Just Vote: why the plebiscite marks a generation coming of age

Politics have typically been easy for Australian millennials. Most of us follow the opinions of our parents or friends. Others vote against a particular leader, but not necessarily for a new candidate. And up until August of this year – when the gay marriage plebiscite was announced – 254,432 Australians between 18-24 years old had never used their vote before¹. In typical Australian style we bring a laid-back, yet cutting, sarcastic attitude to the topic of who’s in charge of our country.

It struck me the other day – somewhere in between paying share house rent, despairing about graduate job prospects and the other issues that we have prioritised above future political stability – that our generation is in the process of making history. Whether we realise it or not, our decision will dictate the future of our country, and the rights that its people have in the future. Underneath the humorous but thinly-veiled façade of memes, rainbow-splashed marches and #VoteYes Instagram posts, we must all have an understanding of what this means. On a global scale, Australia’s political situation is largely unknown. Some of our international friends are still unsure if we have a President, or a Prime Minister, or is it a Queen? We aren’t known for our outlandish political stance, other than our treatment of refugees and neglect of the Great Barrier Reef.

Normally, not making a controversial political splash would be good news. This time, it will change what kids get taught at school two or three generations from now. Think about that for a second: a year ten history class in 2045, are told to Google (assuming technology hasn’t progressed even further) ‘Australian Gay Marriage Plebiscite’. Will they see the anti-LGBTQ posters that were plastered around Melbourne CBD? Will they see footage of the violent clash between churchgoers and protesters in Brisbane? They’ll have to memorise the dates of when the postal vote was approved, which Prime Minister ordered the plebiscite, and when the votes were collected and counted. And then they’ll have to recite these facts for an end-of-semester exam.

They’ll come home and ask us, their parents or maybe even their grandparents, what it was like to live through the plebiscite. They’ll ask us what happened and how it happened and maybe even if we thought the outcome was fair. We’ll try and think back to when we were young and what we were thinking. We’ll think back to the precise time in our lives that we are in right now.

I understand that this isn’t a millennials-only vote. The fact that Australia’s population is aging probably means that by majority, it’s not our vote at all. Yet the 17,000 enrolment detail updates from Australians within a single week following the announcement of the vote suggest that many of us feel responsible for this outcome². Both Yes and No voters feel responsible for what is about to happen and how it will reflect on our generation. Those who previously didn’t cast a vote for the individual in charge of our nation have now put up their hand to have a say in this decision.

Amidst the outpouring of propaganda from both sides of the debate, we have an overwhelming sense of needing to act.

Why? Because it’s the very definition of coming of age. We are beginning to understand that the world is infinitely bigger than our own lives and that it will continue on after we are gone.

The difference for Australian millennials is that we’ve never been faced with such a responsibility before. As kids or teenagers, we laughed nervously at Tony Abbott in budgie smugglers, considered briefly who it was that raised Pauline Hanson, and still now as young adults, we desperately try to ignore Malcolm Turnbull’s shortcomings over long-distance phone calls.

Never in this generation have we been given the power to change things, or had to consider the fact that history depends on us. Obviously, it could be argued that many actions, if not all, are capable of changing the world. Yet this upcoming vote has seen the most passion and engagement from the latest generation to come of age. Now all of a sudden, we are faced with what is essentially a human rights decision. A decision that places our country in a new world order.

The conservative Australian government already knows this. You can tell just by looking at the convoluted and motivated method for how this vote came about, and the fact that it isn’t even compulsory. Not to mention that it is being distributed by an underused and unreliable method, and that we only had a five-week window in which to update our details to have the chance to vote at all.

Nevertheless, it is approved. It is happening and this may be the only chance we get to make history.

Millennials are criticised every day for being out of touch with reality; for casting aside traditional values of owning a home and starting a family; for not wanting to work hard. Yet somehow, it is in our generation that this vote has occurred.

By all accounts it’s rare that such opportunities arise, and many people haven’t yet grasped the enormity of it. The question now is: are we intimidated by this responsibility, or passionate enough to use our voice?

So far, the predicted outcome for the decision of whether to legalise gay marriage has bounced between two extremes. Federal Attorney-General George Brandis – a supporter of gay marriage – predicts that it will be legal by Christmas³. A controversial decision by the company Sportsbet to open a market on the outcome of the postal vote showed that the No vote was running three to one odds against the Yes outcome⁴.

And unbelievably, even after the expected $122 million expense from the postal vote, the government MPs of Australia still have the authority to deny the democracy.

