Sometimes Western Australia feels a long way from anywhere. Of course, that can be an attraction. It makes for something distinct and telling: everyone either revels in it or rebels against it, and both are productive in their own way. But now we must resist. The University of Western Australia’s recent decision to close UWA Publishing (at least in its present form) has made the gap between here and the rest of the country yawn. Western Australians need support from other literary communities across Australia if UWAP is to be reinstated.
Being part of the local literary community is a privilege. We are close-knit by necessity, and we are proud, proud of our books, writers, and readers – and of the potential we have to contribute to a thriving national literature, one that can sometimes feel under threat.
I am still trying to find my way as a writer. But I can vouch for the positive influence that UWAP has had on my practice – the books it has published, workshops and launches, and other moments of coming together. What cannot be discounted, too, is the enthusiasm of Terri-ann White and her team. It takes special vim and personality to operate as they do, and to lose a publisher and advocate like Terri-ann would be a travesty. Part of my journey into writing involves work at UWA, in an administrative role at Westerly, and I support the statement put out by the magazine. I saw pathways and possibilities at UWAP, and to have such a valued, progressive, vibrant, and longstanding press in the state belied our isolation. As did the way UWAP consistently punched above its weight under Terri-ann.
UWA’s decision is a blow to the arts and to optimism, and is indicative of something that has fermented for too long across the country, in national debate, and in mysterious funding meetings. I don’t for a second accept that open-access opportunities make up the real reasons for the funding cut, but that might not even be the most salient point: as Emmett Stinson points out in The Conversation, ‘it is laughable to claim UWA Publishing’s cultural impact can simply be replaced through open access’. That’s why UWAP’s likely closure is a national concern: as Stinson notes, ‘when cuts are needed, literature is always first on the chopping block’. That kind of loss is difficult to stomach.
Full disclosure: the already-unstable literary landscape is arguably worse for young writers like myself. Working for a university, I know firsthand the scrabble for casual, sessional, or part-time work that characterises that world. Without access to publication by UWAP, its track record of excellence, and its commitment to literary values in Western Australia, the prospects for those who want to write and engage imaginatively with the place in which they live are scuppered. Please, sign the petition being circulated by Melinda Smith, and complain. Make noise. Indeed, make so much noise that even those with cotton wool in their ears can hear you all the way over here!