Culture for DUMMIES

Forgive the acerbic tone to this post, but I can’t let Professor Allan Fels’ latest comment go regarding his desire to scrap Territorial Copyright laws for Australian authors.

This is part of what he said last night on ABC TV‘s 7:30 Report about our present copyright protection: “There’s also a claim that it’s good for culture, that is, it’s good for culture that Australian book readers should pay more for books. I don’t understand that.”

An open letter to Professor Allan Fels, Bob Carr and all….

Well, let me enlighten you, Professor Fels with my Culture for DUMMIES.

Heinemann’s Australian dictionary says culture means, ‘ a development or improvement of the intellect or behaviour; the distinctive practices and beliefs of a society.’  Well, that’s pretty straightforward, don’t you think, Professor Fels?

Let’s put it in context of Australian children’s picture books and novels. After all, that’s the area that will be directly hit by yours and Bob Carr’s, Dymocks Bookstores, and the discount retailers Woolworths and Coles’s bid to destroy Australian Territorial Copyright on books.

If the Parallel Importation Restrictions are abolished or watered-down (as desired by you and your fellow free-marketeers) future Australian books risk losing their Australian content, voices and experiences.

In the world of children’s books – and maybe you have no experience in this area – the risk is even greater. Australian children must grow up having access to books from their own country. Books that hold mirror images of their own experiences not those of children living in Manhattan, Texas or Manchester. Books that echo with Australian voices, multi-cultural and all; stories connecting with our own place in the world.

If PIRs are abolished and Australian authored books are published overseas they WILL BE CHANGED to suit American or British tastes. Then they will be exported back into this country with American spelling, language and terms – gone will be Wagga Wagga, Mum, footpath, rugby union, gum tree, Indooroopilly, possum and a host of other words.

But even worse than losing our own language is the threat to Australian content in books. Aussie children understand Aussie humour – North American and British children don’t quite get it. Okay, I mustn’t generalise, so let’s just say that publishers (the gatekeepers) in the US and the UK don’t ‘get’ Australian humour … just ask popular Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman about his experiences.

And what can Australian authors do when a large American publishing firm says we’ll publish your book, but we’ll need to make a few changes. If we refuse the changes we do not get published.

We’ve seen this happen already where Australian books are picked up by US publishing firms. Even picture books are not immune – they become bland, superficial facsimiles of their Aussie twins.

So, Professor Fels, please open your eyes and your mind; life isn’t meant to be all about making more money. And don’t try to pull the wool over Aussie eyes – people who want to buy a book in this country are not bound by the price at the bookshop. We all have access to free libraries across this wide land so no child needs to go without a book because of what it costs. (And let me remind you, the Productivity Commission says there’s no guarantee books would be any cheaper if the restrictions are lifted).

I’m just an ordinary Australian children’s writer trying to make a living in my beloved country – following my passion for storytelling set on this land, that uses the language and experiences of its peoples.

Like my fellow authors I live with rejections, rewrites and edits on work that might take many years to complete. I don’t complain if I’m lucky to earn 10% of the RRP on a proportion of a few thousand published copies.

I just move on to writing the next one with the thrill of knowing many children read my stories and enjoy them; and the knowledge that I’m part of a noble profession working to ensure our Australian culture in its written form will survive and thrive, long after you’ve become a tiny, full-stop dot in the book of Australian history.

14 thoughts on “Culture for DUMMIES

  1. I agree with much of what ‘reading eyes’ says … our literary culture is predominately Anglo-white, but at least over the past twenty years (under the protection of Territorial Copyright of books) support for the Australian book industry has increased. This, combined with a growth of strong Aboriginal voices, has led to an increase of the indigenous press.
    Publishers like Magabala Books in Broome, IAD Press in Alice Springs and Aboriginal Studies Press in Canberra. IAD Press Jukurrpa Books focuses on children’s books and these have spread through schools – not all are dreamtime picture books; some are novels written by indigenous authors like Melissa Lucashenko and Jared Thomas about young indigenous people living in contemporary times.
    Several of the independent publishers like University of Queensland Press and University of Western Australia Press both support and encourage indigenous writers; as do state governments with their various awards and prizes. The Queensland Writers Centre is another great support system.
    If anyone wants to know more on this subject check out Anita Heiss’s article in Making Books – Contemporary Australian Publishing. It’s available from University of Queensland Press – ISBN 9780702234699.
    Unfortunately, like ‘reading eyes’ implies we still have a long way to go to be truely equal citizens in this country, but I’m sure if we allow the destruction of Territorial Copyright you can kiss goodbye to all of the positive inroads we’ve made over the past twenty years to build a diverse Australian literary culture.
    I live in hope that at least our children have had the benefits of reading books written by indigenous Australians, that many educational publishers insist on including multi-cultural faces and experiences in their junior fiction publications and that many school teachers recognise the injustices of the past and the present for Indigenous people and try to open the eyes and minds of their students.
    That is the hope for our future as a true nation.


