[Editor: This article by P. I. O’Leary was published in The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 August 1927.]
Australasian Authors’ Week
Our duty to our home-grown writers
Between the twelfth and nineteenth of next month Australian and New Zealand Authors’ Week is to be held. The object is a worthy one — to induce a greater practical interest in and support of Australasian writers. No citizen can refuse his aid to its promotion. Despite the attractions of the moving pictures, the theatre, the sports ground, and, in the warmer months, the beaches and the bushes, Australians manage to read their share of books during the year. Perhaps the quality of these books is not so remarkably high, but the quantity is certainly not very low. To get Australian readers to read more works written by writers producing their works locally, not only during Australasian Authors’ Week, but all the year round, is the practical aim of the committee behind this movement. It is ardently to be hoped that that aim is attained. There is no reason why it should not be.
A practical basis.
In one way, this attempt to make for our writers profits, with honour, in their own country differs from some previous vague and more or less spasmodic attempts. It does make an appeal on the ground of sentiment, it is true; but it also makes an appeal on a practical basis and in a practical way. It invites Australian readers in a very definite and direct fashion to help Australian writers, and to recognise Australian writers, by the purchase of their works; and, after all, Australian writers are worth recognising. There is no section in a community that more deserves support — material and concrete support — than those who write our tales and sing our songs. The example of Ireland, the Ireland of the Gael, in other years is one Australia should wisely follow. For there (and then) the bard and the rann-maker were honoured as they deserved to be.
When I suggest to readers the desirableness of following the lead given by those whose energy and decision have led to Australasian Authors’ Week, I do not imply that they should not purchase works written outside Australia either during such week, before, or after it. That would be worse than foolish. It would, in a very real sense, be criminal. We should eagerly avail ourselves of the opportunity of reading the best of the books being produced by the writers of other countries. But, while reading the best written by the writers of other lands, we should not fail to read the best of the books written by our own authors. Indeed, in higher proportion to our reading and appreciation of the qualitatively high work produced in other lands must be our appreciation and support of our local writers; and we should put Australia first.
Up to the public.
The committees, and those assisting them to make Australasian Authors’ Week a success, have clearly detailed means and methods by which such success might be attained. They have shown teachers how they may, during the “literary” week, use books by Australian and New Zealand authors and give lessons upon these. They have suggested to the press that it might usefully discuss such authors in special articles. The committees, and those co-operating with them, have also requested librarians to display prominently works by Australian authors, and the booksellers themselves “are bound by a resolution” to give “all possible publicity” to works by Australian and New Zealand writers. Thus, it will be seen that the arrangements for the possible achievement of the aim of Australasian Authors’ Week are pretty complete. All that is necessary is that the public should do its duty. It is to be trusted that it does.
Bringing about an Australasian Literature.
To me, Australasian Authors’, Week, practical and all as it is, and worthy as it is, also, in spirit and intention, will fail if it does not set in motion currents the massed result of which will be that the people, generally, will take a keener and more instructed interest in Australasian authors than they have heretofore. Nothing can quicken the creation of an enduring literature in Australasia more than a widespread, popular enthusiasm with regard to the doings and the achievements of our creative literary sons and daughters. “To have great poets you must have great audiences, too,” said Walt Whitman, and there is truth in the words of the author of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”
Lack of appreciation a bitter thing.
In the meantime, let us all who desire to see Australasian literature a powerful influence and an achieved thing do each our little by making our September reading Australian books. It is a good way to welcome spring. If you happen to be a reader of light books — books which interest, such as detective stories or tales of adventure — there are books ready to your hand by the score from Australian pens. If you want deeper works in prose by Australasians, you may easily come upon those also. If the poets interest you, look up that splendid young New Zealand writer, Eileen Duggan, Shaw Neilson, Hugh McCrae, and a score more. In this way, if you do not do anything else, you will equip yourself to take part in the “Argus” plebiscite. Australasian Authors’ Week should count on your support. The urge to write is not based on purely monetary returns. But the pot must be kept boiling, for even poets have to live, strange though it may appear. The thrill of accomplishment will not buy bread. The saddest fate that a writer has to meet is lack of appreciation amongst his own.
Their power and vitality.
Books worth buying have been produced in Australia. Make no mistake about that. Our writers of yesterday, whose names are familiar in the mouth as household words — Gordon, Kendall, Harpur, Clarke, and the rest — did good, in many places extremely high, work. Their successors to-day are following worthily along the trails of Australian literature which they blazed, and we must not ignore either them or their work. To do so were most blameworthy. They deserve all the encouragement and support we may give them. “Australian writers,” says Mrs. Nettie Palmer in “Modern Australian Literature,” “have somehow managed to keep their craft alive. The average of their work is higher than it was at the beginning of the century; it is wider in range and more varied in style; a great deal of mere rhetoric has been cleared away. The books (Australian books written since 1900) have, in spite of their scattered origins, a combined and cumulative power, and they have left a sense of vitality in the air.” Let us lend our assistance that that power and that sense of vitality may become intensified.
Buy — and read.
The movement behind Australasian Authors’ Week is receiving an excellent “press,” and an enthusiasm is being engendered that promises success for the project. Melbourne’s Lord Mayor (Sir Stephen Morell) has suggested that every citizen who is in a position to do so should engage to purchase at least one volume by an Australian author during the week September twelfth to the nineteenth. I would suggest, further, that any reader making such a purchase should read the book he buys. In this way not only will buyers of books by our writers be doing a needed service to the latter, but that service will be reciprocated.
— P. I. O’L.
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 August 1927, p. 3
“Argus” plebiscite = a poll taken by The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) newspaper, in 1927, as a “popularity plebiscite”, to compile a list of the most popular Australian authors
Australasian =  of or relating to Australasia: Australia and New Zealand; in a wider context, it can refer to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and neighboring islands
Australasian =  an inhabitant or native of Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and neighboring islands; may also refer to just those from Australia and New Zealand
Clarke = Marcus Clarke (1846-1881), author of For the Term of his Natural Life; born in England in 1846, migrated to Australia in 1863, died in Melbourne in 1881
Gael = someone of Celtic origin who speaks Gaelic, especially someone from Ireland, Scotland, or the Isle of Man; someone of Celtic origin who comes from a Gaelic-speaking family, community, or ethnic group
Gordon = Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870) a poet who spent most of his working and literary life in Australia; he was born in Charlton Kings (Gloucestershire, England), and migrated to Adelaide (South Australia) in 1853, at the age of 20; he worked as a mounted policeman, a horse-breaker, a Member of Parliament (in SA), and as a sheep farmer; he became a popular poet, due to such writings as “The Sick Stockrider” (1870); he died in Brighton (Vic.) in 1870
Harpur = Charles Harpur (1813-1868), an Australian poet; born in Windsor (NSW) in 1813, died in Bodalla (NSW) in 1868
Kendall = Henry Kendall (1839-1882), an Australian poet; born in Ulladulla (NSW) in 1839, died in Surry Hills (NSW) in 1882
press = publicity from the press (print-based media, especially newspapers); publicity from the media in general
prose = written language in its ordinary form, without a metrical or rhyming structure (distinct from poetry and songs); spoken language in its ordinary form
rann = (Irish) a stanza of a poem or song, especially of an Irish poem or song; a piece of an Irish poem or song
score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)
[Editor: Changed “the achievement of” to “the achievements of”; “appreciaiton” to “appreciation”; “Harper” to “Harpur”.]
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