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October 31, 2023

Researchers investigate independent publishing in regional Australia

By Kim Wilkins


A large-scale research project is investigating independent publishing in Australia’s regional areas. Researchers from three universities are asking the question, how do books and stories flourish so far from the traditional publishing centres of Australia? 

The project, called “Community Publishing in Regional Australia”, is funded through the Australian Research Council, and its partners include Alice Springs Town Council, Burdekin Shire Council, Broken Hill City Council, and Winton Shire Council. The team is rounded out by the Small Press Network, Booktopia, and Busybird Publishing; as well as researchers at The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and Western Sydney University.

We initiated the project because we were curious about the ways that regional Australians, including Indigenous Australians, are using new digital technologies to produce their own books. In many cases, they are doing this collaboratively through anthologies, educational books, local histories, and creative collections. The research aims not only to support effective publishing practices to be shared between communities, but also to enable the book industry to build new relationships and share skills with those communities. 

Over the next two years, our team will visit the partner sites to run workshops on self-publishing, and interview residents who are publishing books. What we learn, we will write up to share as a digital publishing toolkit. Overall, we want to build better understanding of books, writing, and writers from around Australia to benefit creators, audiences, and industry. 

In August, we had our first fieldwork trip. The four academic researchers on the project – Alex Dane, Beth Driscoll, Sandra Phillips and Kim Wilkins – all travelled to Mparntwe/Alice Springs for a week of meetings, workshops and visits. Our trip was timed to follow on from the FNAWN (First Nations Australians Writers Network) annual summit which Sandra attended and spoke at. 

Alice Springs is an important gathering place for culture and storytelling, with a highly active community of readers, writers, and publishers. During our time in Mparntwe, we were able to experience a small taste of this cultural activity and discuss books and publishing with people working with books in many different capacities. We spoke to a range of creators including John Spencer, author of the memoir Both Sides of the Fence, Kathleen Ryder, author of a series of romance novels, and the Arrernte women who run the not-for-profit Running Water Press. Running Water have produced many beautiful books including Arelhekenhe Angkentye – Women’s Talk, Poems of Lyapirtneme from Arrernte Women in Central Australia, and Frank Byrne’s Living in Hope. We found their stories inspiring and informative, and learned so much. 

Following on from Mparntwe, we are organising fieldwork trips to Broken Hill, Winton and Ayr in 2024. We are slowly building a picture of what community publishing is happening across regional Australia, in what genres, and in what formats.

If you’d like to be kept informed about the project, follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (social media accounts maintained by our talented research assistant Caitlin Parker) or email project lead Beth Driscoll [email protected].