State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 78 Spring 2006

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From the Editorial Chair

Readers of The La Trobe Journal may not always recognize the depth of research on which articles are based, but no-one could fail to note the sustained effort that has gone into three of the contributions to this number. Wallace Kirsop on B. S. Nayler, Cecily Close on Arthur Greening, and Walter Struve on Kurt Offenburg are presenting the fruit of years of painstaking research. As in each case the subject is a man who had a career elsewhere before coming here, they have ranged far and wide in their attempts to give as full a picture as possible. And in presenting their research to the public, they hope that publication may bring yet more to light.
Wallace Kirsop, an internationally acknowledged authority on book history, was struck by the fact that Dutch researchers have written extensively on B. S. Nayler's bookselling in The Netherlands without realising that he had a later career in Australia as a writer and lecturer; and in Australia his earlier career has gone unrecorded. This carefully researched article on an unusual and talented man establishes what is known about Nayler's life in three countries — ‘or four, if Wales is counted as separate from England’! Wallace Kirsop is continuing to research Nayler's life, with a view to producing a larger work.
In Australia Nayler has been a figure of some interest because of his involvement in the spiritualist movement; but Arthur Greening, until now, has been noticed — if at all — simply as an employee of the Lothian Publishing Company. Early in 2003, I received a letter from David Elder, whom I had known years before when he was deputy to Frank Eyre at Oxford University Press in Melbourne. He was prompted to write after seeing The La Trobe Journal No. 70, in which Cecily Close's article, ‘T. C. Lothian: Lawson's Melbourne Publisher', had appeared. He told me of‘a fascinating elderly man’ who had been his ‘mentor’ when he joined Lothian, and who had been a publisher in England at the turn of the century. What especially interested me about Greening was that ‘his greatest coup’ had been to publish a work rejected by leading publishers: ‘It is hard to believe today but it was The Scarlet Pimpernel.’ I saw the possibility of an article for the Journal. We arranged to meet, but unfortunately I became seriously ill, and it was not until much later that we were able to get together — over a pleasant lunch at the Savage Club — and discuss the project. David agreed that Cecily Close, who has written a thesis on Thomas C. Lothian as publisher, would be the ideal person to write the article, and he gave her what material he had. She was already familiar with Greening's work for Lothian, and undertook further research in London, which uncovered some surprising facts about his identity and his life, both personal and business.
Librarian Walter Struve's interest in the books comprising the Kurt Offenburg Memorial Collection at the State Library led to his becoming curious about the man whom they were intended to honour. Surprisingly, it has proved to be very difficult to piece together the story of a man who was so widely known in Australia for his broadcasts on ABC
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radio before and during the Second World War. In spite of feeling at times that Offenburg ‘was destined to remain an enigma to us in the twenty-first century’, Walter Struve has succeeded in rescuing from seeming oblivion a man who deeply impressed so many of his Australian contemporaries with his contribution to public affairs.
These three articles have all involved laborious searching for sources and checking of facts. Research of a different kind has been undertaken by writer Lyn Gallacher, who recently held a Library Creative Fellowship. With the remarkable Alma Collection to draw upon — it contains over 3500 books on the subject — she has been exploring books of magic at the State Library. I suspect that her entertaining account of what she discovered may tempt some readers to look up some of the books she mentions and follow her example.
To further diversify this number, we have contributions from two distinguished bookmen who are long-time supporters of the State Library. Don Charlwood, author the much-loved novel, All the Green Year, and The Long Farewell (based on shipboard diaries of nineteenth-century emigrants) among other books, gives a personal glimpse of the family business established by his great-grandfather. (No-one will be surprised to learn that it involved books!) This is Don Charlwood's first appearance as a contributor. Vane Lindesay has appeared in these pages on several occasions, most recently in No. 69, with ‘A Bookman Recalls’, a section of his memoirs, which have since been published by Trojan under the title A Life So Far: Some Fragments Recalled. Himself a distinguished black-and-white artist, he draws upon his legendary expertise in the field of Australian illustrators to focus attention on the little-known artwork of the lyric poet Hugh McCrae.
The cover will have led readers to expect something about the Shakespeare Window, and they will not be disappointed. Mimi Colligan — another zealous researcher — documents the extraordinary history of the window, and Geoffrey Wallace describes the process of restoration. These two articles, which tell so much about the window and its history, are of immediate interest but will no doubt in time become important and authoritative documents in the history of the State Library itself.
Readers of this number will not be surprised to learn that the greatest problem in the preparation of this number of the Journal has been finding enough space.
John Barnes