by Whispering Gums
The first of a two-part series on sources, for those interested in reading and researching Australia’s 19th- and earlier 20th-century women writers, particularly those who may not have achieved prominence in their lifetimes, or whose works have been forgotten and/or overlooked.
Part One focusses on primary sources, that is, on where you can find their actual writings to read for yourselves. This will not be complete, at the time of publishing, but can be added to as further resources come to our attention.
Online and electronic sources
These digitised and electronic sources include those dedicated to specific content, those where works by Australian women writers are part of a larger whole, and those (like our own site) that have been compiled from several sources to focus on Australian women writers. All are useful, in some way, but which one you go to first can depend on what you are looking for. There can be quite a bit of overlap, particularly between sources drawing on works in the public domain (out of copyright). The list is divided into two, one mainly Australian and the other international, in alphabetical order by name of site.
- The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database: a project of To Be Continued. Contains over 21,000 works of fiction (not all Australian) located through the National Library of Australia’s Trove newspaper digitisation project. Some specific works are listed on the site, as via the database.
- Australian Women Writers. Stories from Online Archives: AWW-produced page, which contains a list of further pages organised by period, mostly decades. Click on the appropriate decade to retrieve works published in that decade. Works have been gleaned from many of the sites listed here and some value-add information is provided, particularly regarding specific access conditions.
- Project Gutenberg Australia: an Internet site, founded in 2001, which provides access to free ebooks or e-texts which are in the public domain in Australia, which means the site includes both Australian and non-australian works. Includes some excellent curated Australiana content.
- Trove. Newspapers and Gazette database: good source of stories and serialised novels published in Australian newspapers, from the beginning of newspaper publishing in Australia, in 1803. (See The Australian Fiction Newspaper Database, above)
- University of Sydney. Australian Digital Collections: a collection of Australian literary and historical texts, including fiction, poetry, plays and non-fictional works, gleaned from various sources, and by all genders. All texts are searchable, and in PDF format.
- Untapped Project: Australian project launched in 2021, which aims to make significant out-of-print Australian books – across all genres, including children’s books – accessible, in electronic form, via public libraries and for purchase from e-booksellers.
- Forgotten Books: London-based book publisher focused on restoring old books, fiction and non-fiction. Has well over 1 million books available to read online, download as ebooks, or purchase in print. Using “Advanced Search”, filtered by author, I found authors like Ada Cambridge, and Ethel Turner.
- Google Books: a multi-pronged service established by Google in 2004, that offers a range of access to books from full-view, through previews and snippets, to no view at all.
- Hathi Trust: an American site, founded in 2008, that “preserves and provides lawful access to the 17+ million digitized items”, from around the world. While anyone can search the database, the best access is through membership of a “partner institution” or as a guest via services like Google
- Internet Archive: a non-profit library of millions of free books and other online content. The Open Library is a project of the Internet Archive, and provides online digital copies, in multiple formats, of many public domain, out-of-print, and in-print books.
- Project Gutenberg: the first online provider of eBooks, PG has over 60,000 books available from around the world, focusing on older works for which U.S. copyright has expired. While there is an overlap with the the Australian sister site (PGA), there can be Australian books here that aren’t in PGA.
By this, of course, we mean published, printed editions of our writers’ works. Over the decades, many presses and imprints have published past or classic works by Australian women writers. Some of these are currently active while others have folded or been discontinued. I have included some of the latter, as their books can still be found in libraries and secondhand book shops. Many of the listed imprints were small and did not last long. The list is alphabetical by imprint/publisher.
- Australian Classics Library: small series from Sydney University Press of 12 classic Australian works, including three by women writers (Barbara Baynton, Rosa Cappiello and Henry Handel Richardson.)
- Colonial Texts Series (1988-2004?): small series imprint of the University of New South Wales Press, comprising scholarly editions of works from colonial Australia, including novels by Ada Cambridge, Tasma (Jessie Couvreur) and Catherine Martin.
- Grattan Street Press (2017- ): teaching press from the University of Melbourne, with their first collection being a Colonial Australian Popular Fiction series which included works by Ellen Davitt and Louise Mack.
- House of Books: imprint of Allen & Unwin which offers “affordable print [mostly print-on-demand] and ebook editions of the Australia’s “most significant and enduring writers and their work”, across all forms and genres (that is, fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry).
- Imprint Classics (c. 1990s): imprint of Angus and Robertson, which published older Australian works by all genders, including by Barbara Baynton, Eleanor Dark, Katharine Susannah Prichard, and Tasma (Jessie Couvreur). Their editions included introductions by writers and critics, such as Elizabeth Webby. (See also A&R’s Australian Classics series)
- Forgotten Books: see under “Online and electronic sources”, above.
- Pandora Press: co-founded by Dale Spender. Included an Australian Women Writers Literary Heritage series.
- Penguin Australian Women’s Library (1988-1991): a small series of books published by Penguin Books, for which Dale Spender was a commissioning editor. Comprised, primarily, new editions of works by little-known Australian women writers from the past, such as Ada Cambridge, Dymphna Cusack, Mary Gaunt.
- Seal Books (1968-1970s): paperback imprint of Rigby, encompassing a wide range of Australian authors, contemporary and some past. Past women included M. Barnard Eldershaw, Dame Enid Lyons.
- Text Classics (2012- ): imprint of Text Publishing, focussing on the “lost marvels” of Australian literature, by writers of all genders. Includes introductions by writers, academics and critics. An excellent starting place for current publishing of older Australian works, particularly (but not exclusively) from the mid-twentieth century on. Still publishing.
- Virago (1973- ): founded by Carmen Callil to primarily publish women writers and redress the gender imbalance in publishing. Its list is international, but Australian authors include Marjorie Barnard, Jean Devanny, Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Henry Handel Richardson, and Christina Stead.
Whispering Gums, aka Sue T, has a Bachelor of Arts, with an English Literature major, and a Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, but she spent the majority of her career as an audio-visual archivist. Taking early retirement, she engaged actively in Wikipedia, writing and editing articles about Australian women writers, before turning to litblogging in 2009. Australian women writers have been her main reading interest since the 1980s.