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2006-06, 350, Editorial, Neil A Radford

Editorial- June 2006

ANY COLLECTOR (of books or anything else) must define what it is that he or she collects. Initially one’s field tends to be broad—to take as examples two of my (non-book) interests, old maps and the art of Lionel Lindsay. But, as the collection grows the collector realises that they must refine their collecting parameters—I moved to old maps showing Australia, and Lionel Lindsay’s etchings and woodcuts. The more you collect, the more re-definition is needed, unless your resources and the space available are both generous—I now collect only 17th and 18th century maps showing Australia, and only Lionel Lindsay’s etchings of old Sydney scenes and his woodcuts of birds. This is a familiar, and sometimes painful, process for all serious collectors—the refining and re-defining of just what it is that they collect, as the truth dawns that they really can’t collect everything.

The feature article in this issue of Biblionews chronicles this process in some detail, and addresses the inevitable problems of definition. You may set your parameters precisely—Lionel Lindsay’s woodcuts of birds, for example—but what about a woodcut of a garden in which a bird lurks in the background? Does that merit inclusion? (It was a large bird, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt, though I sometimes have second thoughts.) What about a woodcut of a bird which you think is ugly? Do you want that? (No. I am, after all, collecting decorative pieces to adorn my walls.)

Michael Wooliscroft is recently retired after a long career in New Zealand libraries, including 12 years as City Librarian of Dunedin and 18 years as University Librarian of the University of Otago. He began to collect books about homosexuality but quickly found that that was far too broad a universe. He refined his focus to gay fiction and biography, but even that threatened to overwhelm him. He now collects “twentieth century, English-language, gay literary biography” but, although that seems clear enough, he says that “the boundaries have been constantly tested and frequently breached”. All collectors will identify with that, and with his account of the “continuing gentle process of re-evaluation and discarding” as the collection ebbs and flows around his definitions which are themselves elastic. Whatever we collect, Michael Wooliscroft’s very personal account of his attempts to keep his collection under control will strike familiar chords.

In the last issue was a short article by Victor Crittenden on Bungaree, “King of the Blacks”, who featured in a short story by John Lang, the early Australian novelist. That short story is included in Further Tales from Botany Bay, a compilation of Lang’s work which Crittenden has edited and which was recently published by his Mulini Press. In this issue is a perceptive review of Further Tales by Elizabeth Webby, Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. I had hoped also to be able to publish in this issue a review of Crittenden’s biography of Lang but unfortunately it has not come to hand in time. It will be something to look forward to in the September issue.

The December 2005 issue of Biblionews published Kenneth Hince’s obituary for James Dally. This inspired another friend of Dally’s, Arthur Mortimer, to offer a very personal account of their friendship, which we are pleased to publish as a further tribute to “perhaps the most distinguished and accomplished antiquarian bookseller in Australia during the late twentieth century.” Mr Mortimer also provided the photograph of Mr Dally. Biblionews has no staff of obituary reporters, and we are grateful to those members who take the initiative in chronicling the careers and contributions of those who loved and collected books.

Finally, I draw the attention of Sydney members, in particular, to a Note by the Secretary-Treasurer concerning the recent decision to reintroduce annual subscriptions. These were suspended some years ago, when the Society’s bank balance was healthy, but our resources will be soon exhausted unless we raise sufficient funds each year to continue to publish Biblionews, which is our main expense. I certainly hope that members will agree that four interesting issues of Biblionews each year, delivered to their letterboxes, is worth thirty dollars. Where else could a book collector derive such pleasure for only eight cents a day?

Neil A Radford

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