Monday musings on Australian literature: Local colour, 1920-style

Back in June I wrote a post on the Australian Literature Society’s Women’s Night that they held in 1922. This Society, which was formed in Melbourne in 1899, has played an important role in supporting and promoting Australian literature for well over a century – first as itself, and then as part of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) with which it merged in 1982. As I’ve written before, ASAL continues to award the ALS Gold Medal which was established by the Society in 1928.

Now, I had in fact planned a different post for today, but I have had a busy weekend, and am still away from home, so have not had the time to work on that post. I therefore thought I would share another one of the delightful snippets I found some months ago about about the work of the society. The wonderful thing is, you see, that this Society’s meetings were often written up in the newspapers of the day, which provides us with an interesting insight into what the literati of the time were thinking and caring about.

And, one of those things was what made “Australian” literature. In 1920, Melbourne’s The Herald (July 10), reported on the meeting that marked the Society’s attaining “its majority”. That is, it turned 21! The meeting’s topic was “Local Color in Women’s Work”, with a paper was presented by Mrs Hilda Vroland. She argued that Australia’s women writers “did not portray very vividly those features of our life which were distinctive”. The report went on to explain what she saw as local color:

What was meant by local color was certain incidents, scenes and language which were characteristic of a particular country, and not only that, but a portrayal of an outlook on life which was typical of the class of people dealt with. Our local color was derived from incidents which immediately suggested Australian life — scenes that were truly Australian, and traits of character which had been developed by the freedom of this new land and the broader outlook.

Mrs Vroland named some writers whom she thought did produce good local colour – Doris Egerton Jones, Marie Pitt and Mary Gaunt (the last of whom Brona of Brona’s Books wrote about for the new AWW). Brona notes that some of Gaunt’s attitudes are problematical now, but nonetheless,

her short stories show a writer concerned with the role of women in society. Mary’s privileged colonial upbringing may be apparent in her writing at times, but her focus was clearly on how double standards, lack of agency and patriarchal practices negatively impacted on the lives of women.

Sounds like excellent local color to me …

Anyhow, the poet and journalist Bernard O’Dowd, who presided over the meeting, clearly agreed with the importance of Hilda Vroland’s subject, arguing that

Australians had as much right to see the universe in our honeysuckle and wattle blossom or even in the opossum’s burrow as the Englishman had to see his world in the oak-tree.

Furthermore, he was concerned, said The Herald, that Australian literature was not valued unless it “received the hallmark of the English papers”. (The old cultural cringe.) Local journals, he apparently said, “dealt almost exclusively with American literature, and ignored Australian writers”. Another speaker at the meeting, a Charles Carter, is reported as having “said that he “was gratified to know that the women writers quoted did not wholly rely upon the use of slang, horse-racing or bush-ranging for local color”. According to Brona, Mary Gaunt’s stories did include bush-ranging, among other topics. But was Carter being sexist about what “women” writers should write about, or simply complimenting them because these were not truly local color?

I will close here … and simply say that I enjoyed reading about the passion of these Australians for our own literature, even if (not surprisingly) the idea of First Nations people contributing to that literature doesn’t seem to have crossed their minds. I hope you all have enjoyed this little insight too.

Monday musings on Australian literature: on 1922: 3, ALS Women’s Night

Continuing my 1922-themed posts, I was intrigued that, in 1922, the Australian Literature Society held a Women’s Night. This Society was formed in Melbourne in 1899, with the aim of encouraging both the study of Australian literature and Australian authors.

According to the National Library the Society:

  • held regular meetings which included talks, recitations, readings of unpublished works, musical items and reviews
  • established a general library of first editions and important Australian works which it maintained for nearly eighty years.
  • published a journal Corroboree from 1921 to 23

In 1928, it established the ALS Gold Medal to be awarded to the author of the best novel published in the previous year. The first winner was Martin Boyd’s The Montforts, but that, obviously, came after 1922! What also came later was that this society merged in 1982 with the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, which continues to award the ALS Gold Medal.

Now, back to 1922, and the Society’s Women’s Night. I’ve had a little look at Trove for 1920 and 1921, and while there are references to women’s topics being discussed at ALS meetings, it seems that 1922 may have been the first time they devoted a night to Women’s writing.

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there were just two papers presented: Australian Women Prose Writers, by Mrs Vernon Williams, and Australian Women Poets, by Elsie Cole. Before I share the idea that inspired this post, I did find mentions of Women’s Nights in 1927 and 1929. In 1927, The Age (July 12) reports that there was a paper on Stella Miles Franklin, followed by some readings and recitations of works by women, while in 1929, The Age (July 15), again, reported that the night would ‘take the form of a debate, the subject, being “Australia is Lacking in a Back Ground to Inspire Romantic Writing”‘.

