Sunday, November 23, 2008


I am just back from three enjoyable and interesting days in Dunedin. I was there along with four other “old hands” from the publishing world – Wendy Harrex, Gerard Reid, Barbara Larson and Elizabeth Caffin , (Anna Rogers had also been invited but was unable to attend at the last minute) - at the invitation of Dr.Shef Rogers who along with Dr.Noel Waite, (author of Books for a Nation – The Whitcoulls Story), and three other University of Otago colleagues - Lachy Patterson, Donald Kerr, Tony Ballantyne - is preparing a History of the Book in New Zealand.
Shef Rogers is particularly responsible for the years 1970 to the present so the NZ book industry during that time was the focus of our discussions. I joined the book trade, as a bookseller in Napier, just a year or two before this period so what a nostalgic journey our deliberations proved for me.
Shef, (short for Sheffield by the way), had cleverly asked each of us to select and bring with us 10 or so images we regarded as significant from the period to present to the group. There were no suggestions or examples given so it was especially interesting to see the images that we each took along.
For the record my ten images were largely photos of authors and book jackets including:
Pounamu Pounamu & Tangi – Witi Ihimaera
Waiariki – Patricia Grace
The Bone People – Keri Hulme – The Spiral Collective
Frank Sargeson – A Life – Michael King
Wrestling with the Angels - A Life of Janet Frame – Michael King
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Plus the five authors of the above titles
To these books and authors I added:
Margaret Mahy, The Robert Burns Fellowship
The Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship
And all writers residencies and fellowships, laureates etc. Of course there were many other authors and titles whom I could have included but most of these were covered by other members of the group - Fiona Kidman, Owen Marshall, James McNeish, Maurice Gee, C.K.Stead, Robin Hyde, Katherine Mansfield and so on.

Others came at the subject from a completely different direction so that we had logos of Copyright Licensing Ltd., the Book Publishers Association which was formed buy the merger of two earlier associations, NZBTO the first joint marketing approach by booksellers and publishers, photographs of prominent booksellers and publishers, records of publishers and distributors and printers now long gone, heaps of other stuff, and of course man other book jackets and authors.
Collectively all of these diverse images made for a great deal of discussion and a useful basis on which to start drawing up a time line for the history of the book in New Zealand these past 40 years.
I'm sure you can imagine the variety of topics we covered.
Everything from the earlier practice of booksellers "indenting" books, the closed market, parallel importing, the enormous growth of local publishing with the multinational publishers playing such a huge role, the myriad of smaller local publishers, the independent booksellers and the chains, the growth of NZ book exports, attendance at international book fairs, book awards, the blossoming of Maori writers, Listener Women's Book Festival, the commission sales rep, the growth of children's book publishing, educational publishing, Wendy Pye, Books in Homes, John Griffin & the UBS bookshops, James K Baxter and Sam Hunt, Smith's Dream and the movie Sleeping Dogs, the biographical writing of Michael King, printing in New Zealand versus Australia and Asia, the enormous sale of cookbooks, the huge improvement in the quality of every aspect of NZ publishing, leading book designers, the digital world, orginal paperback publishing.
I could fill pages with the subjects we discussed but these examples will give you some idea of the extent and wide range of them.
Their plan is to research and write the book over the next two years and for it to be published in 2011.
If any readers of this blog wish to make any comments or suggestions, they will be welcomed, then contact either:
Shef Rogers –
Noel Waite –

Other Dunedin highlights:

The out of town visitors were accommodated in the very comfortable and well-sighted Executive Residence, a University-owned boutique accommodation centre used by visiting fellows, out-of-town MBA students, and other university visitors which offers spacious accommodation and close proximity to both the campus and city.

It has 24 Queen sized rooms with restaurant, bar, Sky TV, guest laundry, wireless Internet connection , (which you have to pay for, something The Bookman objects to, this should be a standard service, just like the laundry facility, and not something you have to pay extra for!), and when the Residence is not required fully by university visitors, which is often, private individuals can stay there at $100 per night. I will certainly stay there again, esepcially if they make the Internet access free of charge.

I enjoyed wonderful meals at PLATO, a buzzy restaurant down by the harbour that specializes in fish, and at SCOTIA which is located in the glorious Dunedin railway station .The food at both establishments was outstanding. (Scotia has over 300 scotch whiskys available in the bar).

The railway station is now largely unused for railway purposes although the Taieri Gorge Railway half day return excursions operate from here.

I would like to have taken that trip but it will have to wait for another day.

While at PLATO I met a group of nine women who were enjoying their book group’s annual dinner. I applauded the name of their group – The No. 1 Ladies Cheerful Book Club. I’m sure Alexander Mccall Smith would approve!

Briefly noted:
My earlier reference to Dunedin’s Public Library celebrating its centennial on 2 December in which I noted their claim that they were the first free public library in New Zealand has brought forth a number of suggestions from readers of the blog that this is not the case. One suggested to me that Auckland had a free public library in 1877. Can someone from the library community advise me on this matter?

The Otago Daily Times had a full page (no advertising filling any part of it) of book reviews yesterday, Saturday November 22, including a long and enthusiastic review of The Best New Zealand Fiction 5 Edited by Owen Marshall, Vintage $35 by Lawrence Jones, emeritus professor of English and former Chair of the Montana NZ Book Awards judging panel.

The Otago Scottish Heritage Council are presenting their annual Scottish Week 22 – 30 November with a raft of activities promoting all things Scottish in the city.

The Anna & John Caelberg Charitable Trust has artists and writers residencies at Broad Bay on Otago Peninsular which I had not heard about previously. Anna Caselberg was an artist and the daughter of one of New Zealand’s best-known painters Sir Toss Woolaston, while John Caelberg was a poet, playwright and essayist who held the Burns Fellowship in 1961
I also managed to fit in a couple of hours at the spendid University Bookshop although sadly my old friend Bill Noble who manages this outstanding independent boostore was away at the time..
Coming from Auckland one of the things one immediately notices is the absence of traffic and the ease and availability of parking (except at the airport!). Of course at present the students are absent from the city which gives the place, especially on campus, a feeling of a somewhat deserted village. I do not know how many student attend the University of Otago but they must represent a faily significant % of the population and economy of Dunedin.

1 comment:

Vanda Symon said...

If you gush too much about Dunedin, everyone will want to move here too!