Monday musings on Australian literature: Writing NSW

Today’s Monday Musings is the fifth in my little series on Australia’s writers centres, and it’s New South Wales’ turn. Originally called the NSW Writers Centre, it was renamed this year as Writing NSW.

Writing NSW was founded (under its original name) in 1991, as a not-for-profit organisation providing services to writers. On its Our History page, it says that it was created when writer Angelo Loukakis and others from the literary community “lobbied the government to establish a facility for the development of writers.” Clearly they were successful – and the Centre was officially opened in Garry Owen House in Callan Park in 1991.

Angelo Loukakis, The memory of tidesI’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know Angelo Loukakis, but Wikipedia does! Besides being a writer, and besides being the Centre’s founding Chair, he was also Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors from 2010 to 2016. He’s been a teacher, editor, publisher and scriptwriter, and has written three novels, two collections of short stories, as well as several non-fiction works.

But now, let’s get to the centre itself. Like other writers centres, Writing NSW is largely a membership organisation, but also obtains funding from the government and donations. Its aim from the start was to support writers, particularly emerging writers. Emily Maguire (whose An isolated incident I’ve reviewed here) and fantasy/historical fiction writer extraordinaire, Kate Forsyth, credit it as playing a significant role in their early development.

Here are some of the things the centre does:


Courses – whether on-line or in-person, single workshops or over a period of time – seem to be the main services offered by writers centres, and Writing NSW is no different. Some of the courses coming up are:

  • The Year of the Novel, Phase 3 (with Emily Maguire, no less!): it starts tomorrow, and runs for 8 sessions. Members get a whopping 30% off the price, which more than covers the annual membership fee! The course is about making “your very good novel … brilliant.”
  • Finding the Detail: Research Tools for Writers (with Eleanor Limprecht whose novels Long Bay and The passengers I’ve reviewed): a 2 1/2 hour seminar about research (for fiction and non-fiction). The description says it will cover “how to organise your research, the ethics of research and how to put your research aside and just start writing.”
  • Bianca Nogrady, The best Australian science writing 2015The Secrets of Science Writing (with Bianca Nogrady who has also appeared in my blog):a 6-hour course on such topics as finding good science stories, the basic principles of science writing, and interviewing and pitching to editors.

These are just three of many, many courses, workshops and seminars they offer on topics that include, in addition to the above, playwriting, poetry, comedy, writing for schools, marketing, speculative fiction … you name it, in other words …


  • Festivals: Writing NSW runs various festivals, including, the new biennial Boundless Festival, first held in 2017 and focusing on” Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers and writing”, and, coming up, Quantum Words, a one-day festival on the meeting of science and writing. Its speakers include astronomer Fred Watson (who has appeared here a few times, with the Griffyn Ensemble) and cli-fi novelist James Bradley.
  • First Friday Club: a monthly, free, members-only event that runs on the first Friday of the month from March to October. The event involves a guest speaker – such as an author, editor, publisher, journalist – and, they say, “a delicious morning tea.” October’s speaker is Bronwyn Mehan from the innovative Spineless Wonders.
  • Talking Writing: ad hoc panel discussions (as far as I can tell) on various subjects relating to writing. One held in April this year, for example, was called Make it Funny.
  • Ad hoc events: such as an all-afternoon Open House event with publishers HarperCollins and Harlequin at which members will get an opportunity “to meet one-on-one with a publisher to get feedback on your submission.”

Prizes and Grants

  • Quantum Words Poetry Prize: established in 2018 this prize is for “science poems”, that is, they must “include or address some aspect of science.” Pretty broad.
  • Boundless Indigenous Writer’s Mentorship: supported by Writing NSW and Text Publishing, for “an unpublished Indigenous writer who has made substantial progress on a fiction or non-fiction writing project.” It pairs the “emerging Indigenous writer (from anywhere in Australia) with a senior Indigenous writer in the same genre for a structured year-long mentorship.”
  • Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships: awarded annually for writers with a work that is “ready for the next stage of development.” It involves a week-long residency at Varuna (Eleanor Dark’s old home which I’ve mentioned here before.) Two will be awarded this year, with one specifically for a writer under 30.