  2. Why support a literary culture still deeply immersed in reproducing terra nullius narratives? Its still very Anglo (with the odd ‘multicultural or Indigenous author getting a look in) and how many people living in Indooroopilly or Wagga Wagga actually know what these words mean ? How many Australian kids know anything about this nations history beyond the parochialisms such an ‘ Ozzie culture’ promotes. Or is REALLY ABOUT PERPETUATING A DISREMEMBERING OR not knowing them or how they were uprooted and amputated from their true origins of being – a comfortable amnesia? – is this part of the culture being protected here? Perhaps its best if “Australian kids” (code for “white Australian kid”s for many) learn about the battle of wounded knee because they certainly won’t be taught about the same battles here in “Straya.” LITERARY GLOBALISM / COLONIALISM/ WHATS THE DIFF?


  3. I find myself perplexed as to how people of such high intelligence (Alan Fels et al) can make such spurious arguments. I’m still not sure if it’s a case of being blinded by their economic rationalist ideology, or if they are deliberately using simplistic (and therefore misleading) arguments to sway the general public. Perhaps both. At any rate, we need to do all we can to get the message out that the removal of PIR’s does not necessarily equal cheaper books, and that even if it does, Australia’s cultural heritage is surely worth more than $1-$2 off a few books.


  4. It’s almost beyond belief that this issue has even got as far as it has. There is absolutely no proof that books will be any cheaper. I’m sick to death of Carr & Fels pretending to champion ‘cheaper books’ when they seem to have absolutely no understanding of the real value of any book.
    Bah Humbug to the twin Scrooges of Australia’s literary culture!


  5. I don’t think it’s even a matter of which books are better or worse: children of any country should be able to read books that validate their own experience and language, just as immigrant children should be able to read books that will help them to explore their new country. They’ll have lots of opportunities to read British books by British authors, and American books by American authors – but books by Australian authors should be Australian.


  6. Yes, this threat to Australian children’s books of US-inspired insipidity with an overdose of lollypops and mixed with a heap of dumbing-down is the worst sin of all.
    Australian authors produce brilliant, funny, clever and very readable books – why the will to destroy what we have?


  7. It’s not so much preserving our own Aussie culture that concerns me, although it does. More though, I am afraid of the great dumbing down and cocacola-ization of our nation. What if the gatekeepers are influenced by vocal and powerful minorities to refuse publication of books that contain fantasy elements, magic, same-sex partners, Australian humour, or exploding underpants? As Sheryl says, authors won’t get published unless they agree to changes that result in blandness.

    The result I fear, is that our kids will reject the resulting diet of pap. How much harder then to turn them on to reading?


  8. Good for you, Sheryl. Mr Alan Fels never mentioned that if our books are printed overseas, they will probably have such poor quality paper, that they’ll fall to bits after the first read. And I’m speaking from experience. I recently purchased a classic that had been reprinted and produced overseas. I didn’t even get past the first chapter before it fell to pieces.

    It seems to me that Mr Alan Fels and his twin are taking it upon themselves to sell our Authorly souls to whoever will pay.

    I write children’s stories about Aussie children, stories about pit-loos, dunnies, gum trees and Australian wild life. I’ve had American’s ask me what a mozzie is and some don’t know what a bandicoot is or even a dobber. So, what will happen to my chapter books about Australian children living in the Australian bush with Australian wild life? No publisher overseas will be able to understand any of it. I don’t want a dot after a title. Mr. Allan Fels might.

    My character wears thongs on her feet and not on her bum.


  9. Exactly, Kathleen!
    It’s because this is the only argument the Coalition for ‘Cheaper’ Books has so they push it for all it’s worth. Behind their pious smokescreen lurks the lure of the $.


  10. For me, I don’t get why everyone is talking about how expensive books are. I don’t think they are expensive and hey, I have no income right now.

    I could spend $18 on a new book or I could hand over $15 to see a movie at Birch, Carroll & Coyle. The book I get to keep forever but the movie, I either pay to see it again or I fork out the $30 to own it. Plus, I can rent books for free at the library whereas I have to pay for video rentals.

    This is not meant to be a book vs film argument as I am wildly passionate about both artforms. I just don’t understand the argument that books are overpriced and out of reach for the public.


  11. I’m with you all the way Sheryl. This is supposedly an ‘economic’ decision, but how can it be economical to ‘sell your culture down the creek’? And who is to say that any so called savings will be passed on to the book buyers and not absorbed by ‘fat cat’ executives (apologies to all felines – no insult intended).



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