And now, back to 1922 again. The report in Table Talk (August 3) reported that Elsie Cole’s paper on the poets said that “We had reason to be proud, if critical, of our present output of women’s work” and that “the prospect for the immediate future was encouraging”. Unfortunately, none of the reports I read gave any details about the content of the papers, so what, for example, were the criticisms?

As for Mrs. Vernon Williams’* paper on the prose writers, they reported her saying that “one outstanding feature of the Australian novel is its purity” but they didn’t elaborate. Williams also apparently said that the Australian novel was full of sincerity and the glamour of romance.

The report shared one other idea from the talk, which was that:

In the early days of Australian literature the output of women writers was more prolific than that of men writers, because the opening of a new continent did not give men opportunity to concentrate their activities in that direction.

I haven’t seen this specifically articulated before, and would love to know exactly what she was talking about. The first “Australian-made novel” novel, Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton (my post), was published in 1830, with the first novel by a woman published in Australia, Anna Maria Bunn’s The guardian, appearing in 1838. But, “the output of women writers” did start before this. Dale Spender writes, in Writing a New World: Two centuries of Australian women writers (see Bill’s post), that from very early on women wrote letters and

women’s ‘world of letters’ provides an alternative and rich resource of information. Women’s thoughts and feelings find expression in a literature which stands as a repository for women’s consciousness and a record of their endurance in the strange land. So the letters of Elizabeth Macarthur and Rachel Henning, for example, tell a story of settlement, create heroines of stature who experience a series of adventures which could readily and reassuringly be recounted ‘back home’; but at the same time these letters plot personal struggles with independence and identity. Miles Franklin begins My Brilliant Career at the point at which Elizabeth Macarthur and Rachel Henning leave off …

Women’s letters and journals, as Spender shows, provided a rich and important literature, but novels by women did start appearing by the middle of the century with Catherine Helen Spence’s Clara Morison in 1854, and Louisa Atkinson’s Gertrude the Emigrant in 1857. Ellen Davitt followed with a crime novel in 1864, and then, in the 1880s, novels by Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed, Tasma, and others were published.

Presumably it’s to these novelists that Williams refers, but, to suggest that, somehow, men had less opportunity to write in the colony’s first century feels like a backhanded compliment – as if women’s lives were easy, and men’s not. However, her recognition of the depth of women’s writing tradition is notable. It’s a recognition that got lost by the middle of the 20th century and that we are still trying to recover now. I must try to access Williams’ paper.

* AustLit explains that Mrs Vernon Williams is the writing name for Elvie Williams, the wife of Vernon Williams, who was “a member of the Australian Literature Society, Melbourne”. She had two articles, “Australian Women Novelists, Parts 1 and 2”, published in two consecutive issues of Corroboree : The Journal of the Australian Literature Society, vol. 1 nos. 10-11, July-August 1922, but they aren’t available online.

Previous 1922 posts: 1. Bookstall Co; 2. Reviewers on Australianness

Monday musings on Australian literature: FAW Activities (1)

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 romantic rather than realistic”?

Monday musings on Australian literature: New England Writers’ Centre

I thought I had finished my round-up of Australia’s writers’ centres with my post on the Australian Writers Centre, but then I came across a rather interesting – and active – regional one, and would like to share it with you (as well as document it here). It is the Armidale-based New England Writers Centre (NEWC).

Like most writers’ centres, the NEWC is a membership service, and has been running for over 20 years. It describes its activities very simply, as

delivering writing and illustrating workshops, professional opportunities, fabulous  literary events, showcasing of local talent, and more, to its members. (About Page)

Like the other membership-based centres it:

  • runs a variety of writing and outreach programs, in Armidale and throughout New England, as well as via online technologies
  • offers and/or supports various writing (and associated) awards and fellowships
  • communicates with members via newsletters, emails and social media.
  • provides resources (primarily prepared by Sophie Masson) to all sorts of sites of relevance to writers and illustrators. Check the link to see what I mean.
Arielle Van Luyn, Treading air

The Centre’s current Board includes, among others, published writers, Sophie Masson (who has more than 50 books to her name) and Ariella van Luyn (whose Treading air I’ve reviewed), professional editor Linda Nix, and local publisher (and, love this, “Rolls Royce trained, professionally qualified mechanical engineer”) Peter Creamer.

You may wonder how I came across this regional centre? Interestingly, it was via the new ARA Historical Fiction Prize which I wrote about recently. The prize was established by the ARA Group and HNSA (The Historical Novel Society Australasia), but this Centre was actively involved, by being part of the Prize sub-committee and administering the submissions.

