Yesterday evening, the Grattan Street Press team assembled in the Arts Hall at the University of Melbourne for our book launch on rediscovering the Australian Girl. The night began quite early for the students, who showed up hours before the event to begin setting up: we prepared the food and organised the space by hanging up beautiful cloth banners and bundles of fresh branches and flowers that reflected our colonial Australian books. Most excitingly, we set up our two freshly published books next to the previous two of the series—the books looked so good together, but it was just an amazing feeling to show off all the hard work we put in this semester. By the time our guests began arriving, we were ready to launch the books and drink a few mimosas.
The two new books we added to GSP’s list are part of our Colonial Australian Popular Fiction series, published in collaboration with the Australian Centre: An Australian Girl in London by Louise Mack and An Australian Bush Track by J. D. Hennedy. The former featuring a young Australian woman who gets herself lost in Europe and has to find her way back to London, and the latter is about a capable young bushwoman on an adventure.
GSP was lucky enough to have Australian author Maggie MacKellar make the trip up from Tasmania to speak about these new books at our launch. MacKellar is a historian of colonial women’s experience (Core of My Heart, My Country, 2004; Strangers in a Foreign Land, 2008), but many readers also know her as a highly regarded memoirist (When It Rains, 2011; How to Get There, 2014).
Some of the highlights from Maggie’s talk, which was both humorous and insightful, was undoubtedly the fantastic comments she made of the books. About An Australian Girl in London, Maggie said that Mack was strong on description and short on plot. She has to get to London—that’s all. But that lent Mack an opportunity to write of Italy (it smells) and France (it doesn’t). An Australian Bush Track, on the other hand, Maggie described as a ‘busy book’, which may almost be an understatement considering the ordeals the heroine finds herself in across the novel. Yet Maggie’s most memorable remark about the heroine was that she is created exactly like a man—just ‘gloriously fuckable.’
Following Maggie, were scholars Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver, the series editors. Very happy to see our four novels together, Gelder expressed a hope that the series would continue to grow to at least ten novels. That’s fine with us, I think, as we are more than happy to get more books to work on! The books in the Australian Colonial Series are all previously published books out of copyright, and Gelder and Weaver have discovered them in the Australian Archive. These books are problematic in many ways, Gelder noted, because of racism and the frontier violence. However, he said that it is important that we read confront these violent themes in old texts as they have much to teach us: ‘We have to slightly apologise for the series and not apologise at all.’ There is no sweeping under the rug what Colonial Australia was like and these books are proof of that. Weaver explained that the understanding of Colonial Australian lives is repressed and these books portray lives that are not repressed. ‘They say more than they mean to’, she said, and they are often verbose, ‘spilling their guts with what they are saying’. These are books, she concluded, not without emotion, because they seem to express all emotion.
With that, GSP’s very own Ali Robson took some time to make us all laugh, and to thank everyone who has helped us along the way. It certainly has been a lot of work for us, but it also has been a lot of work for our mentors. And I think that was perhaps my favourite part of the day, where we all got to acknowledge everyone’s contribution and see what we’ve created together: Ken and Rachael for heading this venture, Mark Davis for his book designs, Maggie MacKellar for speaking so well of the books; Sybil, Katie and Aaron for advising the team; the wonderful student editors who brought these old Colonial tales into the 21st century, and to each and every student that ran the publishing house, including website editors, sales and marketing and social media experts. I have no doubt that GSP will have no problem adding more titles to our list in the years to come. When Ali acknowledged the massive team involved, she gave us a moment to pause and think about how many people had cared for this project, and that we now were able to let our shoulders down and say, ‘Here they are: two new books.’
Photographs from the launch
Words by Sunniva Midtskogen