By Anne Chittleborough
The aim of this dataset is to record the published creative writing by South Australia's women from earliest days to the present time, to record the stories of the writers, and to affirm them as writers. It makes no claim to be evaluative, and includes a range of styles, genres and qualities of writing, representing the variety and extent of women's writing in South Australia over the years.
Any account of this dataset in AustLit necessarily involves a description of the South Australian Women Creative Writers Database (formerly accessed through the South Australian Women website of the State Library of South Australia). This database provided the initial material for South Australian Women Writers, but from the time of its inclusion in AustLit (2001), the dataset has continued to grow, with new material being added as part of the normal AustLit process. It also grew through data collected by Dr Robyn Cadwallader of Flinders University who, jointly funded by Flinders University and the State Library (2002-2003), collected information on relevant material held by the State Library.
Initially conceived as a record of all South Australian writing, the South Australian Women Creative Writers Database had its origin in a project begun in 1995 at Flinders University and carried out by Anne Chittleborough, Graham Tulloch and Rick Hosking, involving collaboration and co-operation with the State Library of South Australia.
Discussions with the Mortlock Australiana Collection at the State Library, and a survey of user needs there, emphasised that there was a demand not just for bibliographies but also for biographical information about writers, and a means of tracing their writings in journals and anthologies. The database was to include all published South Australian women creative writers, including those whose work was included in journals and anthologies alone. 'South Australian' was taken to mean people who were born in South Australia, who moved to South Australia, or who spent a significant time in South Australia: the intention was to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
The number of writers grew exponentially. At the end of 1999 some 640 writers had been identified and added to the database, and since then the number has doubled. It is likely that the subset will never in fact be complete, given that it aims to include a number of lesser-known and self-published writers who are difficult to identify or trace. For many of the writers it has not been possible to find any biographical information. However it is the belief of the compilers that these 'minor' writers and anthologies make a special contribution to any exploration of women's writing and women's lives, and should not be overlooked or crowded out.
The primary records in the original database were biographical. Preliminary work in the field in the preparation of the anthology Hope and Fear : An Anthology of South Australian Women's Writing, 1894-1994 (Anne Chittleborough et al. Adelaide: CRNLE, 1994) had revealed that the human stories behind the writers and their writings were of great interest as a social history of South Australia, providing a record of who had written what over the years and under what circumstances. For this reason, and because the focus of the database was specifically regional, records in the subset reflect a biographical approach which differs somewhat from general AustLit records, containing more local and family detail, and written in a more personal style. In compiling the database there has been a strong emphasis on involving the writers (or in the case of writers no longer living, their families) in the process at all times. This has made possible the collection of information, stories and photographs not available elsewhere.
The bibliographies attached to these writers' records include both their published monographs and works published in other sources. They also include any of the authors' plays which have been produced, even if they have not been published, as it is considered that the public presentation of a play as a performance is a valid 'publication'.
A particular feature of South Australian writing is the representation of writers from Cornish and German backgrounds, and in recent years there has been a revival of interest in writing in the Cornish language. South Australia's nineteenth century women writers were involved in and wrote about religious and temperance movements and legislative reform, and were a leading force behind the granting of Australia's first women's suffrage in 1894. Some writers were the product of the social scene and 'respectability' of Adelaide; others rebelled against it. Reaching a climax during World War I, and reflected particularly in the poetry of the time, was an intense patriotism and nationalism, with many women working in Adelaide's Cheer-up Hut. Nationalism of a different kind led to the birth of the Jindyworobak movement in South Australia in the 1930s.
In more recent times, South Australia's writing scene has been characterised by a spectacular increase in writing for children, by an increase in multicultural writing, and by the growth of regional and special focus writing groups, including the Friendly Street Poets with their regular publication of new work. Wakefield Press, too, has done much to facilitate publication of South Australian writing. And there is a still regrettably small, but growing, representation of South Australian Indigenous voices telling the South Australian story from another perspective.
The South Australian Women Creative Writers Database was conceived and developed as a project about, for and of South Australians. In its inclusion in AustLit's national literary database it makes a substantial contribution to the picture of Australian writing as a whole, but also, in mirroring a discrete segment of the Australian community, reflects the social history of an identifiable geographical and social subset of our national writing and writers.
The South Australian Women Writers database did not initially (1995-1999) include work published on the internet. However, changing times and involvement with AustLit have brought the scope of the subset into line with the AustLit Scope policy. It has also resulted in the inclusion of critical work and reviews which were not within the scope of the original database.
It was not possible to sight all the works listed. Some records in this subset have been included on the authors' unverified advice or with details of publication missing. It was hoped that the benefit from thus noting works which would not otherwise have been identified would outweigh the occasional difficulties caused by inaccuracies, and would at the least provide a starting point for the serious researcher to trace the works.
In this subset of South Australian writing and the biographies of its writers are to be found the hopes and aspirations of a free settlement colony founded on Utopian principles, the hardships and tragedies of settlement in Australia's driest state, glimpses of South Australia's exploration and early Indigenous contact history.
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