The above is just a selection of what Writing NSW offers. Like most writers centres they offer a wide range of services, including a library, newsletter, manuscript assessment, all sorts of mentorships, space for writers groups to meet. They aim to specifically support regional writers, Indigenous writers, and writers with a disability. A lovely service that I suspect not all writers centres have the resources to provide is their Space to Write. This enables writers who have trouble finding quiet places in which to write the opportunity to book space or a room at Gary Owen House (some are free, and some involve rent.)

Oh, and they have run workshops on blogging (such as Power Your Blog), since at least 2012, though I couldn’t find any for this year. It’s good to see this type of writing and publishing also being recognised by writers centres.

… and that’s about it for another busy, active Writers Centre.

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

Monday musings on Australian literature: Queensland Writers Centre

Today’s Monday Musings is the fourth in my little series on our writers centres, and it’s to Queensland I’m turning this time, partly because next month GenreCon will be held at the State Library of Queensland. But, more on that later in the post. First, I’ll introduce the Centre.

The Queensland Writers Centre was founded in 1990, as a membership organisation, with “the aim of nurturing Queensland literature and building a community of writers”. On its About page, they say:

… we love stories. We love the writers who tell the stories and the readers who give them life. We love the way they help us to understand and connect with those around us and gain a greater understanding of ourselves.

QWC … supports, celebrates and showcases Queensland writers and writing in all its forms. We work with our members and partners to promote a vibrant and diverse writing community across Queensland.

Like all writers centres they offer a wide range of programs, including workshops, seminars and online courses, magazine and newsletter, mentorship and manuscript assessment program (aka The Writer’s Surgery), and fellowships and prizes. Here though, as in previous posts, I’ll highlight a few programs that particularly caught my attention.

(I was going to start with their Regional Events, which seemed worth promoting, but when I clicked on the Regional Events link, I was taken to an Events page for July to December 2017, which seems to have only one event outside Brisbane, “Thriller Writing with James Phelan” in Townsville. That was a little disappointing, but I know these Centres run on minimal funding, and servicing a physically large state would be a challenge.)


In fact, following from the paragraph above, the About page lists a number of activities under What we do which all link to the Events page. These activities are:

  • Regional Events
  • In Conversation Events
  • Salons and Reading Events

Over the second half of 2017, their events include, in addition to the above mentioned James Phelan on Thriller Writing:

  • a panel (“in conversation”) with Jane Harper (whose book The dry has been one of this year’s big publishing successes) and Matthew Condon;
  • a seminar on writing about music and musicians;
  • a four-part course for beginners on developing narratives;
  • workshops for intermediate and established writers, such as one on public speaking and another on editing (given by Melina Marchetta); and
  • workshops on other topics such as speechwriting, writing romance fiction, writing media releases.

A diverse program don’t you think?

if:book Australia (The Future of the Book)

This is a QWC initiative which:

explores new forms of digital literature and investigates the changing relationship between writer and reader.

It’s not, as you might think, about eBooks. The medium is not the point. Instead it’s about the interaction or relationships forged between writing and reading, and looks at such topics as “the purpose of the book”, “new forms” that can expand how stories “are discovered and shared”, interactions between old and new technologies, and “what changes when we change the book”. The program extends beyond Queensland, and links internationally with programs in the USA and UK.

If this sounds a bit mystifying, the following examples of their projects should help:

Rod Howard, A forger's tale

Rod Howard’s book on Henry Savery

  • the tweets of Henry Savery (probably Australia’s first novelist, about whom I wrote a couple of years ago) in the Rumours of Death project: a live Twitter feed by Christopher Currie, undertaken during the 2105 Brisbane Writers Festival. You can read the tweets at the link above. (Such as, “I will be most interested to see how the Australian literary landscape has changed since I founded it some 184 years ago. “)
  • lost in track changes: the title provides a hint. Five writers (Cate Kennedy, Ryan O’Neill, Krissy Kneen, Robert Hoge and Fiona Capp) were asked “to create a short piece of memoir, a vignette” each of which was then “passed onto another author within the group” who then had to transform the piece into something else, with if:book tracking the changes! You can download the ebook version from the link above.
  • Writing Black: new Indigenous writing from Australia: an interactive book using the iBooks platform, edited by Ellen van Neerven, and including writing, photography, audiovisual, and twitter fiction, from such creators as Bruce Pascoe, Tony Birch, Tara June Winch, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Sylvia Nakachi, Siv Parker and Marie Munkara (several of whom I’ve reviewed here, in traditional formats!) You can download Writing Black from iBooks.
  • Memory makes us: ever thought of writing as performance? Well, this is it, but it’s “distinct from other performative aspects of literature: this isn’t a reading of a prepared work, nor is it freestyle poetry. It’s improvisation not with speech but with text and the tools of contemporary writing: keyboard and cut-and-paste.” This “event” has involved several North American and Australian writers, including Paddy O’Reilly, Marie Munkara, Angela Meyer and Maxine Beneba Clarke (all of whom you’ll find on my blog). if:books says that “For most readers, Memory Makes Us is a web site. For festival visitors, it’s a live event. We have also taken it to print. But none of these individual ‘formats’ capture the whole project.”

