By Margaret Blair
I am concerned about the proposed removal of Parallel Import Restrictions, and the effect it could have on the telling of our Australian stories. My concerns are as a parent, grandparent, teacher, reader, and greenie.
As a teacher I’ve taught infants in Government schools and was Education Officer at Dromkeen. I’m in no doubt of the importance of books for young children and in particular books about their world. Children are captivated when a book shows or tells something familiar. I’m not discounting the value and richness of books from other places but it is vital that there is a balance with Australian books. I fear that the number of Australian books will decrease if publishers, authors and illustrators are pushed out of the business by economic pressure.
While I was teaching at a school in Flemington beside the high rise flats, almost all the children came from elsewhere. Picture books were a wonderful way to show them their new country and to incidentally teach them the unique language of Australia. ‘Possum Magic’ was the introduction to some iconic Aussie food.
While working at Dromkeen I became aware of the pressure from US publishers to alter language from Australian English to American English. Do we really want our children talking about cookies, sidewalks and sweaters.
There was also pressure to change illustrations to suit the prim US market. Two examples stand out. In Jeannie Baker’s ‘Where the Forest Meets the Sea’ an illustration showing the country before Europeans had a little boy in a tree as he would have been, without clothes. The US publisher insisted he have some sort of covering over his penis – which by the way you would have needed a magnifying glass to see. The other was a similar prudish response to a baby boy playing nude in a paddling pool in an Alison Lester board book for babies.
My children grew up with their country portrayed in their books, I want the same for my grandchildren. If our books are to be published overseas and then sold to us here we risk losing our language and national values.
As an adult reader and book buyer I have the same concerns as I have about children’s books. I’ve today finished reading Cate Kennedy’s novel ‘The World Beneath’ mostly set in Tasmanian wilderness. There are many references to the Franklin River Blockade – a pivotal piece of our history. Not long ago I read Andrea Goldsmith’s ‘Reunion’ a book set in Melbourne. There is something extra in a well written book when it has familiar places. So many of the books I’ve read over the last year are wonderful Australian books and a good mix of books from all over the world. Surely that’s how it should be.
As someone who is aware of the danger our planet faces from climate change, I can’t see any sense in importing books and adding to carbon emissions when the same books can be published here.
I for one would be willing to pay a bit more for my books if that’s what it takes to protect our literary integrity and our planet.