Anyhow, as I’ve done with most of the other centres, I’ll share some of their main programs … but I must say that, as with most organisations this year, it looks like there’s been a bit of rejigging of programs and activities, and a willingness to turn to new forms of communicating and reaching out.

New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing

This prize seems to be one of their most significant ongoing programs. It has been running for eight years, and is a multi-prize award with the following categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Youth Award, Emerging Author and the New England Award. The prizes are relatively small – $250 to $500 – but, a prize is a prize, and must help the cv.

Aussies will know of course, but for others, this prize was named for the infamous bushranger, Captain Thunderbolt.

They also offer an Illustration Prize, which is interesting, as I haven’t seen this aspect of writing/publishing supported quite so obviously in the other centres is it seems to be in this one.

Varuna/New England Writers Centre Fellowship

Regular readers here will have heard of Varuna Writers Retreat before, but in 2019 the NEWC established, in partnership with Varuna, a new annual fellowship. The prize is

a week’s inspirational writing residency in the beautiful surroundings of Varuna, in the Blue Mountains, and include full board and accommodation at Varuna, funds towards travel, a one-on-one consultation with a Varuna expert and more. 

Shortlistees receive two free workshops of their choice from NEWC’s program. 

By the Book video series

This is a new program, just launched this month, comprising YouTube videos featuring “local professional writers, illustrators, editors and publishers offering tips and advice on all kinds of aspects relating to book creation and production”. They range from a couple of minutes to six or so minutes. Here is Sophie Masson introducing the series:

Finally …

For a (not so little) region, the NEWC sounds like an impressively active writers’ centre, which supports a wide range of writing activities in the New England area. It’s exciting seeing such energy coming from regional towns and cities, particularly now when regions seem to be coming into their own, with city-dwellers, post-COVID, starting to see the very real benefits of regional living.

Writers Centres posts: ACT, Australian Writers Centre, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Writers’ Centre

I have written posts now on writers centres in every Australian state and territory, but there is also, would you believe, an Australian Writers’ Centre. Who are they, and where do they fit in?

It seems like they are primarily a provider of writing courses. When you click on the About link on their website, the first thing you read is:

Welcome to the Australian Writers’ Centre

We’re Australia’s leading provider of writing courses and we’re so excited that you’ve found us at last!
If you’d like to improve your writing skills or simply find your inspiration, this is the place.

They say that they offer courses in “in creative writing, freelance writing, business writing, blogging and much more”, and that people love their courses “because of their affordability, short duration and accessibility – a risk-free way to gain new writing skills in a supportive environment”.  Their courses are “created by experts who are active in the industry”. They run in-person courses (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane) and online ones.

Nick Earls, NoHoThey sound and look highly self-promotional, but who teaches their courses? Well, there are some well-known names there, including published (many of them internationally successful) Australian authors, such as Kate Forsyth (best-selling author of fantasy, primarily); Alison Tait (best-selling author, particularly of children’s books); Nick Earls (popular writer of books for adults, young adults and children, and who has appeared here); novelists Annabel Smith (who has also appeared here a few times) and Natasha Lester; plus others including Valerie Khoo, and various journalists and free-lance writers. I notice, for example, that Annabel Smith’s Creative Writing course that started today is sold out.

They also offer other free “resources” or activities:

So, as far as I can tell, the AWC is primarily an organisation offering courses and other resources for writers, both fee-based and free. Unlike the state-based centres it is not a member organisation, but I can’t find anything on their site, not even their FAQs, about their history or governance. (Wikipedia’s article on Valerie Khoo says she founded it in 2005.) This sort of information is not essential, of course. If they are providing a needed and appreciated service, that’s the important thing. But, I’m a librarian-archivist, and I do love it when organisations provide some history on their sites. It’s not hard to do.

A novel works its magic by putting a reader inside another person’s life. (Barbara Kingsolver, from AWC Newsletter, 6/2/20)

Exactly why I love to read (notwithstanding there are some lives I may not want to be in) … what about you? 

Writers Centres posts: ACT, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Writing WA

Time for a change from COVID-19 inspired Monday Musings, methinks, so I’m returning to something more straightforward like continuing my little trip around Australia’s writers centres. Today, we travel west to look at Writers WA.

Unfortunately, I cannot find anything on the Writing WA website about its history. I do find it disappointing when organisations don’t provide a basic history of themselves on their sites. I did, though, find under Some Highlights from 2019 a reference to a “new brand identity”. How much change did this involve? A name change like several other writers centres have done in the last few years?

