather than realistic.”‘ I would love to have been there!
There were also play readings (such as in 1930, the reading of Harry Tighe’s four-act play, Open Spaces), short story readings, poetry recitations, and even, sometimes, musical performances.
In 1931, FAW was behind a benefit concert for “distressed Australian authors”. Supporting Australian authors, particularly those who were struggling at the end of their lives, was an important FAW objective (at least from my past FAW research).
And now a question for you: Do you think literature should be “should be romantic rather than realistic”?