A Letter from the Publisher
The February Publisher’s letter, looking at the month ahead for MUP.
Shortly after I arrived at MUP in 2019 Professor Joy Damousi suggested that with the centenary of MUP coming up we should publish a press history.
Perhaps not surprisingly I read many memoirs and histories about books and publishing, so I thought this a fine idea. But who to do it? Eventually the back part of my brain spat out the ideal candidate: Stuart Kells, a fellow book and publishing history enthusiast (some would say obsessive) who has written an award-winning account of Penguin, among other works on the subject. As Jason Steger put it, in an early notice of the book’s appearance: 'Stuart Kells knows his way around the book world like the back of his hand’.
Stuart took on the project with a very tight schedule, the release coinciding with the centenary anniversary of MUP’s first publication: Myra Willard’s History of the White Australia Policy to 1920. While going through archives and backlist in our offices, Stuart found a copy of this rather plainly produced publication and let me know that as an especially rare and valuable book I really should be keeping it in my office or somewhere secure. (There it now resides.)
Of MUP’s centenary history Barry Jones has said: ‘The history of a university press does not promise a gripping read, but Stuart Kells has written a masterpiece. His narrative verve, analytical and biographical skills, opening up some dark cupboards, are outstanding and often mesmerising. A work to cherish.’
Alongside Stuart’s gem, published with The Miegunyah Press, we begin this new year with two other very strong titles: Who Cares? Life on Welfare in Australia by Eve Vincent and The Good Death Through Time by Caitlin Mahar.
Vincent’s Who Cares? is timely. With the Robodebt royal commission continuing and new data from Oxfam revealing the continuing rise of social inequality in Australia, social service delivery is coming under increasing scrutiny. Vincent’s study of the firsthand experiences of welfare recipients allows us to hear a different and often marginal perspective on the success or otherwise of our welfare programs.
Of her book Rick Morton writes: ‘Calm, considered and razor-sharp, this is a work that ought to make a nation wince at the things done in its name.’
Mahar’s The Good Death Through Time, on the other hand, could be said to be timeless in its relevance. We all of course face death and need to think about what it means to die ‘well’. Mahar makes the point, however, that there is unfortunately no historical rational end point that we can get to to resolve these questions. Ultimately, as individuals and societies, we need to make value judgements about complex and challenging questions and situations.
Raimond Gaita commented on the book: ‘In her scrupulously fair and richly informed contribution to “the history of dying”, Caitlin Mahar discloses the historically deep and culturally diverse sources of our disagreements about euthanasia. We argue about what to do, about the spirit in which to do it and even about what is at issue. The Good Death Through Time deepens our understanding of these aspects of our current debates and therefore helps us to establish a critical distance from which to think about them.’
This is a powerful, thoughtful, lucid reckoning with subject matter that we often avoid, but can benefit from, thinking about.
These three authors are exemplary scholarly thinkers and communicators: each of them is as committed to reaching a wide audience as to respecting the conventions and rules of research and evidence. Watch out for Stuart, Eve and Caitlin at upcoming writers festivals this year.
Over the summer break Debbie Argue’s Little Species, Big Mystery: The Story of Homo Floresiensis won the John Mulvaney Book Award, ‘created to acknowledge the significant contribution of individual or coauthored publications to Australian archaeology’ and awarded each year by the Australian Archaeological Association.
Big congratulations to Debbie.
Leah Lui-Chivizhe’s beautiful, inspiring Masked Histories: Turtle Shell Masks and Torres Strait Islander People, also a Miegunyah Press title, was reviewed in Australian Book Review in December, along with James Cotton’s original, innovative story, The Australians at Geneva.
Our 2020 title What Happens Next? Reconstructing Australia After Covid has continued to provide insight into the policy direction of the current federal government, recently evident in the announcement of 180,000 free TAFE courses this year.
I hope to see you at an MUP book launch or one of our other events soon.
Nathan Hollier, CEO of MUP