I love all this – I mean, I love the exploration. I can’t imagine these forms will replace traditional reading but, like most new media, some might stick around as an alternative form. In the meantime, the process must surely help both creators and readers/consumers break “normal” patterns, and that can only be good for literature.


I wrote about GenreCon in 2013. It’s actually called AWM GenreCon, AWM being the Australian Writer’s Marketplace which I understand is managed by the Queensland Writers Centre. GenreCon is a three-day biennial conference comprising panels, talks and workshops with Australian and international genre fiction writers, editors and agents – across all genres. It also offers one-on-one pitching sessions.

This year’s conference runs from 1oth to 12th November, at the State Library of Queensland. The “special guest” is Australian Garth Nix, and one of the international guests is Fiji-born New Zealand writer Nalini Singh. (I had to laugh because the brief bio names her books but not her genre, which apparently we should know. Unfortunately I don’t! Oh dear. Ah, Wikipedia tells me she writes paranormal romance.) Other Australian speakers include debut author and Noongar woman Claire Coleman, award-winning crime writer Emma Viskic, and award-winning fantasy author Angela Slatter, all of whose names I do know I’m happy to say.

… and that’s about it for another clearly active and inspiring Writers Centre.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Tasmanian Writers Centre

Continuing my little series on our writers centres, I’ve chosen the Tasmanian Writers Centre for my next post, largely because it is holding its Tasmania Writers and Readers Festival next month. Might as well give that a plug in case for my Tasmanian readers, though I’m sure they know!

The Tasmanian Writers Centre was established in 1998 and must have one of the loveliest locations in Australia, the Salamanca Arts Centre. It has a lovely bright webpage which announces that its aim is

Supporting writers to tell powerful stories, connecting with readers and building sustainable careers.

To do this, the Centre does the sorts of things that other writers centres do, and as before I’ll list their main programs …

A Writer’s Journey

Danielle Wood, Mothers Grimm, book coverThis seems to be an annual program comprising monthly workshops, with the overall topic changing each year. In 2017, the topic is “the challenges and rewards of a variety of non-fiction formats. Topics include memoir and life writing, environmental journalism, how to research for non-fiction and freelance feature writing.” The presenters include Danielle Wood (whose memorable Mothers Grimm I’ve reviewed here), Anna Krien (whom I’ve reviewed here a few times and whose topic was, appropriately, Environmental writing and journalism), and Maria Tumarkin.

Erica Bell Mentorship Program

This program, which started in 2016, provides “one-on-one mentorship with an established writer over a six month period.” Applicants submit a 10,000 wd excerpt from their manuscript and a letter explaining why they believe they would benefit from a professional mentor. Unfortunately, for nosey me, the site doesn’t say who the professional mentor/s might be.

Young Writers Program

The Centre seems to have an active program for supporting and encouraging young writers:

  • Twitch: This is the overall name the Centre gives to its youth program. It includes workshops, “Hot Desk residencies”, and the Young Writer in the City program.
  • Young Writer in the City: I came across the first year of this program on a visit to Hobart in 2015, and wrote about it then. The idea was that writers, under 30 years old, would set up “their chairs, laptops and notepads in the midst of shoppers and surrounds to compose essays between 1500 and 5000 words”. It was apparently successful, because after that first one in Hobart, the project has been offered in Launceston, Devonport and, most recently, Glenorchy. You can find links to some of the recent writing on the project’s page. One, for example, found her inspiration for writing about MONA in her childhood love of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in “Willy Wonka and his fascinating factory full of wonder and surprises”. Anyone who has been to MONA could understand that reference.

