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‘Something that makes us ponder’: A virtual book club in Central Queensland, 1928–38

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2015

Patrick Buckridge*
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When considering the question of reading provision in remote regions, Australian historians have tended to focus on the challenge of distributing books and other reading matter affordably across vast and sparsely populated areas. In the back-blocks of Western Queensland between the wars, however, the problem of distribution had been addressed with some success: by mail orders to metropolitan book retailers, subsidised postal rates, local Schools of Arts libraries, the Workers’ Educational Association and, above all, the efficient operations of the Queensland Bush Book Club, which performed extraordinary feats of remote distribution throughout the interwar period. Isolated booklovers could almost take for granted a steady — if somewhat limited and belated — supply of books to read. Two things they could not take for granted, however, were reliable, disinterested and informed advice about what books to choose (where choice was available) and — even more important — the opportunity to share their reading experiences with others. Walter Murdoch once said, ‘It is a basic fact that when you have read a book you want to talk about it.’ That may overstate the case a little, but there is no doubt that the desire to communicate the pleasures, occasional disappointments and sense of discovery in reading books — no matter how solitary the reading experience itself may have been — was and is very strong and widespread, and that single families or households did not then (and do not now) necessarily provide congenial environments for such ‘book talk’.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2015 

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1 Wagner, Robin, ‘“A blood-stained corpse in the butler's pantry”: The Queensland Bush Book Club’, Queensland Review 18 (1) (2011), 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Quoted in ‘Reading circles’, Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA), 10 December 1929, 2.

3 Not universal, however. For some recent examples of professed book-lovers with no interest in book talk with others, see Buckridge, Patrick, Murray, Pamela and Macleod, Jock, Reading Professional identities: The boomers and their books(Brisbane: Institute for Cultural Policy Studies, Griffith University, 1995), p. 9Google Scholar.

4 It is important to acknowledge at least one important exception to this not especially bold generalisation, and that is the epistolary circle of Australian women writers so memorably identified and given voice by Ferrier, Carole (ed.) in As good as a yarn with you: Letters between Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)Google Scholar. This group is surely the exception that proves the rule!

5 See Mirmohamadi, Kylie, ‘The “Federation of Literary Sympathy”: The Australasian Home Reading Union’, in Kirkpatrick, Peter and Dixon, Robert (eds), Republics of letters: Literary communities in Australia (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2012), pp. 1726Google Scholar.

6 Ewers, John Keith. Long enough for a joke: An autobiography (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1983), pp. 126–8Google Scholar.

7 For a discussion of these Western Australian initiatives, see my article, ‘Rescuing reading: Strategies for arresting the decline of reading in West Australian newspapers between the wars’, in a forthcoming issue of Australian Literary Studies.

8 McDonald, Lorna, Rockhampton: A history of city and district (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1981), pp. 465–6Google Scholar.

9 ‘Our Naturalists’ Club’, Capricornian, 13 November 1926, 51.

10 Our Naturalists’ Club’, Capricornian, 13 November 1926, 51.

11 ‘Naturalist Club’ reports can also be found during the 1920s in the Brisbane Courier, the Queenslander and the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser.

12 Anderson, Hugh, ‘Vennard, Alexander Vindex (1884–1947)’, Australian dictionary of biography (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University)Google Scholar,

13 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 3 March 1927, 11.

14 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 3 March 1927, 11.

15 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 3 March 1927, 11.

16 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 19 May 1927, 10.

17 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 19 May 1927, 10.

18 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 1 November 1928, 9; 3 January 1929, 9. The ‘bena cut’ has been described as follows: ‘The operation is extremely simple. The tail of a scorpion is cut off, and the arm scratched with the thong-like sting at the end of the tail, until a little blood is drawn; then the tail is bent, and the grey marrow (which is separate from the bag of poison at the base of the sting) is rubbed on. This causes a very slight swelling, but no pain.’ Gwen Richardson, On the diamond trail (1925), quoted in Robinson, Jane (ed.), Unsuitable for ladies: An anthology of women travellers(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 427Google Scholar.

19 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 13 June 1929, 12.

20 McDonald, Rockhampton, pp. 479, 484.

21 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 16 May 1929.

22 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 29 November 1928, 31.

23 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 4 April 1929, 12.

24 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 9 May 1929, 10.

25 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 27 June 1929, 11.

26 ‘All quiet on Western Front’, Central Queensland Herald, 15 May 1930, 12; ‘Book Club’, Central Queensland Herald, 27 March 1930, 13; 24 April 1930, 12; 1 May 1930, 12; 6 November 1930, 11; 18 December 1930, 11; 20 November 1930, 11.

27 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian, 11 April 1929, 11.

28 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian 14 November 1929, 11.

29 ‘Bush Philosophy’, Capricornian 21 November 1929, 7.

30 ‘Bush Philosophy, Capricornian, 27 September 1928, 11.

31 ‘Literary Gems’ sections were a relatively common feature of Australian book pages between the wars. This one ran from the end of October 1929 to May 1930, and reveals a strong preference for Longfellow, followed by Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. (Several ‘gems’ are sent in with ‘author unknown’, which is supplied by the Editor.)

32 ‘Book Club’, Central Queensland Herald, 23 January 1930, 10.

33 ‘Book Club’ Central Queensland Herald, 30 June 1932, 11.

34 The last ‘Book Club’ appeared on Thursday, 10 November 1932. The following week, ‘Our Free Lance Page’ appeared in its place.

35 Juvenal, ‘Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes’.

36 ‘Our Free Lance Page’, Central Queensland Herald, 8 December 1932, 12.

37 ‘Book Club’, Central Queensland Herald, 18 December 1930, 11.

38 See, for example, ‘Book Club’, Central Queensland Herald, 4 December 1930, 11; 3 July 1930, 11; 4 June 1931, 12.