An unusual and one hopes successful alliance is about to be announced between Melbourne University Press, the Australia Council and News Limited to publish a monthly literary supplement in The Australian.
The tabloid Australian Literary Review will be published on the first Wednesday of each month, starting 6 September. Copies of the first issue will be available from 2 September at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
This is basically a revival of The Australian’s Review of Books, which was launched with Australia Council funding when Paul Kelly was editor of the Oz in the 1990s, but folded once the funding was withdrawn and Kelly was replaced.
The plans have been cooking for some time and seem to have been unaffected by ructions such as attacks on MUP publisher Louise Adler on the op ed pages of the Oz over her reservations about the co-published book The Howard Factor. Adler feared that book might be seen as biased towards Howard, but The Australian disagreed, and declined to make changes. The editor, Nick Cater, accused Adler of being an example of left wing bias in publishing.
A pertinent question, given this background and The Australian’s prominent role in the culture wars, is who will exercise editorial control over the new supplement. Adler said yesterday that there will be a four person editorial advisory board co-chaired by her and Paul Kelly, and including one representative each from Melbourne University and the Australia Council.
The acting editor is Stephen Matchett, presently a rather Pickwickian columnist for the Oz who also contributes to Gerard and Anne Henderson’s Sydney Institute periodical. The permanent editor will obviously be crucial. The position will be advertised widely soon. If an ideologue of any political color is appointed then the credibility of the new supplement will be badly damaged. One assumes that MUP and the Australia Council would not have associated themselves unless they were confident they could prevent this from happening.
The old Australian’s Review of Books was an excellent publication at its best, albeit that the provision of government funding to News Limited was always going to be controversial. The funding will probably be controversial again, particularly since the new supplement might be seen as unfair competition to independent literary ventures.
Nevertheless, a publication like this might be a real asset. Let’s hope News Limited is able to give the new publication enough freedom to breathe, and let’s hope the literary left give it a chance too.
Nick Cater, who has carriage of the project within News Limited, declined to comment on either the background of his relationship with Adler, or the specifics of editorial control
Declaration: Margaret Simons wrote occasionally for the old Australia Review of Books, and presently has a book contract with Melbourne University Press.