You only have to scroll through the comments section of any opinion piece on the upcoming vote to see both sides are in turmoil. Just the other day, I saw a rally of horrified commenters on Facebook trying to convince a Yes voter to not put glitter in their ballot envelope as it may void their vote, and a Melbourne commuter recounting how he was spat on for wearing an equality badge on a public tram.

If 2017 has shown us anything, it’s that no matter how many expert opinions are given, or polls taken, we can never know the outcome of a decision. We can never know what messages have gotten through to people, or how people will decide to vote. We can’t become complacent and trust that the future of our country will work itself out.

If a former television personality can become elected leader of the free world, and one of the oldest and most established nations in the world can withdraw from the privileges of the European Union, then the vote for gay marriage in Australia can, and might, still fail.

Think about yourself in the year 2045. What will you say?

Jess Mackay is a creative writing and journalism graduate from QUT, who currently works as a freelance writer in Melbourne. She was most recently an intern for Meanjin Quarterly and hopes to pursue literary editing and publishing in the future. You can find some of her work here: jessmackaywriter.wordpress.com


  1. Shalailah Medhora, ‘How to have your say in the same-sex marriage postal vote.’ Hack, 9 Aug, 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/how-to-have-your-say-on-ssm/8790718.
  2. Joe Kelly, ‘17,000 new voters enrol in past week for postal ballot.’ The Australian, 16 Aug, 2017, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/17000-new-voters-enrol-in-past-week-for-postal-ballot/news-story/7a286d362eabeb35edc53c3ef59a99fb
  3. Louise Yaxley and Jane Norman, ‘Same-sex marriage will be legal by Christmas predicts Brandis, as date set for postal vote.’ ABC News, 8 Aug 2017,
  4. Paul Colgan, ‘Betting markets are increasingly pointing to a shock “No” result in Australia’s vote on same-sex marriage.’ Business Insider Australia, 15 Aug, 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/same-sex-marriage-australia-betting-odds-2017-8

The Millennials Project: The M Word

‘Millennial’ has turned into a bit of a dirty word.

Depending on who you ask, the millennial generation can include people born from the late 70s to the early 2000s. Colloquially, though, ‘millennial’ tends to be used as a catch-all term for young people, like myself, who are edging into adulthood. And it’s a word loaded with the implication that we are a tech-obsessed, narcissistic generation that has grown up with participation trophies and the expectation that the world will provide for us.

In reality, I don’t think anyone who knows a millennial gives any credence to this perspective. Sure, there are exceptions, but most young people are hard-working and cynical. Still trying to find our feet, we’re given responsibility for a world that doesn’t seem to have space for us – job hunts are a minefield where experience and exposure are valid forms of payment; our inability to lay down big investments on property is blamed on small indulgences like avocados rather than market inflation; politicians pose plebiscites about human rights issues instead of making seemingly obvious changes. If news articles are to be believed, our generation has ruined everything from the wine industry to the entire concept of democracy. Technology means we are hyper-exposed to every terrible thing that happens worldwide.

And yet, despite everything, there’s this incredible sense of optimism. Millennials are critical, engaged, and passionate. We hit back against all these negatives with action and inspiration, committed to leaving the world a better place than we found it. For every news article that condemns millennials as lazy or self-obsessed, there’s a slew of Kickstarters, protests, petitions and support networks to prove just how wrong that is. Maybe it’s that we know exactly how tough the world is. Our generation is better connected and informed than ever before, and we take that as motivation to make a difference.

The Millennials Project aims to combat the stereotypes and give a voice back to a generation coming of age. We want to highlight the contradictions we face in our rapidly changing society, and start the conversations about the ways we interact with our world and each other. Tell us what’s been inspiring you, what’s been troubling you, and what you’re going to do about it.

Georgia Coldebella is part of the Grattan Street Press team in Semester 2, 2017. She’s a twenty-something writer, editor, etc. and spends way too much time on the internet.

The Millennials Project is created by Grattan Street Press, an initiative of the Publishing and Communications program in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. If you’re under thirty and want to contribute to the Millennials Project, go to https://grattanstreetpress.submittable.com/submit, or pitch to us at editorial@grattanstreetpress.com.

On Self-Publishing and Publishing Your Self

In August 2016 my bffl Alice Chipkin crossed the oceans so we could spend a month on a self-imposed residency with the hopes of making a comic. It was our way of having a conversation about what had unfolded over the past year when I had found myself in a deep depression, and at that stage, this work was for no one but ourselves.

Our first three readers were three powerhouse female farmers that worked the land where we were staying. Their warm and kind responses encouraged us to show others, and soon we had sent out a terribly scanned version of the work to some friends in the comics world with one specific question in our minds – is this worth publishing?

