The following is an edited version of a speech given by Peter Watts AM at the launch of Gardens of history and imagination: growing New South Wales, published by Sydney University Press, on 23 June 2016 at the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight to launch this really wonderful book. It’s a book with multiple themes, multiple authors and multiple ideas – all of them fascinating and full of new information.

But first I have to give you the context for doing this launch tonight.

I had hung up my hat on doing openings and launches some years back. I had had just a few too many of them in my time! So why am I here?


The Sydney University Press team – (L to R) Hannah, Agata, Phil, Denise and Susan

It had been tentatively planned for almost 12 months, but last Friday the Sydney University Press team finally got to see another side of the publishing industry.


Abandoned books in Pripyat, Ukraine

Abandoned books in Pripyat, Ukraine. Photo by Magalie L'Abbé, 2011, via Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

By Phil Jones and Denise O'Dea

On Saturday, 23 April 2016, UNESCO celebrates books and literacy as part of the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day. UNESCO’s idea that books should be seen as global symbols of social progress is one that resonates with us here at Sydney University Press. As scholarly publishers we aim to publish books that engage, inspire and stimulate debate. Books and the written word have the capacity to change the lives of individuals, and to change society.

If creating a book can change the world, what can taking away a book do? In 1996, the year of the first World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO also compiled “Lost Memory”, a list of libraries and archives destroyed during the twentieth century. In a sombre counterpoint to the celebrations of World Book and Copyright Day, it documents libraries lost to war, vandalism, natural disaster and neglect. As Hans van der Hoeven notes in his introduction, “books, periodicals and manuscripts constitute the collective ‘Memory of the World’”; when we lose one, we forget a piece of our past. While celebrating World Book and Copyright Day, we took a moment to remember some of these “lost” books and libraries


Stacks of paperback books

Photo by jvoves, 2009, via Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

By Eisha Farrukh

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.” – Malala Yousafzai

The twenty-third of April commemorates an eventful day for world literature. On this date in 1616, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega both died, leaving their final mark on the world. Since then, other notable authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Maurice Druon, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Josep Pla and Halldór K. Laxness were either born or passed away on the same date. As a tribute to the contribution of such creative greats to the social and cultural progress of humanity, UNESCO created World Book and Copyright Day.


Image of Aborignal art

Image by esther1721, Pixabay, CC0 1.0 Universal

By Eisha Farrukh

In 2014 Ken Wyatt, Australia’s first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, urged the public to not ‘lose momentum’ in the push for constitutional recognition as the referendum date was and is constantly delayed, an acknowledgement long overdue for the original inhabitants of Australia. But there is a greater issue, even beyond the question of legal recognition, that the Indigenous communities face in preserving their culture. The Indigenous cultures of Australia, rich with 65,000 years of tradition, are faced with the threat of being lost and forgotten due to our increasingly globalised environment, promoting the process of assimilation and cultural integration. Luckily, 21st-century media platforms have enabled the preservation of practices that were previously passed down intergenerationally through the oral tradition from elders.


“For individuals who chose to break society’s most fundamental rules, the stakes could be very high indeed.” Image by George Henry Dancey (1864-1922), “The New Woman’s Ball” (detail), Punch, 11 April 1895.

An internet search on recent discussions of cross-dressing in the media reveals a myriad of articles, ranging from toddlers to be taught about sexuality and cross-dressing in a new Australian national program, to Newtown Performing Arts school being criticised for allowing cross-dressing, to traditional Indonesian cross-dressing performance art under threat from authorities who are denying them the ability to perform on television. It is clear that cross-dressing, sexual and gender identity remain highly contentious topics in wider society. Lucy Chesser’s Parting with my Sex frames cross-dressing as “disruptive of stable binaries – not just male and female, or heterosexual and homosexual, but across culture more generally. [It] intervenes the crisis of category itself.”


Today, 8 March is International Women’s Day, a celebration of the social, cultural and other achievements of women. This year’s theme, ‘Pledge for Parity’, is encouraging people across the world to be aware of and take action to achieve gender parity.


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