Report of the Acting President
for the Annual General Meeting of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia
to be held at 2pm at the Community Centre, Summer Hill, on 2 December 2008
(as prepared for the cancelled AGM originally to be held at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians at 1:30pm on Saturday, 6 September 2008).
What I opened my report with last year I can repeat this year: Over the last twelve months the life of the Society has continued to be quite healthy. Our four annual Sydney meetings have been held and our journal Biblionews and Australian Notes & Queries has continued to appear as four annual issues. Our Victorian branch has continued to hold meetings and has contributed the text of some of the talks given there for publication in Biblionews.
Although there appears to be no formal grouping of members in the Australian Capital Territory, there have been valuable contributions to the journal from members there, in particular the articles from Dr Geoffrey Burkhardt and the immense number of book reviews from Colin Steele as well as his autobiographical item in the June issue.
We have quite a large membership in South Australia as well and used to receive articles from there occasionally too, so that I have long wondered why a formal branch of the Society had not been formed there too. However, just recently I did with pleasure receive a request from our South Australian members for branch status, and that request will be considered at today’s AGM.
While we have gained some new members this year, whom I welcome to the Society, we have also lost some. Two that I know of have passed away, Jon Prance of the ACT and Dr Arthur Chick of Queensland, who both contributed to Biblionews at various times. Obituaries for both are expected to appear [and have in the meantime appeared] in the September 2008 issue of Biblionews. Worryingly, too, a couple of dozen or so members had not renewed their subscriptions for the 2006–2007 membership year and were sent reminders with the June 2008 issue of the journal. We continue to send free copies of Biblionews issues to significant overseas libraries in Europe and North America, but may have to decide whether we continue to do this for them all or whether, for financial reasons, we should be more selective than we have been.
Some of our new members have come to us almost by accident—for example Frances Carleton, as explained in the editorial of the June 2008 issue of Biblionews. Many of us feel that we need to make a more organised and concerted effort to find new members. The following are some initiatives that have been looked at this year.
A number of Sydney members—Richard Blair, Graham Stone, Janet and Gordon Robinson, and I—took part in a membership drive by attending the University of Sydney Book Fest held 15–19 September 2007 and the Australian Antiquarian Book Fair, held 28–30 September at the State Library of NSW, by handing out copies of our flyer (which I had in the meantime overstamped to take account of our change of venue from the Turramurra Uniting Church to the present one). Just whether we acquired any new members by this means I have not been able to ascertain. BCSA member Dr John Ward and I are planning to go to the Uralla Book Fair organised by BCSA member Ross Burnet for 20–21 September this year and I hope to distribute more flyers there. Bookseller and Society member Michael Treloar has advised us of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB) 35th Antiquarian Book Fair to be held in Melbourne’s Malvern Town Hall on 24–26 October next. Perhaps we should contact him and Richard Overell about the possibility of some advertising of the Society being done down there. Clearly, a different flyer would be needed, since our present one is Sydney-centred.
A further opportunity to get knowledge of the Society’s existence and activities out into the wider world was mooted during the year, namely that we should have a website. Society member Elizabeth Fletcher who has developed some expertise in website development addressed the June 2008 meeting on the matter and offered her own services as well as those of her son, Tom Fletcher. Elizabeth said she wished to offer her services at no cost to the Society in honour of her late husband, John Fletcher, who was for years the Society’s President and Editor of Publications. A working party to assist with discussion and planning was formed and consists of: Elizabeth Fletcher, Tom Fletcher, Richard Blair, Mark Ferson, new member Chris Nicholls and myself (ex officio). So far the WP’s discussion has been carried out by email. I will return to this topic below.
Mark Ferson arranged during this year for the BCSA to be listed in the Societies section of the Collectables Trader magazine, and that appears to have netted us a couple of new members.