I’ve learnt now that our process was a relatively speedy one. From the first draft to book launch was nine months (which also explains the two weeks of deep deep fatigue that settled in after we released the book). Looking back, I can identify two major processes that happen when you decide to self-publish.

Part one is dealing with all the practicalities, the actual turning of a work into a physical thing you can hold and people can buy. We roped in a good friend as an editor and buoy to hold on to as we charted through seemingly endless waves of unknown territory: How do we scan and prepare the work for printing? What size templates do the pages need to adhere to? What’s the difference between digital and offset printing? Do we still need a barcode if we have bought an ISBN? What do you do at a book launch?

Part two is what happens to you, your emotional landscape and the way you understand yourself as a person, while readying the work for the public eye. The mental gymnastics of deciding to self-publish our creative work were some of the most complex and bewildering I have undertaken. The usual doubt and self-criticism were rammed up three levels. Added to the mix was having to actually show others our work and not just leave it in piles on our bedroom floors. Then there was promoting ourselves in-person and online – what felt (and still feels) like just about all the time. A self-publishing process like ours means suddenly you’re pushing the boundaries of who you know yourself to be and you don’t know if or how you’re going to make it through. It’s thrilling and scary and exhausting and on better days, utterly beautiful too. I feel lucky to be going through all this with Alice. We are safety nets and sounding boards for each other.

The thing is, our book exists in a very large part because of the kindness of friends and colleagues who took the time to teach, support and point us gently in the right direction. There are so many micro-decisions to be made. My advice for self-publishers would be to embed yourself in community of people doing similar work to you. Reach out to others who have done the same, even if it’s cold-calling. Be gentle with your self-criticisms. Know the unruly and unpredictable will come, so build solid supports. If you get offers from friends to help, let them. Don’t take the DIY to mean your need to manage it all (including your self) by yourself. I think DIYWOSY (do it yourself with others supporting you) sounds better anyway. 

Written by Jessica Tavassoli.

Eyes Too Dry is the debut graphic novel by Alice Chipkin and Jessica Tavassoli. It’s a memoir about heavy feelings, queer friendship and the therapeutic possibilities of comic making. Eyes Too Dry is currently sold out but will be re-released on September 1st. To find out more, visit eyestoodry.tumblr.com.

Dr Rachael Weaver discussing John Lang and The Forger’s Wife

In honour of the Grattan St Press release of The Forger’s Wife,  Dr Rachael Weaver (Australian Research Council Senior Research Fellow in English at the University of Melbourne) has sat down with us to discuss John Lang and his work.

John Lang’s Biography

Dr Rachael Weaver provides some insight into the life of the author, John Lang, including his time in India, his life as a barrister and his untimely death.

The Forger’s Wife: Setting and Characters

Dr Rachael Weaver (Australian Research Council Senior Research Fellow in English) talks to Grattan Street Presses’ Madeleine Charters about the settings and colourful characters in our recent release, the John Lang detective novel The Forger’s Wife, including the anti-hero Detective George Power.

Portland, Oregon and Mount Hood

Ooligan Press: A Model Teaching Press

How a successful small American publisher helped Grattan Street Press get started…

A major inspiration for Grattan Street Press was Ooligan Press, the teaching press at Portland State University, Oregon. Late in 2015 its director, Per Henningsgaard, visited Australia and stopped off at the University of Melbourne to meet staff of our program. A few months later, I took a plane to the US to learn more about Ooligan’s operations firsthand.

Portland Oregon
Portland, Oregon in winter. Pic: Jeremy Jeziorski

Portland proved to be rain-soaked, foggy and much much colder than the 4 degrees Celsius that was forecast. But as I warmed up my frozen brain over many cups of the local artisan-roasted coffee, it was impossible to miss the alternative creative vibe on which Portland prides itself. Situated in the Pacific Northwest, a region famous for its rich natural beauty, the city has crafted an identity that is clean, green and liberal (in the American sense of the word). Plastic bags are banned in Portland, and the city’s metropolitan planning authority is democratically elected, unlike most in the US. The state of Oregon went easily to Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, but its Democrats actually liked Bernie Sanders even more. Portland’s “new Millennial-hippie culture” is affectionately satirized in the TV show Portlandia  which, not surprisingly, includes a (mythical) feminist bookshop as one of its prime locations.

Indie publishing and bookselling are very much part of the Portland scene, partly through the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which opened in 1998, and rather like Melbourne’s own Sticky Institute and 100 Story Building is a resource and a meeting place for local authors and would-be publishers. There are at least 30 small publishing independent publishers in Portland, including literary publishers like Future Tense, Hawthorne Books and Perfect Day. There is also a strong community of local writers, including internationally celebrated authors like fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin.