Dervla McTiernan, The ruin, book coverThe Writing WA About page is brief, starting very nicely with an Acknowledgement of Country, followed by a quote by the successful author Dearbhla (Dervla) McTiernan in support of the Centre. This is followed by a vision or mission statement, though it’s not labelled as such:

Writing WA is working between the lines and behind the scenes to build a state of opportunity in Western Australia for writers, publishers and other practitioners in the writing sector – not just for the benefit of practitioners themselves, but for the immense social value that great writing brings to individuals and communities.

It’s a lovely aspiration, but not exactly punchy. The About Page’s banner is punchier with its “We’re working to build a state of opportunity”. However, this could be pretty much any organisation?

Oh dear, I’m sounding a bit critical, and this is not the aim of my writers centre series at all, so let’s move on … because, despite what I’ve said, the site is clean, clear and easy to navigate.

2019 Highlights

I enjoyed reading about the centre’s highlights for last year, which included:

  • launching two writers festivals, both (sensibly) in partnership with other organisations: Confluence Festival (Mandurah), partnering with the producers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, and Quantum Words Perth, partnering with Writing NSW.
  • publication of an anthology of short stories from Singapore and Australia, In this desert, there were seeds. Conceived and funding by Writing WA, it’s the result of an international co-publication between Margaret River Press and Ethos Books.

For Readers and Writers

A lovely clear thing about the website is the way it distinguishes between services for Readers and for Writers. If you know which one you are you can find what you want pretty quickly!

For Readers

The banner at the top of this page is, appropriately, “We love to read local”. Their main service here is to support book clubs. They offer a free monthly Love to Read Local Book Club e-newsletter that people can subscribe to. Each issue contains “detailed information about our selected ‘Book of the Month’ with accompanying notes to prompt discussion in your group!”

Donna Mazza, Fauna, book coverUnderneath this is the current Book of the Month, with a link to more information suited to reading groups, complete with discussion questions and “if you like this book…” suggestions. Check out the info for the March book, Donna Mazza’s Fauna, if you are interested.

Following the book of the month are a number of “What we are reading” books, with links to brief reviews. Below these is a “more book reviews” link which brings up the first of many pages of books reviewed. There is a search box in the side-bar and a broad genre list (biography, children’s, crime, etc) that will help those with specific interests. I wonder how many readers use this resource?

For Writers

The resources for writers are divided into five areas:

  • Find your people: this helps writers find writing groups and workshops (though it doesn’t actually list workshops being offered)
  • About publishing: explains in simple, straightforward language, the main publishing options available to writers.
  • Resources for writers: the say, here, that “Great books are the product of successful collaborations at every stage of the process, requiring effort and expertise from the writer, the editor, the publisher, the book designer, the printer and, eventually, the bookseller and librarian.” This section contains commissioned articles helping writers understand these. Clicking on I want to know about competitions, awards and other professional opportunities will take writers to the Noticeboad, which is also visible on the Home page. Here is where you find the guts of the Centre’s programs – the workshops, masterclasses and other events (most of which, if you look now, are of course cancelled due to COVID-19 – but they look varied and interesing)
  • Other resources for writers: a list of links to all sorts of relevant organisations including other writers centres; organisations providing say, legal or copyright information; and organisations supporting Indigenous and CALD writers
  • Rates of pay: a general statement about advocacy on payment for writers.


Not surprisingly – but pleasingly given not all organisations are doing this – the site has a tab on the Home Page for COVID-19 information. Clicking here will take members (and others) to a wealth of information including government policy, ways to keep working and reaching readers, and ways to stay healthy. Really nice to see.

And that’s about it for Writing WA. It’s probably not the best time to highlight an organisation in terms of showing off what it does, but the link is now here for anyone to follow up whenever they like!

Writers Centres covered to date: the ACT, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Writers Victoria

When I wrote my last post in this Monday Musings series on Australia’s writers centres, author Angela Savage, who is also the current Director of Writers Victoria, commented that the centre was celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. She was hinting, in the nicest way of course, that I should “do” Writers Victoria this year – so, here I am.

Like Writing NSW and Writers SA, Writers Victoria changed its name (in 2011) from its original name, the Victorian Writers’ Centre. A not-for-profit membership organisation, it was created in 1989 by a group of writers who believed Victoria’s writing community needed a professional organisation. I love the clarity and comprehensiveness of their overall goal:

Writers Victoria supports and connects all types of writers at all stages of their writing careers.

This is supported by more specific purposes as listed on their About Us page. It’s not surprising that what they do is similar to other centres, but, like the others, they have their own flavour. They also operate within a very specific environment, given Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature and the presence of The Wheeler Centre (for Books, Writing, Ideas). The then Victorian Writers Centre played an instrumental role in achieving both of these. Writers Victoria is, apparently, “the largest writers’ organisation in the country” and “the country’s leading employer of writers” through their programs.

