The Genesis of Biblionews
Reprinted from Biblionews, 200th IssueOctober, 1962, 1949 (Vol. 15 No. 10)
(This is reprinted from the photocopy of the original two-page issue of Biblionews for October 1962, supplied by Jeff Bidgood to the audience at the inaugural Walter and Jean Stone Memorial Talk in June 2009. In retyping it I have followed Walter Stone’s text in spelling and punctuation—including underlining instead of italicising—exactly, apart from adding in square brackets a dollar amount at one point. His footnote at the bottom of his first page I have made into an endnote. Ed.)
Walter W. Stone
Centenaries, and multiples thereof, exercise an esoteric influence on man and frequently lead him into excesses of various kinds – rational and irrational. It is not, therefore, with any sense of humility that part of the 200th issues of our journal is used to look back to its past.
Biblionews began as a journal of protest (a word not to be confused with dissent). The constitution of the Society – a rare document indeed, which does not exist – made provision from the beginning for the publication of a journal, and scarcely a meeting of the Council in the early days passed without some relevant resolution being hotly debated. For the members were divided broadly and fairly evenly into two camps – those who wanted a Journal and those who wanted a Journal of Distinction. This latter was to be distinguished in its paper, binding and type (contents were not mentioned).*
There was a great deal of hard talking with its usual accompaniment of little action, beyond the appointment of an editor and the obtaining of various printing estimates.
In March 1947 it was agreed that an Annual Report should be sent out to members in the following month. I had to prepare the platitudinous document. It was platitudinous as it had to be filled with trite phrases, well tried for their unctuous effect on members or readers. Anyone reading it today would rate it as a very successful essay of its kind.
And this is where the protest against platitudes and procrastination manifested itself. Why not add a few paragraphs about members, call it Biblionews and set it up as the first of a series of monthly letters. It would ten be not so obviously ineffectual and would bring some point to the interminable arguments about the need for a publication. Some of the Council officers agreed with my plan and in April 1947 Biblionews was begun. About eighty copies were run off (more than the actual membership at the time) and posted out. And a goodly number were consigned, perhaps indignantly, to the wastepaper basket in more than one case; as I learned later, when members became anxious to complete their files.
At the following meeting of the Council in May there was little said. Those who wanted either a Journal or a Journal of Distinction saw in Biblionews no threat to either scheme. And, indeed, fifteen years ago the same short life that was predicted for the Society at its inception was freely anticipated for Biblionews.
To keep costs down – fully 25/- [$2·50] per issue in those days – it was decided to ask Angus & Robertson Ltd., through Mr Ernie Williams, for a monthly advertisement of books suitable for collectors. To our amazement Mr Williams came up with the information that A. & R.’s would process Biblionews each month – in return for an advertisement – an arrangement that continued for some years.
Such recognition of our little Journal’s value was enough for the Council and the idea of a Journal of distinction was forgotten – or, at least, no longer put forward.
Within the first couple of years the list of contributors included, among many others, Morris Miller, Dulcie Deamer, Val Molesworth, James Meagher, Camden Morrisby, Fred Malcolm – with the editor filling in when necessary.
As time went on the contributors included such well known scholars and authorities as Sir John Ferguson, Professor Guy Howarth, Dr Colin Roderick, Miss P. Mander Jones, Dr Brian Elliott, W.E. FitzHenry, P.R. Stephensen, Jack Lindsay, Dr George Mackaness, J.K. Moir, A.H. Chisholm and P.R. Searle as well as other writers.
By concentrating on the publication of bibliographies and biographies, and exploring little known fields of Australian writing, Biblionews seems to have made a niche for itself. Its value may best be assessed by the increasing number of references made to its files in recent volumes of critical and historical studies. It as also been included in the Select List of Periodicals which appeared in the Annual Catalogue of Australian Publications.
It might be appropriate to mention at this point that a few months ago one of our better-dressed interstate contemporaries made a take-over offer for Biblionews. It was, of course, rejected – I hope, politely.
One of the important results of the publication of Biblionews has been to bring into the Society members from all parts of Australia – and other places, too. So many Victorians joined that they now have their own branch -and a journal, Background to Collecting. They have so arranged matters that their members still receive Biblionews as a matter of course. Other states are soon to follow the Victorian pattern.
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Despite the foregoing immoderate excess of ill-conceived vanity on the part of its editor, Biblionews has never been an ambitious journal. It has gone its unobtrusive, self-appointed way, indulging in only the occasional excess of a special issue – which accounts for 200 issues in slightly more than fifteen years. There may, after all, be something in having joined the ranks of Australian bi-centenarians – a distinction without Distinction.
*There was a temporary lull in the debates whilst our first publication, The Problem of Mould Growth on Books: S.L. Larnach and B.D. Wyke, 1945, was going through the press. It was issued as a simple pamphlet in an edition of 100 copies and those copies which were not distributed to our members were quickly snapped up by various institutional libraries.