It was from this fertile literary ground that Ooligan Press emerged in 2001. Although it began with seed funding from its parent, Portland State University, this teaching press has managed to become sustainable through books sales and public events. Master’s students in the university’s Book Publishing program work in all aspects of the teaching press’s operations – commissioning and acquisitions, editing, design, production, sales and marketing, distribution and publicity – under the guidance of academic staff with backgrounds in publishing. ATW_cover_500“Ooligan Press publishes fiction—both adult literary fiction and young adult fiction—as well as general interest nonfiction,” Henningsgaard says. “The publishing house has a regional mandate, publishing books by writers from the Pacific Northwest or that feature the Pacific Northwest’s unique characters and stories. But Ooligan Press aspires to take these regional stories and share them with the nation and beyond. Ooligan Press receives several hundred submissions per year and also commissions works through contacts forged at writers’ festivals and other literary events. Keeping the publishing list diverse is important for the sake of local literary culture and students’ educational experience.”

How Ooligan Works

What impressed me most about Ooligan was its professionalism, as shown in the steady stream of well-made books it has produced. In recent years, releases from Ooligan have won or been shortlisted for a host of literary awards, from local to international. This professionalism starts from the close attention paid by Henningsgaard and his colleague Abbey Gaterud to supervision of editing, design and production. It’s a hands-on process. Every Monday, the week kicks off with an all-in meeting of the program’s entire cohort (about 60 students and staff), where student leaders deliver updates about edits, design, distribution, and of course the press’s interaction with writers, publishers, readers and reviewers.

From there they break off into “departments” led by students in their second year of the degree, who7S_frontcover run their teams’ operations on a weekly basis. I participated in a marketing department meeting which discussed conventional and social media marketing campaigns for a forthcoming title. It was clear that students who are passionate about publishing throw themselves into the many hours of work required in the more routine jobs in publishing, including proofreading, sending books out to reviewers and customers, and writing and distributing marketing material.

Rather than compete with other small publishers, Ooligan has followed the Portland tradition of sharing its cultural capital, creating yet another space in the life of the local literary community for discussion, common action, workshops and masterclasses. Every year, it hosts Transmit Culture, a quarterly event that’s free, and focused on the local literary community, and Write to Publish, a major event for local writers and publishers, which raises money for the press, and also draws new talent to Ooligan Press and its affiliated Master’s program. In 2017, it also helped Portland host the PubWest conference, a major annual gathering of people who own and/or are employed in small and mid-size publishing businesses from 31 states.

As I was writing this blog, news broke that after five years as Portland State University’s dedicated Director of Publishing, Henningsgaard is moving on. A decade ago he


Per Henningsgaard,Director of the teaching press, Ooligan

undertook his PhD at the University of Western Australia; soon he will return to Australia, to take up a lectureship at Curtin University, Perth. He says: “When I started at Portland State University in 2012, I inherited a fantastic educational opportunity in the form of Ooligan Press. Over five years, I worked hard with my colleagues to build on that foundation, to make something bigger and better. I will miss many things about Ooligan Press—not least my colleagues, the authors I was fortunate enough to work with, the hundreds of students that are responsible for every great achievement at Ooligan Press, and the Pacific Northwest’s tremendously supportive publishing community—but I’m also excited to build a student-staffed publishing house from the ground up at Curtin University and to make it reflect its unique environment.”

In Melbourne, we will no doubt continue to look to Ooligan as a model and a guide. Grattan Street Press differs from Portland State University’s in some respects (for example, our teaching press subject runs as an elective rather than a compulsory unit). Yet it still demands of students and staff the same qualities: strong editing and publishing skills, a great deal of stamina, and inspired problem-solving on the fly!

Dr Sybil Nolan is a lecturer in publishing and communications at the University of Melbourne, and a co-founder of Grattan Street Press.

Australian Crime Fiction: Breaking out from the ‘Fatal Shore’

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1841) established some of the key generic conventions of the detective novel as it has developed internationally – the roles of investigator, assistant, witness and suspect; the presence of both ‘red herrings’ and real clues; and the contrast between the police, constrained by regulation, and the brilliant detective working unconventionally and laterally to make meaning of seemingly chaotic situations. These features combine to create stories that centre on the careful exposure of the workings of criminal or unethical activities unlikely to be uncovered by the operation of conventional policing. This in turn points to a key feature of crime fiction as a genre: its tendency to reveal and explore uncomfortable truths.