You will have read enough of these writers centre posts now to know what they offer – courses and workshops, mentorships, manuscript assessments, fellowships, writing spaces or studios, to name the main activities. Writers Victoria also specifically supports regional writers, young writers, diverse writers, and writers with a disability. They also advocate for writers and the literary culture.

Book coverTheir diverse writers program, for example, supports “writers who face barriers in the development of their writing careers”. The programs are, well, diverse, catering for women of colour, Asian Australian writers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugee writers, and so on. The program recognises that money can be an issue for these writers, so among the support it offers are bursaries, and paid commissions. The indigenous writing program has used writers you’ve met here – Tony Birch, Anita Heiss and Bruce Pascoe.

For writers with a disability they have a program called Write-ability. Its aim is “to remove some of the barriers that have traditionally prevented people with disability from connecting with writing and publishing”. This support includes regional and online programs, and fellowships.

30 Years

However, because this year is their 30th anniversary, I thought I’d focus mainly on how they are celebrating this milestone – particularly since October was their establishment month.

Here are some of the ways they are celebrating their anniversary:

Flash fiction challenge

In April – the first month of the year with 30 days – they held a Flash Fiction Challenge, which they promoted as “30 days. 30 prompts. 30 Words.” For each day they offered a word prompt, and writers had to submit their 30-word works of flash fiction inspired by that word by midnight of that day. The 30 winners are shared at the link I’ve given, with the first winner, for the word Grit, being blogger Tony Messenger. As a wordlover, I enjoyed the variety of the prompt words, which included Baroque, Gloss, Remember, Nacreous, and Perfectionism.

For a clever, pointed piece, check out Sumitra Shankar’s Beginning, on April 21. It’s a perfect example of the power of flash fiction.

Writers on Writers Vic

Book cover for Toni Jordan's AdditionFor each month – they are up to September – a Victorian writer comments on what Writers Victoria means to them. The writers to date are:

  • Lee Kofman (who co-edited Rebellious daughters which I’ve reviewed)
  • Mark Brandi
  • Toni Jordan (whose Addition, Fall girl and Nine days, I’ve reviewed)
  • Melanie Cheng (whose Australia Day I really must read)
  • Shivaun Plozza
  • Fiona Wood
  • Andy Griffiths (with whom I’m sure to soon have a close acquaintance through my grandson!)
  • Anna Spargo-Ryan (whose The paper house I’ve reviewed)
  • Else Fitzgerald

You can check them all out by going to the site’s page, but to whet your appetite, here are some of the things they say:

… the main antidote to that famous writer’s malady – loneliness, isolation – is in hanging around with peers. Today writers’ centres seem to serve a similar function to that of literary salons from the previous centuries. (Lee Kofman)

I always tell aspiring and emerging writers about Writers Victoria. Many, like me, are just bumbling along, feeling lost and isolated. Writers’ centres like Writers Victoria are invaluable in making writers feel less alone. (Melanie Cheng)

First, I would wholeheartedly recommend it [joining Writrs Victoria]. But second, know what you want to get out of it. A centre like Writers Victoria has something to offer writers at all stages. (Anna Spargo-Ryan)

And so, a very big Happy Birthday to another active writers centre. Australians should be proud of the energy and commitment centres like this one are putting into both supporting all writers and keeping our literary culture alive. Oh, and thanks to Angela Savage for the birthday heads up!

Writers Centres covered to date: the ACT, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Writers SA

Time, I decided, for the next Monday Musings in my little series on Australia’s writers centres, this time South Australia’s. And it, like Writing NSW did, has recently changed its name, in this case from SA Writers Centre to Writers SA It is, says its About page, Australia’s first writers’ centre, and is located at the State Library of South Australia..

The Chair at the time of the change, Amy Matthews, said that it will ‘turn its attention in an even more dedicated way to helping South Australian writers achieve their creative dreams’, and that they are ‘going to do even more all over the city and the state, with more free events, more writing workshops and three targeted year-long programs for writers at all stages of their careers’. One can be cynical about name changes, but if they result in real improvements, then who cares. Let’s hope that’s happening here.

Like other writers centres, Writers SA is a membership organisation, but also obtains funding and support from others, particularly from federal and state governments.