Emerging Tasmanian Aboriginal Writers Award

This award is being offered for the first time in 2017 – as part of the Festival. It is open to writers 16 years and older, and offers prize money of $1200. The lovely thing is that it accepts a wide variety of writing forms: poems or songs, short fiction, non-fiction (essay, autobiographical or biographical work), a play excerpt, or an illustrated story. There are different length limits depending on the form.

Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival

Tasmania’s festival is a biennial one, and like most such festivals includes “masterclasses, discussion forums, spoken word events, children’s programs”. It’s nice, I think, that it’s framed as a “writers and readers” festival. This year’s festival runs from September 14 to 17. At this year’s festival, masterclasses are being run by writers like Bradley Trevor Greive, Ashley Hay, Arnold Zable, and Alec Patrić (on Advanced Short Fiction). There’s also a delightful sounding session titled “Miles and Stella in Conversation”. Of course, I had to read more about that one, and this is what it said: “What do two prize-winning authors talk about when they talk about writing? Alec Patrić (2016 Miles Franklin winner) and Heather Rose (2017 Stella Prize winner) quiz each other on words, prizes, literature and life. A unique opportunity to get an inside glimpse into the friendship of writers.” This is followed by, in parentheses, the note that “(Cosmopolitans and Bellinis on sale for this session.)” Is there something I don’t know? Did our Miles love these cocktails? And what if I’d prefer a simple glass of wine? What a hoot.

It is also at this Festival that the shortlist for the biennial Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards will be announced – so, we’ll be looking out for that. The winners will be announced in November.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Northern Territory Writers’ Centre

Back in June, I wrote a post on the ACT Writers Centre, and indicated then that I would gradually write about other state centres. So, today I am writing about the other pseudo-state aka territory centre, the Northern Territory Writers’ Centre. I’ve chosen this as my second one because I think the Northern Territory is often overlooked in terms of cultural activity – and yet, there’s clearly quite a lot going on in this region.

On its website, the NT Writers’ Centre describes its goals:

The NT Writers Centre encourages vibrant literary activity in the Northern Territory, developing and supporting writers in all genres at all stages of their careers. We value quality NT writing as a unique component of Australia’s literary wealth and recognise Indigenous writers and storytellers as a core component of this.

Its main activities are:

  • NT Writers’ Festival, its “cornerstone event”, which alternates between Darwin & Alice Springs
  • Territory Read, its biennial book awards
  • Andrew McMillan Memorial Residency and Eco House Residency, which are two writers residencies
  • Workshops and other events

NT Writers’ Festival

This year the Festival was held in Alice Springs, in May. Its theme was Crossings/Iwerre-atherre (with Iwerre-atherre being an Arrernte, word for “two roads meeting, neither blocking nor erasing the other; two-way learning or travelling together.” Speakers included Kim Mahood and Bruce Pascoe (both of whom I’ve reviewed on my blog), plus many indigenous and other writers (including Indonesian writer, Agustinus Wibowo.) A lovely diverse line-up.

Olive Pink Botanic Garden

Olive Pink Botanic Garden

This year they also, for the first time, shared festival sessions via live streaming to “libraries and other venues across the NT.” A great initiative, but I wonder how successful this was – technologically, I mean.

Many of the events were held in the gorgeous Olive Pink Botanic Garden, which I’ve visited a couple of times. One event, for example, was titled “Up with the Birds: Poetry readings at the café”. I reckon I could have made that, as it wasn’t too early at 8am! The poets were Anthony Lawrence, Meg Mooney, Bruce Pascoe, Kaye Aldenhoven, and the poems were apparently about “how our feathered companions have crossed the hearts and minds of poets.”

Territory Read (and other literary prizes)

These are biennial awards, with the next ones due in 2018. They are not wealthy awards, with the total prize money offered in 2016 being $9000, and are only offered for works by NT residents. The awards are:

  • Chief Minister’s Book of the Year Award: can be won by a book in any genre. The 2016 prize of $5000 was won jointly by Clare Atkins for Nona and Me (published by Black Inc.) and Mary Anne Butler for Highway of Lost Hearts (published by Currency Press)
  • Best Non-Fiction: for non-fiction prose: for any non-fiction prose work.
  • Best Young Adult or Children’s Fiction: for a published book in either genre, and they say that if a picture book wins, the prize money is split between author and illustrator.

