Rare Books

Sensational Tales: Australian Popular Publishing 1850s-1990s

Baillieu Library, 27 January-7 May 2000

This exhibition highlights Australian popular publishing in the University of Melbourne's collections. Some of the books are recognised as great works of Literature - most are not. The emphasis is on professional writers and publishers making a living from their craft and on popular reading habits.

Developed from the exhibition in the Baillieu Library from January until May 2000; curated by Ian Morrison, Curator of Australiana, University Library.


'To be a poet in Australia,' wrote Michael Dransfield, 'is the ultimate commitment' - and it is certainly true that writers of any sort find it hard to make a living here. Australia's small population and vast distances mean that the economics of any publishing enterprise are at best problematic. Nonetheless, the history of Australian publishing boasts a surprising number of idealists and commercial successes.

So many 'Australian' writers were born overseas, or moved to Britain or North America in search of larger markets for their work; so many Australian publishers, especially during the 1940s and 1950s, issued reprints of popular British or American books and encouraged local writers to use overseas locations for their stories that any attempt to geographise our national literature quickly degenerates into a game of semantics. Much of the Larry Kent detective series, for example, was written by an American and set in an unnamed American city, but the series was the creation of an Australian publisher, at least one writer was an Australian and some of the stories do have Australian settings.

This exhibition includes:

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