Here are some of the things the centre does:


Courses and workshops are, as I’ve said in previous posts, a major component of what writers centres do, and so it is with Writers SA, and it’s clear that this centre makes a particular effort to support and encourage young writers. Here is a small selection of Writing SA’s current offerings:

  • Teen Writers Club (with Jason Fischer, a science fiction writer who has won and been shortlisted for Ditmar and Aurealis Awards): geared to teens 15–17 years old, but this is a guide only, they say. That said, they also have a group for younger people aged 12–14 years old. It’s a weekly group that meets on Saturday mornings during school term time.
  • Manuscript Incubator (with Bronwyn Tilley): a 5-month program for “writers looking towards publication”. It’s far easier to quit than to finish! This program says it’s for a whole range of needs from turning a draft into a “final polished product”, to finding/approaching an agent or publisher.
  • Story to Screen (with Holly Lyons, who is been script-writer or script editor on many Australian television series, including, most recently, Home and away): a one-off workshop on how to transform “an original idea for a story that you’re happy to share with the group … into a story with impact suitable for film or TV.”
  • Book coverWriting for Change (with Tory Shepherd, journalist who has written On freedom, published by MUP): a one-off workshop on the challenge of crafting “a piece that will (hopefully!) withstand the scrutiny of subeditors, editors, and of course readers”. The promotion for this workshop says that “there’s more demand than ever before for opinion pieces, which means more opportunities for freelancers. It’s also a powerful way that advocates and lobbyists can make their case.”

These are just four of many courses and workshops they offer on topics that include, in addition to the above, creating comics and writing YA fiction, the future of fantasy, finding an agent, and even on how to keep your motivation up!


  • Monthly meet-up: A monthly informal get-together led by staff from Writers SA and Adelaide City Library that is “usually genre specific or practice specific”. The promotion says “ask for advice, ask questions, tell stories or make up stories. You’ll come away motivated and ready to go home and put pen to paper.” The August meet-up is on Journalism.
  • Literary drinks: These are regular (or semi-regular, it’s not clear) evening which they describe as “relaxed networking opportunities for writers, readers and everyone in or interested in the writing industry. Meet your writing peers, connect with your community, and find out what’s happening in the world of words in SA.” The next one occurs in September and is called “Spring Mixer”.
  • Salisbury Writers Festival: This annual festival, now 15 years old, is organised by Writers SA and the City of Salisbury. The program for the 2019 festival to be held at the end of August is on their website.

In addition to the above, Writers SA also offers a wide range of professional resources and services, including manuscript assessment, something they call “first feedback”, and individual consultations. It has a blog, which seems to be published regularly, and which covers a wide range of topics, from professional to fun things like giveaways.

Book coverIn 2018, the centre created a Writers and Readers in Residence Project specifically designed to support regional communities. It involves South Australian and international writers undertaking “an artistic residency in regional communities to activate reading as well as writing in the town”. It seems to have funding (from the Australia Council of the Arts) to run from 2018 to 2020. You can read about it on their website.

Writers who have been involved to date include Jennifer Mills (author of the Miles Franklin shortlisted Dyschronia) who was based in the Eyre Peninsula; New Zealand novelist and playwright Whiti Hereaka who is currently based at Roxby Downs Community Library; and writer Karen Wyld who took part in the ACT Writers Centre’s Hardcopy program and was based at Ceduna. The project involves writers working on their own projects and offering workshops or other activities in the communities in which they are based. Karen Wyld was hosted by the local public library while another participant, novelist and poet Bernice Chauly, worked with Ali Cobby Eckermann (who has appeared several times on my blog.) It sounds like an active, exciting program, one that recognises the needs of South Australia’s many remote communities, while offering development opportunities for the writers too. It also clearly puts diversity into practice in its selection of writers for the project. (Oh, and this sounds like just the sort of thing the newly-renamed organisation was aiming for!)

.. and here ends my post on another busy, active Writers Centre.

Writers Centres covered to date: the ACT, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Tasmania.

Monday Musings on Australian literature: the Australasian Home Reading Union et al (2)

Shared Reading Sign

Shared Reading (Courtesy: Amy via Clker.Com)

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I wrote a Monday Musings post on the Australasian Home Reading Union – and said at the time that I’d probably write more because I’d like to see what happened to it. Well, here is the next instalment. Please note, though, that my research isn’t as thorough as it could be – partly because I’m focusing on newspapers which, strangely enough, don’t think about what people in the future might want to know! Consequently, this “history” I’m gradually concocting should be seen as tentative rather than definitive.

Collapse of the AHRU

So, as I continued to search Trove, I found a bit of a gap in discussions of the Union in the early 1900s, though there were scattered references, such as to the meeting of a South Australian group in 1900. Then, suddenly, articles starting appearing around 1906 about something called the National Home Reading Union. Was this the same beast I wondered, or something different? This 1906 activity seemed to be mostly occurring in Western Australia. Was this simply that WA was now joining the east in the home-reading union movement? With just a little more digging, however, I found an article that explained it all …

The article appeared in Perth’s Western Mail on 11 August 1906 and concerned the visit to Australia of one Dr Hill, Master of Downing College, Cambridge. It commences by describing at some length Dr Hill’s “hobby” – the National Home Reading Union. He was one of the original founders in England and, he tells “the interviewer”, it had spread through various parts of the Empire, including Canada and South Africa. But what of Australia?