The Writers Centre supports or contributes to other literary competitions, including, for example, the Darwin Poetry Cup. In fact, from reading their site, and searching the ‘net, I sense that poetry is quite a going thing in the Territory. Australian Poetry, for example, supports (or, has supported) a Cafe Poet residency in the above-mentioned Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

Writers Residencies

The two residencies they offer are:

  • the Eco House Residency at the Darwin Botanical Gardens which is for “all writers outside Darwin” and is a three-week residency which involves staying in “an old-style elevated house” inside the Gardens.
  • the Andrew McMillan Memorial Residency which is “open to any emerging writer who is an NT Writers’ Centre member” (or, a member of any other of the national writers centres). It’s funded by a bequest from writer/journalist/museum Andrew McMillan, and is at Larrimah which is a tiny settlement around 500 kilometres south from Darwin. McMillan often stayed here to write away from distractions.

I was intrigued to note that, as well as work on their project, the writers from both residencies must “write a 500-word blog post for the NT Writers’ Centre website”.

Workshops, etc

Like all writers centres, the NT Writers’ Centre runs all sorts of workshops, and they are clearly aware that writers need to be skilled for contemporary consumers of literature. So, for example, one of this year’s workshops was on podcasting, and was run in conjunction with the 2017 Darwin Fringe Festival. The end result was Podcasts from the Fringe.

Another upcoming workshop uses modern technology to reach writers, which is probably particularly important in such a relatively large but sparsely populated state. It’s an online writing group, which will run for three months from September 2017. It’s for writers in all genres or forms, will provide feedback, and is about “drafting, reflection and constructive criticism in a structured and supportive online setting.”

I’ve enjoyed this little foray into another part of Australia and discovering what seems to be another vibrant literary environment … I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Monday musings on Australian literature: ACT Writers Centre

Do you have a writers centre in your neck of the woods? We do in Australia, but I’ve barely written about them before. They generally provide support and/or training for writers, via online and face-to-face mechanisms, some free-of-charge but most fee-paying, and tend to be membership organisations. Over coming months, I’ll share what’s happening in different centres around Australia, but I’m starting here with the one in my city, the ACT Writers Centre.

First though, a little anomaly – to do with apostrophes! I note that the ACT Writers Centre has no apostrophe in its name, while the Australian Writers’ Centre does. Whyfor this thusness? A quick survey around the various Australian state centres revealed that most do not use the apostrophe (with the Northern Territory appearing to have a foot in both camps, depending on which page you are on!) It’s like Mothers/Mother’s/Mothers’ Day. I prefer the no-apostrophe approach. As in, what sort of (adjectival) day is it? It’s a mothers day, that is, a day for mothers. Rather than, whose (possessive) day? It’s mother’s day, a day owned by mothers. It seems that most writers centres in Australia see it the adjectival way. Either that or they don’t know their apostrophes, and that would be a worry!

Enough pedantry, let’s get on with the ACT Writers Centre. It describes itself as:

the leading organisation of writing-based culture in the ACT. Our mission is to develop writers and their work.

How do they do this? Well, by running programs, offering prizes or awards, and providing services such as manuscript assessment, editing, and mentorship. Most of these are fee-based. They also have a blog, Capital Letters.

In this post, I’m going to focus on four special programs offered, but they also offer various courses. Currently, the ACT Writers Centre runs four main programs:


HARDCOPY 2015 flyerI’ve written about Hard Copy before, in a previous Monday Musings post. The first program was held in 2014, so this year’s will be its fourth. They describe it as “a national professional development program that helps build the capacities, aptitudes and resources emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential.”  Its aim is not specifically to achieve publication for its participants, but to help them with manuscript/project development, to arm them with an understanding of how the Australian publishing industry works, and to help them “build connections and relationships within the industry/writing community”.

This program, which is run by our local centre, receives funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, and is offered nationally, that is, not just to ACT-based writers. Also, it alternates between fiction and non-fiction writing. This year’s program, as the one run in 2015, is for non-fiction writing.

All this is pretty dry. For an insider’s perspective, do read Michelle’s posts on her blog, Adventures in Biography, on her experience of the 2015 program. She had a great experience – and I was pleased because I got to meet her while she was here! She found the program very helpful, to say the least.