Sydney meetings in 2007-2008
The meetings held in Sydney this Society year 2007-2008 were on:
1 September 2007, when the AGM took place and was followed by a talk by Committee member Richard Blair and his brother David about their forthcoming book of their late father Jim’s writings. The talk was titled “‘Blown to Blazes & Other Stories of J B Blair’ and Jim’s years at The Bulletin (1934-1961)” and will be published in the coming September issue, a “Bulletin issue”, of Biblionews along with Helen Kenny’s review of the book, which has since been published.
1 December 2007, when our regular end-of-year Show & Tell meeting was held. It was fully reported on in the March 2008 issue of Biblionews.
1 March 2008, when the meeting was addressed by Society member Rosie Block of the Oral History section of the State Library of New South Wales on the topic “Collecting oral history—an account of the future”. We are hoping that a version of this talk may yet be published in Biblionews.
7 June 2008, when Antonia Gilbert gave a talk on her “Ten years with Angus & Robertson Ltd in book publishing”. It is being prepared for publication in the coming September issue of Biblionews.
The 65th anniversary in 2009 of the founding of the BCSA
As I mentioned in my last year’s report, we overlooked the Society’s 60th anniversary in 2004 and I suggested that we should perhaps make up for that by doing something significant to celebrate the 65th anniversary in 2009. I put forward here formally two suggestions which have already come up for some discussion either formally at meetings or informally amongst a few of us by email.
1 That we aim to set the abovementioned website up no later than early 2009.
2 That we revise the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia’s very much out-of-date constitution of 1944 to conform with current conditions and pass this new constitution at the 2009 AGM. Thanks to our Secretary Mark Ferson, a couple of us have managed to see a copy of the constitution as retyped by Jean Stone in 1981. While some parts of it remain relevant to our needs—e.g. the approach from South Australia to be recognised as a branch can be handled in terms of the Constitution’s wording—the society has long since drifted away, and possibly with good reason, from what the founding fathers (yes, they do seem to have been all men back in 1944) envisaged.
I think it would be helpful if another working party could be appointed at this 2008 AGM to work on revising the constitution, but this would presumably have to be done within the terms of the old constitution for the new one to have validity. The main stumbling block is that it stipulates that a quorum of 20 members is required at a general meeting called to change the constitution. At present we never get that number at a meeting, but perhaps it could be managed on that one occasion of the 2009 AGM. I think, too, that in its own terms the old constitution can be changed by the vote only of members who attend the relevant meeting in Sydney, though we could consult with the other branches if we thought it diplomatic to do so.
The Presidency of the Society
Finally, those who have attended the last two AGMs are aware that I haven’t been exactly happy at having to take over the presidency of the Society because no one else was willing, especially in view of the load that I carry looking after Biblionews. For that reason I insisted on being only Acting President and obtained the approval of the last AGM to appoint any suitable member to the presidency that I could find willing to take it on. I was unwilling to approach people, especially busy people, who never attended meetings. The main worry for me in taking the job on was having to make sure there were speakers for all the meetings. However, this year I haven’t had to worry about that, as apart from speaking himself at the September 2007 meeting, Committee member Richard Blair has secured the speakers for all the other meetings for us, including the present one, if Norman Hetherington is able to be with us. He has also been very helpful giving me advice about various matters. Thus, since he has been doing more of the presidential acting than I have, I have asked him if he would accept nomination as President for the coming year and he has said he would. I therefore recommend him to the meeting as a worthy candidate for the position of President of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia. I close by thanking the Officers of the Society for their help throughout the year: Secretary Mark Ferson for all the work of keeping the Society’s records, sending out notices of meetings and arranging for our present meeting venue, which we will, however, evidently have to leave in view of the unexpected increase in cost; Darel Hughes for using his expertise as an accountant to look after the Society’s finances; and all the other members of the Committee too for various forms of assistance— in particular Richard Blair for organising the afternoon tea at each meeting— and for advice over the two years I have been acting in the position.
Brian Taylor, 31 August 2008