'Something that makes us ponder': A virtual book club in Central Queensland, 1928-38
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When considering the question of reading provision in remote regions, Australian historians have tended to focus on the challenge of distributing books and other reading matter affordably across vast and sparsely populated areas. In the back-blocks of Western Queensland between the wars, however, the problem of distribution had been addressed with some success: by mail orders to metropolitan book retailers, subsidised postal rates, local Schools of Arts libraries, the Workers’ Educational Association and, above all, the efficient operations of the Queensland Bush Book Club, which performed extraordinary feats of remote distribution throughout the interwar period. Isolated booklovers could almost take for granted a steady — if somewhat limited and belated — supply of books to read. Two things they could not take for granted, however, were reliable, disinterested and informed advice about what books to choose (where choice was available) and — even more important — the opportunity to share their reading experiences with others. Walter Murdoch once said, ‘It is a basic fact that when you have read a book you want to talk about it.’ That may overstate the case a little, but there is no doubt that the desire to communicate the pleasures, occasional disappointments and sense of discovery in reading books — no matter how solitary the reading experience itself may have been — was and is very strong and widespread, and that single families or households did not then (and do not now) necessarily provide congenial environments for such ‘book talk’.
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Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)