Between the Lines

Hetherington and Webb, Watching the worldYou know that mantra, the one that says to be a writer you need to be a reader? Well, the ACT Writers Centre clearly believes it to be so, because this year they are offering “a facilitated book discussion group for writers with an active practice”. This sounds a bit like a reading group, but with two big differences. First, it has  a professional leader, in this case Professor Jen Webb from the University of Canberra (whose book with poet Paul Hetherington, Watching the world, I reviewed a couple of years ago). And secondly, the focus will be on “authorial technique and achievement, rather than subjective personal judgements on whether or not the book is ‘good’ or ‘bad’”.

The focus this first year will be Australasian literary novels. You can see the list on the link I’ve provided on the heading. There are 6 books, as it’s a bimonthly program: three are by men and three by women, three are by New Zealand writers including one by Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, and one is by a woman of indigenous Australian background (Melissa Lucashenko). I’d love to see their discussions written up on the Capital Letters blog!

ACT Writer-in-Residence

This is the program which, when I read about it last week, inspired today’s post. It’s a new three-year program offered by the Writers Centre in collaboration with the University of New South Wales (Canberra) and with support from the Copyright Agency Ltd. Again, you can read the details of what the program offers and expects on the link I’ve provided. Like HARD COPY it is not limited to ACT Writers. It is mainly geared to established writers, but “suitably qualified developing writers” were also encouraged to apply.

Last week the three writers were announced:

  • 2017: Isobelle Carmody, fantasy writer, particularly of the immensely popular, much translated, Obernewtyn Chronicles. (Daughter Gums was, and still is, a big fan.)
  • 2018: Jane Gleeson-White, prize-winning non-fiction writer who plans to research a novel set during World War II.
  • 2019: Angela Gardner, poet who apparently has a project on “Air” which will “include some novel public programs for Canberra – including balloon flying”.

I was initially surprised to see that all three writers have been announced now, but I guess it does enable the later writers to plan their lives, something I suspect writers often don’t get an opportunity to do!

ACT Literary Bloggers

And now comes the one close to my heart! It’s another new program, and another collaborative one, this time with the National Library of Australia. It “provides an opportunity for two emerging ACT-region writers to attend events at the National Library of Australia and document the experience for the ACT Writers Centre’s Capital Letters blog. The program, which will run from May to December, includes a mentorship with ….” yep, me, Whispering Gums! What an honour, and how interesting it’s going to be. The program is particularly aimed at writers who’d like to write about “the literary arts for the online environment”.

The two bloggers have been chosen: playwright and performance maker Emma Gibson, and blogger/podcaster and writer Angharad (Tinted Edges).

I am looking forward to working with Emma and Angharad, particularly to jointly exploring ways in which blogging can be used to further promote literary culture in the (our, any) community. You may hear more about this later in the year.

Monday musings on Australian literature: The Bread and Cheese Club, again

I promise that this, my third post on Melbourne’s now defunct Bread and Cheese Club will also be my last, but it was such an interesting club that I can’t resist one more post. Just to remind you, it was formed in 1938, with the following goals:

To promote mateship and fellowship among persons of mutual interests, to foster a knowledge of Australian Literature, Art and Music and to cultivate an Australian sentiment … (from H.W. Malloch’s Fellows all, p. 17)

My first post introduced the club, and particularly one of its founders, John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), who was clearly the Club’s leading light, while my second post focused on some of the ways in which the Club supported indigenous Australian culture. In this post I want to give a flavour of how widely their activities and, probably, influence extended. To keep it simple, I’m just going to list a few of the activities I came across while researching the Club in the National Library of Australia’s Trove database for newspapers. Here goes:

  • Children’s Poetry Competition. Reported in The Argus, 1939
  • Exhibition of art and literature at the Velazquez Gallery. The writer in The Argus, 1940, saw it as a “mixed bag” (I love the language here!):

If the club had a selection committee to deal with the art side of the show, it was doubtless a committee more anxious to obtain a wide representation than a particularly high standard. It is doubtful whether a more mixed lot of pictures has ever been hung on the walls of any gallery in Melbourne. They range from admirable examples of the work of some of Australia’s most capable artists to hopeful (or despairing) efforts by the veriest tyros.

