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THE AUSTRALIAN POCKET LIBRARY BRUCE SUTHERLAND THE widespread indifference to the fate of Australian books has long been a matter of annoyance to all who are interested in the welfare of Australian letters. The matter has been discussed in anger and in sorrow by the interested few the world over. These voices in the wilderness formed a chorus which kept the subject alive but offered no acceptable solution. With the war came a crystallization of the problem and, under the most adverse conditions, a solution was found that augurs well for the future of Australian classics. At a time when thousands of men and women in uniform were creating a demand for anything in print, Australian book stocks were even more depleted than usual, and wa.r-time' paper shortages made it impossible to correct the situation. An opportunity was lost, for thousands of bookminded Americans never did see the inside of an Australian book, but on one of the horns of this dilemma the Australian Pocket Library was born. The Commonwealth Literary Fund, since 1908 an active force in furthering the cause of Australian culture, aided by an annual government grant of about $15,000, agreed to underwrite the reprinting of standard, out-ofprint books, in cheap editions, in order to alleviate the book famine. Arrangements were made with publishers, an Advisory Board selected twentythree initial titles, and in 1944 the first of the reprints began to appear.* It was an experiment embarked upon cautiously for though cheap, paperback reprints had long been successful in countries with large populations and organized sales agencies, no such thing had ever before been attempted in Australia. Imagine the surprise of the sceptics when the first of these unprepossessing paper-backs ran through editions of 25,000, at prices ranging from ls/3d to 2s/, with as much ease as a Penguin-this in a country of a little over seven million people. There is still some scepticism, and the Sydney Bulletin's plaint that "one does not establish a library of classics in paper-back formae' has some. validity, but a great stride forward has been made, for many Australians have become aware of their own literature for the first time in their lives. Should,other peoples come to know, and approve, the Pocket Library, the demand for more permanent editions will follow naturally. Meanwhile, this amazing war baby has outgrown its swaddling clothes, and an additional thirty titles may very shortly follow the original twenty-three. It is always easy to quarrel with a selected list of books and to damn it, if for no other reason than its glaring omissions. Not all the books one *Although the Pocket Library is subsidized by the Australian government, the individual volumes were printed and published by those publishers who held the copyrights. -The most convenient method of obtaining any or all of the volumes is through the agency of Angus and Robertson, Ltd., 89 Castlereagh St., Sydney. 68 THE AUSTRALIAN POCKET LIBRARY 69 would li~e to :See are in the Australian Pocket Library. The current list is top-heayy with the work of living authors, and some of the choices are open to question, but taken all in all a good beginning has been made. Besides fiction, poetry, and essays, there are readable studies in the fields of history, science, description, travel, and adventure-all designed to give a more intimate picture of Australia to Australians as well as to their friends in other parts of the world. Readability and popular appeal have rightly helped to govern the choice of books and the result provides a satisfactory introduction to Australian life and letters. A more definitive selection can come only with the passage of time when interest in the subject has expanded both at home and abroad. The three poets represented in the Pocket Library series do not challenge a place for themselves among the great in English literature. They are not even the greatest among the poets of Australia. They are, however, the recorders of a tradition that is distinctively Australian, a part of the pioneering vanguard that must precede an age of song. Balladists, for the most part, with little...


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