Like ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, many early crime fiction works – including those of Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle – were short stories or serialised novels published in newspapers and magazines. In Australia, colonial titles like the Leader, the Queenslander and the Australian Journal were publishing serialised popular fiction from the mid-nineteenth century. Fictionalised accounts of murders and other criminal activity vied for real estate on the printed colonial page with often graphic reports of actual criminality.

Ellen Davitt’s Force and Fraud (1865), published in the Australian Journal, is generally taken to be the first locally-produced] work of Australian crime fiction –- that is, the first work both penned and published in Australia.[1] Well over a century later, in 2001, the organisation Sisters in Crime Australia launched the Davitt Awards. These are presented annually for the best Australian crime books by women writers, as a means of marking and beginning to address the continuing underrepresentation of women in both prizes and reviews of Australian crime fiction. Organisations like Sisters in Crime and the Australian Crime Writers Association (ACWA) provide supportive communities to crime authors. They are promotional, inclusive, often politically minded, and influential in shaping the contemporary Australian ‘crime scene’.

International ties

Although Force and Fraud was the first work of crime fiction to be locally produced, Australian crime writers were finding publishers and markets abroad. The Forger’s Wife, by Parramatta-born lawyer, journalist and novelist John Lang, was originally serialised in London’s Fraser’s Magazine in 1853, and subsequently published in book form in London in 1855. Lang had been overseas, primarily in India, since 1842 but the subject matter of The Forger’s Wife is decidedly Australian – and, with its central detective character, it is decidedly a work of crime fiction.

Another key moment in Australian crime fiction came in 1886 with the publication of Fergus Hume’s Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Set in Melbourne, and initially self-published by Hume, it went on to sell half a million copies in the US and the UK[2], making it the bestselling detective novel of the nineteenth century.[3]

Global, local

Eva Erdmann has argued that late twentieth and early twenty-first century crime fiction is increasingly tied to locality:

[It is] distinguished by the fact that the main focus is not on the crime itself, but on the setting, the place where the detective and the victims live and to which they are bound by ties of attachment.[4]

Distinctively local stories are increasingly internationally popular. And detailed local settings afford authors the ability to develop stronger and more specific social, cultural and political critiques, leading to arguments that crime fiction is the logical place to look for the ‘new social novel’.[5]

An important, contemporary, global development tied to Erdmann’s observations is the staggering growth of Scandinavian noir. Gritty, realist crime fiction exploring the dark social underbellies of Nordic localities, Scandi noir has skyrocketed in international popularity since the 1990s. Notable examples like Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy have topped international bestseller charts and won prizes around the globe.

And Nordic crime authors are not the only ones whose regional perspectives are represented in the ‘global village’.[6] The twenty-first century has witnessed significant growth in the number of crime fiction titles published in Australia. It has also seen increasing international recognition for Australian crime fiction authors. Peter Temple (for The Broken Shore) and Michael Robotham (for Life or Death) are the first Australian crime writers to be awarded the British Crime Writers’ Association’s prestigious ‘Golden Dagger’ award in 2007 and 2015 respectively. Robotham’s Life or Death is set, notably, in Texas. With its American setting and international award, it is an example of the truly trans-national nature of contemporary Australian crime fiction.


  1. Gelder & Weaver, The Anthology Of Colonial Australian Crime Fiction, 2008: 2
  2. Ibid. 2
  3. Davies, Vintage Mystery and Detective Stories, 2006: 16; Sussex, Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab, 2015
  4. Erdmann, “Nationality International: Detective Fiction in the Late Twentieth Century”, from Investigating Identities: Questions of Identity in Contemporary International Crime Fiction 2009: 12
  5. As per Tom Wolfe’s ‘manifesto’; cf. Peacock’s article “Crime Novels” for The Daily Beast, 2010
  6. Erdmann, 2009: 24-25

Millicent Weber is a Research Assistant on Genre Worlds: Australian Popular Fiction in the Twenty-First Century, in the University of Melbourne’s Publishing and Communication program.


The Forger’s Wife will be re-published by Grattan Street press in 2017 as the first publication of the imprint’s Australian Colonial Fiction Series. Force and Fraud will be the second in this series.

Book Launch – The Forger’s Wife

Grattan Street Press and the Australian Centre proudly invite you to join us as we celebrate the launch of two important books:

The Forger’s Wife by John Lang
Edited and with an introduction by Rachael Weaver and Ken Gelder.
The Forger’s Wife will be Grattan Street Press’s first book.

Colonial Australian Fiction: Character Types, Social Formation and the Colonial Economy by Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver.
Published by Sydney University Press, the book will be launched by Professor Kate Darian-Smith.

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