  • Publication of Frank Clune’s book, Chinese Morrison, about George E Morrison who, as many Australians will know, became an influential political adviser to the Chinese Republic in the early 20th century. Reported in The Argus, 1941
  • Short story competition, judged by Mrs Vance (aka Nettie) Palmer. Reported by the Courier Mail, 1942
  • First art exhibition by members of the Bread and Cheese Club Art Group. Reported in The Argus, 1946
  • Publication of naturalist David Fleay’s book, Gliders of the gum trees. Reported in the Queensland Times, 1947
  • Junior Art Competition. Reported in the Cairns Post, 1948
  • Surprising Dame Mary Gilmore with a bouquet of flowers on her 84th birthday. Dame Mary apparently said that “I had forgotten it was my birthday, but I’m so happy that my friends all over Australia remembered”. Reported in The Daily News (Perth), 1949
  • Organising significant people to address its meetings, such as Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham. (I liked this one because Latham is a mentor of the fictional Edith in Frank Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy). Reported in Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 1951
  • Awarding annually the Australian Natural History Medallion. According a report in The Argus, 1956, the award was instituted by J.K. Moir in 1938 and was the most coveted natural history award in Australia. The 1956 award was given to Stanely Mitchell “for work on the artefacts of the Australian aborigines”.
  • Erecting a memorial in Darwin to commemorate Northern Territory pioneer Jessie Litchfield who, when she died in 1956, left “most of her estate for the encouragement of Australian literature”. Reported in The Canberra Times, 1964

Besides the variety of the Club’s activities evidenced in this (pretty) random selection, one of the most interesting things about these newspaper reports is where they are from. While the Club was Melbourne-based, albeit with some interstate members, its activities were clearly national, and were reported nationally. Sir John Latham’s talk in Melbourne, for example, was reported in a Broken Hill newspaper, and the Jessie Litchfield monument in a Canberra one. Is it just that these papers were desperate for copy or was the Club widely influential?

I will end my mini-series on the Bread and Cheese Club with a report on one more activity, because the report made me laugh. In The Argus of 14 September, 1951, Christina Mawdesley wrote an article titled “Nothing is new about prefab. houses”. She shares information from a reader who advised that Governor Latrobe’s cottage was an early prefab home, dating to 1839, and therefore earlier than the 1853 home that the paper had written about. She then goes on to quote Sir Thomas Mitchell writing from London, in 1830s-40s, about one “Manning of Holbourn” who was building wooden houses in sections for use in Australia. Mawdesley concludes her article with:

Could we discover the remains of one such pioneer prefab?

I am sure the Bread and Cheese Club would mark the spot with an engraved plaque, commemorating the good old days and “Manning of Holbourn”.

Is there anything, I wonder, that the Bread and Cheese Club didn’t do?

Monday musings on Australian literature: The Bread and Cheese Club

I bet that title has you wondering! It was certainly new to me when I came across a book in my late mother-in-law’s collection titled Fellows all: The chronicles of the Bread and Cheese Club. Published in 1943, and written by HW Malloch, this book is a history of  the early years of the club by its first voted-in member.

I was intrigued, of course, so did some research. The Bread and Cheese Club, as it turns out was formed in Melbourne in June 1938. Its motto was “Mateship, Art and Letters”, and it was particularly active in promoting Australian writers. The Club apparently published around “40 volumes of verse and tributes” as well as a journal titled Bohemia. The founder* and Knight Grand Cheese (oh dear!) was John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), a Melbourne book-collector. He apparently died in 1958, and the club gradually declined, finally ending in 1988. I wonder how many Melburnians know about it now?

Delving further, I learnt a little more about Moir and the club. Moir, in particular, is a rather significant man in Australian letters. According to the State Library of Victoria, Moir, from the 1930s to 1950s, “set himself the daunting task of collecting one copy of every work of fiction, poetry and drama ever published by an Australian author.” This, they said, at a time when Australian literary authors were neither fashionably read nor collected. The result was “one of the finest private libraries of Australian literature ever assembled”, one that he donated to the State Library in the 1950s. It remains one of their most significant collections. You can read more about him – and it’s an interesting story – online in the State Library’s La Trobe Journal.

John Shaw Neilson

John Shaw Neilson (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

But, back to the Club. It was male only. The twelve founding members included the poet John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942) and balladist Edward Harrington. According to Malloch, the unusual name was chosen because they wanted something “Bohemian” and “arresting”, and it had the desired effect: it made people curious and provided an opportunity for members to explain their aims. Malloch tells a lovely story, too, about one of its practices – quaint to our point of view but indicative of their era – which was making it “a penal offence” to address each other as “Mister”.  Doing so incurred a fine of one penny which helped, in the early days at least, to swell the club’s coffers!

