State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 80 Spring 2007


Tony Marshall
On Being the Editor

Manuscript Librarians and editors share some common concerns and interests — permanence, development and continuity (in the building of their collections and of their publications). Perhaps that is why the two positions once seemed to fit together. When I became Manuscripts Librarian at the State Library of Victoria in 1982 and Editor of the La Trobe Library Journal in 1983, I succeeded Paul Macpherson and, before him, John Thompson in both positions. John himself had taken over from the foundation editor, Geoff Serle, for issue No. 21 (April 1978).
I inherited from Paul a new and happy relationship with the Ruskin Press in North Melbourne and with its representative, Don McMurdie, who steered me, as a novice editor, past many rocks. It was a world of printing technology which is worth remembering — of galley proofs and page proofs, pasting up, and much more that has largely disappeared.
Before I went solo as Editor of No. 32 (December 1982) I dipped my toe in as co-Editor with Paul Macpherson of No. 31 (April 1983). But I had for several earlier issues prepared the (then) annual ‘select list of accessions to the Australian Manuscripts Collection’, and transcribed and edited items from the Collection. Revisiting the issues of the Journal with which I was involved has been an intensely nostalgic experience, involving encounters with old friends from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I'll say something of the more recent ones later: but of the earlier friends, I have fond memories of the pioneering settler and diarist Anthony Beale, of Fitzroy and later St Helena (No. 25); of the English doctor Edward Young, who came on a trip to Melbourne for the sake of his health in 1861 (No. 29); and especially of Thomas Davis and his mates in the Kangaroo Flat Ramblers Bicycle Club (No. 32).
As Editor I claim several initiatives which, in the long term, might be insignificant but which exercised me considerably at the time. Two of them went hand-in-hand — changing the cover design and changing the issue dates from ‘April’ and ‘October’ to ‘Autumn’ and ‘spring’. The latter might seem minor, but for an Editor with a tendency to procrastination it bought a month or two of legitimate extra time. The change in cover design was more momentous, because the same design — using Thomas Woolner's medallion of C.J. La Trobe — had been in use from No. 1 (April 1968) until No. 36 (December 1985). I felt it was time for a change, and accordingly consulted Lance Stirling, a highly regarded graphic designer who happened to be a choral-singing acquaintance. He created a design which used several iconic nineteenth-century images and provided space for an image representative of each specific issue. This design was only used four times, but it marked a permanent departure from the old Woolner design. (Those who eventually spurned his design should now be told that in 1996 Lance was inducted into the Australian Graphic Design Association's Hall of Fame.)

Front cover of the first number of the La Trobe Library Journal.

Front cover of the La Trobe Library Journal No. 38.

I also published what was then the largest issue yet, Derek Drinkwater's edition of E. Morris Miller's ‘some Public Library memories’ (No. 35). At forty pages, it was substantially larger than the 16–32 page issues which preceded it, though in comparison with more recent issues it was a minnow.
Most of the issues I published were not themed, or only partly so. But in issue No. 34 (October 1984) I attempted some recognition of the sesquicentenary of European settlement in Victoria, and had great fun combing the Manuscripts Collection for representative and entertaining letters and diaries from the first fifty years of settlement (1835–85).
More substantially, I worked with Tess Kloot to publish in No. 38 (Spring 1986) a selection of material from, and about, the extensive archives of (in fact, material collected by) the then Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union — now Birds Australia. This issue included extracts from R.E. Trebilcock's fascinating letters and diaries written during an ornithological expedition to Siberia in 1903, as well as the beginnings of the youthful D. L. Serventy's ‘Regular correspondence…on matters ornithological’ with the eminent F. B.
Lawson Whitlock. Serventy lived in Maddington, then an outer suburb of Perth. I happened at the time to be reading, with great enjoyment, the autobiographical short stories of T. A. G. Hungerford, who had written about both his childhood at Maddington and his journey to some of the areas visited by Trebilcock in 1903. I sent a copy of this issue to Mr Hungerford and received a very generous letter of reminiscence in return. (This issue also taught me the need for thorough research. I had misread Serventy's address and in consequence had to insert in every copy an erratum slip — ‘For “Waddington” read “Maddington” throughout’.)
My final journal as Editor was a swansong, though I didn't know it at the time. In late 1989 I curated an exhibition entitled ‘Collected Lives’ which drew on material acquired by the Australian Manuscripts Collection from 1985 to 1989. Although I was no longer the Editor of the Journal, it gave me great pleasure to return to prepare No. 44 (Spring 1989), using illustrations of, and extracts from, my favourite items in the exhibition. The Journal was launched at the 1989 donors' party. Soon afterwards I left the State Library, first on temporary secondment to the Public Record Office of Victoria and then to a permanent position at the State Library of Tasmania.
But, as I have said, I left with many fond memories of the people I encountered during my editorship. Some of them have since died — Philip Brown, John Randell, John Holroyd — while others have remained in my thoughts and sometimes in contact.
I will be forever grateful for my associations with both the Australian Manuscripts Collection and the Journal — for the skills and knowledge which I developed in both, for the people with whom I came into contact and for the appreciation which they both gave me of contributing to useful, continuing and long-term endeavours.