In November, Melbourne University Publishing will release the two-hundredth title in the second numbered series of its Miegunyah Press imprint. This is Doing Feminism: Women’s art and feminist criticism in Australia, compiled and edited by Anne Marsh, art historian and Professorial Research Fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Doing Feminism is a highly appropriate work to mark this publishing milestone. First, it is a major, intellectually rich, culturally significant, and lavishly produced work, and thus an expression of the best traditions of the Miegunyah Press. Doing Feminism represents more than 220 artists and groups with 370 colour illustrations punctuated by extracts from artists’ statements, curatorial writing, and social critique.
Secondly, the publication of this title through the Miegunyah Press suggests our awareness that the world we are now publishing for is far removed, not only in time, from that of the early 1950s, when Sir Russell Grimwade – industrialist, philanthropist, forest conservationist, and one-time deputy chancellor of the University of Melbourne – made provision in his will for extensive resources to be afforded to Melbourne University Press. We now have a considerably broader sense of what art, culture, politics and aesthetics are and can be.
It was Russell’s hope that the family home, ‘Miegunyah’, set on three acres in Toorak, would become the offices of MUP, with space set aside for a printery and a residence for the press Manager.
The first ‘Miegunyah’ title was a biography of Russell by John Poynter, released in 1967. However, a second work (Return to Tahiti: Bligh’s second Breadfruit Voyage, by Douglas Oliver) did not appear until 1988. Both books were actually underwritten by MUP, and although Russell died in 1955 and his wife Lady Mabel (Mab) in 1973, it was not till 1990 that the resolution of issues with their wills enabled the broad fulfilment of their intention to support MUP. Peter Ryan, Director of MUP between 1962 and 1988, had long waited in fruitless frustration for the promised Grimwade financial cavalry to arrive.
It proved impracticable for the University to retain the Grimwade family home; an application to the Supreme Court that this be allowed to be sold was approved; University Russell and Mab Grimwade Bequests were established with rules governing the amount of funds to be made available for MUP each year, and on what terms; and an initial, numbered series of highly specialised, collectible publications was initiated.
This first series of eighteen titles, funded by and acknowledging the Miegunyah Bequests, was published under the MUP name. The second series, with a broader publishing remit and the Miegunyah Press imprint, commenced in 1995.
The particular flavour of the Press since then has derived primarily from the publication of books that reflect the interests of Russell’s enquiring mind: history, literature, art, botany and nature – above all ‘Australiana’ – and from the high design and production values of Miegunyah Press books that the bequest made possible.
Numerous Miegunyah Press publications have won major awards; among them An Eye for Eternity: The life of Manning Clark, by Mark McKenna, Journeyings: The biography of a middle-class generation 1920–1990, by Janet McCalman, Jim Davidson’s biography of Louise Hanson-Dyer, Lyrebird Rising, Ken Inglis’s Sacred Places: War memorials in the Australian landscape, and Jennifer Isaacs’s Tiwi: Art / History / Culture.
Melbourne University Publishing is extremely fortunate to be the recipient of funds from this bequest, the only one of its kind in Australia. (A model for Russell may have been the Clarendon Fund, of Oxford University.)
I personally am looking forward with excitement to further, signature Miegunyah Press titles coming through later this year: William Cooper: An Aboriginal life story, by Bain Attwood, and works by writers who are already very much part of the Miegunyah Press story: The Architecture of Devotion: James Goold and his legacies in colonial Melbourne, by Jaynie Anderson, Max Vodola, and Shane Carmody; and Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria, by Janet McCalman.