John Arnold in the La Trobe Journal says that Moir was conservative – right-wing, in fact. But the club was not political – though I suspect from my reading of Malloch that it leaned more right than left. Its goals were:

To promote mateship and fellowship among persons of mutual interests, to foster a knowledge of Australian Literature, Art and Music and to cultivate an Australian sentiment … (Malloch, p. 17)

It did this not only through publishing but by undertaking a wide range of projects and activities such as art exhibitions, song of the year competitions, short story competitions, and lobbying government. Malloch describes some of the earliest activities, including a short story competition which was judged by Nettie Palmer. Searching the National Library of Australia’s digitised newspaper database in Trove provides a fascinating picture of the breadth of the Club’s** activities. One report states that the Bread and Cheese Club was behind the Commonwealth Government’s providing a grant for the writing of a biography about JF Archibald, the founder of The Bulletin.

The club also invited guest speakers, and often opened those meetings to the public. Malloch tells us that these speakers included artist Max Meldrum, indigenous Australian activist, pastor and state governor Doug Nicholls, and journalist-author Frank Clune.

I could go on … it’s a fascinating story of passion and commitment to Australian culture. They even printed 50,000 stickers with such slogans as “Combine Pleasure and Patriotism and Read Australian Books” and “Let Your Christmas Gift be an Australian Book”. Where are these people now!

Finally, before I go, I can’t resist sharing one of those odd little reading synchronicities. I have, as my regular readers know, just read Eleanor Catton’s The luminaries. It starts with 12 men gathered in a hotel room, but they became 13 when a hotel guest wanders in. The Bread and Cheese Club started when 12 men met in a studio with the aim of “fostering Australian Art and Literature”. Having had their meeting, they adjourned to a nearby “city hostelry” where they met Malloch, and promptly asked him to join them. And so, he writes, there were 13. I know, I’m being silly, but I enjoy such, dare I call them, coincidences!

* POSTSCRIPT: While some reports describe Moir as the founder, Malloch’s book doesn’t state this. On page 10, he writes that: “Twelve turned up at the studio of Fellow E. J. Turner, 132 Cubitt Street, Richmond, and set the ball rolling with the definite aim of fostering Australian Art and Literature”. And on page 13, he specifically names these twelve as “the founders”. Moir was elected president (aka Knight Grand Cheese) and Turner secretary (or Worthy Scribe).

** Searching Trove surprisingly retrieves another Bread and Cheese Club in Melbourne! Malloch tells us briefly about that too. It was a very small club of solicitors and in 1859 merged into the Law Institute of Victoria.

Literary Societies of Sydney

Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896), english writer An...

Anthony Trollope. (Presumed Public Domain, by Napoleon Sarony, via Wikipedia)

Although I grew up in Queensland and New South Wales, and have spent most of my adult life in the Australian Capital Territory, it seems I have referred more in this blog to Melbourne (and Victoria), so now seems the time to balance it out a little. Why now? Because this week, in the December 2010 issue of the Jane Austen Society of Australia’s newsletter, Chronicle, I read about the Literary Societies of Sydney.

This is a new organisation, and its website describes it as follows:

The Literary Societies of Sydney is a loose federation of single-author literary societies in Sydney, formed to establish a presence online, to facilitate communication between those societies, and to encourage public contact with them. It is unfunded, and non-profit.

The single author societies it covers are (in alphabetical order by name of society):

Fascinating list, eh?  I don’t see any Australian author societies here like, say, a Miles Franklin Society, but I do love the fact that such societies as these exist. I wonder if they play the role that salons did in the past? (In fact, I sometimes wonder whether blogs operate a little like an online salon?) Certainly, for me, being a member of the Jane Austen Society of Australia provides an invaluable opportunity to share, debate and learn more about her books and ideas. Austenites, for example, can spend a lot of time arguing the case for (or against) Fanny Price, or discussing just how “bad” Frank Churchill is – not simply (or only) on the basis of personal preference, but also by looking at such things as literary traditions and social history. The society, with its wide membership, not to mention its events and publications, helps ensure that our discussions are informed ones.

Do you – or would you like to – belong to an author society (or two)? Why or why not?