Australian culture. Plea for outlet. Lack of publishing facilities. [22 August 1929]

Australian culture.

Plea for outlet.

Lack of publishing facilities.

Lecturing last night at the Kelvin Hall, at the invitation of the educational committee of the Victoria League in Victoria, Mr. Will Dyson made a plea for the establishment and thorough organisation of the book publishing business in Australia. The title of his lecture was “Australian Art; a Plea and an Indictment.”

Introducing Mr. Dyson, the chairman (Mr. Menzies, M.L.C.), said that Mr. Dyson’s art had made him known throughout the world.

Mr. Dyson said that Australia, in its neglect of the creative literary artist, was blunting the growth of the other arts and depriving itself of the full benefit of science. Literature was the chosen of the brain—and Australia had practically no literature. This was due to the lack of a publishing business. The fact that a country having a population of about 7,000,000 persons was without this prerequisite of self-expression should make any feeling of complacency impossible. Australia’s most tragic failure was that it had not assured to its creative minds an outlet for their creativeness. There were scarcely any Australian books and anything above commonplace journalism must be sent overseas for publication. He wished to appeal to the business imagination of Australians to direct itself to the possibilities of book publishing. So long as Australia was without such facilities its people would remain colonial, provincial, and outsiders. German books were putting Germany back on the map of human kinship; Russian books would do the same for Russia; and American books were tempering many harsh verdicts of the world on the United States. A rich man who founded a publishing house in Australia would be doing something as noble as founding a university, for the culture that grew in universities was being stultified for lack of a medium of public expression. The picture of such a large body of the Australian people going to the United States for its mental food was not pleasant. Australians were shamelessly living on the cultural charity of the world and giving nothing in return. It might be said that there was a rich and active mental life in Australia. Perhaps there was; but it was dumb. The excuse that Australians were still in the pioneering stage could no longer be advanced. The only pioneering that remained was of the great empty mental spaces (laughter and applause.) Modern communications had removed the excuse of isolation, and Australia should be able to contribute to the culture of the world and cease to be merely a consumer.

“I believe that literature, especially bad literature, can be made self-supporting in Australia,” said Mr. Dyson amid laughter. Many indifferent and bad books were “bestsellers,” and the financial return from these made it possible for publishers to take a risk with a really good book. He suggested legislative action to compel publishers of books of the popular variety to publish Australian editions in the Commonwealth or be debarred from the Australian market. The copyright position, he thought, could be adjusted. The publication of books in Australia should be a protected industry. It was for the business men to take the first step. Australia would then be given more and better Australian books.

In a discussion which followed several members of the audience expressed disagreement with Mr. Dyson and referred to the existence of book publishing facilities at the universities of Melbourne and Sydney and of a medical publishing house in Sydney.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Thursday 22 August 1929, page 8

[Editor: Corrected “overseats” to “overseas”; “complacancy” to complacency”.]

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