Well, you might also remember from my first post that the Australasian Home Reading Union started in Tasmania? Here is what Dr Hill says:

“When Bishop Montgomery first went to his See in Tasmania, I asked him to try to establish an Australian branch of the N.H.R.U. His efforts were only too successful. Why, in New South Wales the then Governor, Lord Jersey, took the chair at an inaugural meeting, and the Premier and several bishops were on the platform. The movement started with such eclat that the committee felt themselves strong enough to establish an Australasian Reading Union, with their own book lists, their own magazine, etc. But they did not reckon that whereas we in England can obtain an unlimited supply of scholars to write for the magazines the conditions are not equally favourable in Australia. After a short, though meteoric existence, the Australasian Union came to an end. Had it remained as it started – a colonial branch of the N.H.R.U. – it would still be flourishing. We have strong centres in Canada and South Africa, and in other parts of the Empire, and I should greatly like, before I leave, to see a branch established for Western Australia.”

Interesting, eh? Sounds like we, unlike other parts of the empire, decided to go it alone. Good on us for being independent! Anyhow, he goes on to suggest how to go about organising a new WA branch:

“It has been strongly borne in upon me since I came to Perth … that it is far less easy here to find men of leisure in need of a congenial occupation of this kind than at home. But this work is, perhaps, rather ladies’ work than men’s. It is the ladies who have the leisure to read, and they have their children to encourage in habits of reading. Many of our strongest committees at home are composed chiefly of ladies. If some of the ladies of Perth would organise themselves into a branch of the N.H.R.U., they would, I think, find that it not only immensely increased their interest in reading, but that it afforded them an effective means of advancing the cause of civilisation.”

Fascinating. Is it that we had fewer men of leisure – it probably is – or that we had fewer “in need of a congenial occupation of this kind”? And, did women (oops, “ladies”) have more time or, were they more motivated? There are, in fact, many issues we could unpick in his statement regarding class and gender, but that’s not my focus here, so let’s move on.

The interviewer then asked Dr Hill whether the Union focused on “serious works, and books of the dry-as-dust series.” Absolutely not, replied Dr Hill:

our whole object is to render reading recreative. We have, this year, courses on Stevenson, Browning, George Meredith, French novels, and many other subjects, which cannot be termed academic, and we never miss an opportunity of introducing into our lists novels, biographies, and essays, or other lighter forms or reading. We are not technical. We keep as far away as possible from bread and butter studies, and we absolutely decline to institute examinations. Our object is culture.

WA gets under way

A month later, on 15 September 1906, the Western Mail reported that a temporary committee had already been formed and that while they could not obtain all the material needed from England for some months, this committee would endeavour to put a proposal tighter “for a course of reading.”

Then, on 27 February 1907, the West Australian announced that the National Home-Reading Union was underway, though it does not provide specific details, beyond giving some examples of courses from the NHRU’s magazine. However, the very next month, another WA newspaper, The Northam Advertiser states that “A ‘men’s “circle” has been started in a small way in our midst, and some half dozen members have been enrolled. Mr. A. H. Greenwood is secretary, and the meetings are fortnightly at the Rectory.” (It’s notable, in fact, the degree to which the church seemed to be involved in this activity.) The article lists the course of reading – do click on the link to see what you think – and concludes by stating that:

The cost of the books will run from 9d to 1 /6 each, and about one or two books a month is all that will be required, so that it is within the reach of everyone to join, and the reading at home and the meetings are sure to be interesting and instructive. It is hoped to start a ladies’ “circle” as well, and Miss Janet Rickey will be glad to receive names of persons willing to join.

So, gendered groups, which is probably not surprising. And an overt reference to cost, which tells us something about their intended audience – “everyone”, not just the well-to-do.

There is more to this AHRU/NHRU story because it did seem to take off – but I’ll leave that for the next instalment.

Monday Musings on Australian literature: the Australasian Home Reading Union (1)

Shared Reading Sign

Shared Reading (Courtesy: Amy via Clker.Com)

Reading Groups, U3A branches, Probus clubs, etc. These are just a few of groups around today in which people come together, formally or informally, to further their intellectual interests. What did people with such interests do in, say, late nineteenth century Australia? Well, one option was to join or form an AHR circle. Have you heard of these?

English and American antecedents

I admit that I hadn’t – until I stumbled across references to the Australasian Home-Reading (sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not) Union while researching Trove recently. So, I dabbled in Trove and to a degree in Google, and discovered quite a lot about Home-Reading Unions. As far as I can gather the idea has a few origins. In England, by the 1870s, there were reading courses offered by libraries, and post-university extensions schemes like the Oxford Home Reading Circle which involved systematic. My source for this, however, noted that these tended to be very middle-class, requiring an advanced level of education. This source, Robert Snape from the University of Bolton, goes on to say that:

The fragmentary progress in establishing a popular framework of adult education and guided reading in England was contrasted by the success in North America of the Chautauqua movement. Founded in 1871 as a camp meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Lake Chautauqua in New York State, this evolved into the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Reading Circle comprising over 100,000 workmen, farmers, teachers and housewives who read prescribed books over a four-year course. The aim of the circle, which was widely imitated throughout North America, was to nurture the habit of daily reading through a formalised winter programme, its emphasis on system and method being underpinned by lists of prescribed reading, local discussion groups and an annual summer camp with classes and lectures.

That was 1871. The idea was then, Snape said, picked up back in England by one John Brown Paton, who was the Principal of the Congregational Institute in Nottingham. He heard about the scheme, and was attracted because, says Snape, he was “interested in the moral welfare of young people” and was “aware of their patterns of reading and what he perceived as the corrupting influence of cheap literature.” He had already founded the Recreative Evening Schools Association to encourage progressive reading amongst young adults.

The Chautauqua scheme, though, “offered an inspirational example of the large-scale programme of popular education Paton wished to introduce in Great Britain” and so, with the help of others, “he formulated a system of home reading circles, modelled on Chautauqua, that would provide ‘some guiding hand to show folk what to read’ and would be primarily for uneducated working people and for young adults who had recently left school.” He had hoped to engage the help of the universities but they wanted this scheme to be part of their existing extension programs. However, Paton was “adamant that his new scheme should embrace the Chautauqua principle of inclusiveness.” He consequently eschewed the universities with their middle-class constituency and founded the National Home Reading Union as an autonomous organisation in April 1889.

Snape writes that

the aims of the National Home Reading Union were to guide readers of all ages in the choice of books, to unite them as members of a reading guild and to group them, where possible, in circles for mutual help and interest.

Paton hoped it would, “check the spread of pernicious literature among the young” and “remedy the waste of energy and lack of purpose so often found among those who have time and opportunity for a considerable amount of reading.” The reading would occur within “a systematic framework, and would educate readers in the practice of reading reflectively and to personal advantage.” Paton believed that social reading in a circle would facilitate members discussing prescribed books. His primary audience was “relatively uneducated readers” but he also hoped to reach established readers for whom the program could make “reading more profitable.”

And so to Australia

Not surprisingly, Australians started to hear about the scheme. By 1890, there are various articles – and even letters to the editor – discussing the above English and American programs. And then, on 14 March 1892, an article in Melbourne’s Argus tells us that an Australian version, Australasian Home-Reading Union “was recently founded at the Hobart meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science.” Tasmania, eh?

The article’s main aim though is to advise that “an influential meeting of ladies and gentlemen” had just been held in Melbourne’s Town Hall “to co-operate in establishing a Victorian branch” of the Union. A Professor Morris advised the meeting that:

the object of the society was to promote a more systematic study of literature and science by publishing courses of home reading appealing to different tastes, drawn up by specialists in various subjects, by, publishing a monthly magazine containing additional help for students of each course, and by the formation throughout Victoria of local circles for combined study and discussion by those taking up the same courses.

Another attendee at the meeting, Mr. R. T. Elliott, said that

rapid progress had been made in New South Wales and Tasmania, where Lady Hamilton had taken a most active interest in the union, and that the results already attained in Victoria were very encouraging.

It seems that the formation of circles around Victoria was indeed taking off. An article in the Beechworth, Victoria’s, Ovens and Murray Advertiser of 21 May 1892 says that a circle was about to formed in Beechworth. It explains that the reading program can “be selected according to individual taste, whether that be for scientific, historical, philosophical or popular literature” and that the plan is “so arranged that intending readers, who know little or nothing of the subject they may choose, can begin with very easy and popularly written hand-books and proceed to more comprehensive but equally popular works.” It believes that the circle

will prove itself a very great boon to the social life of quiet Beechworth.

I have numbered this post (1) because I plan to return to this organisation again: how active was it, how long did it last, and how effective was it as a democratising project. Meanwhile, you can look at the Union’s 1894 edition of the AHR (Australasian Home Reader) Volume 3. It contains, among other things, prescribed readings for their courses, as well as papers relating to the year’s business.