The Australian branch of George Allen and Unwin was established by Patrick Gallagher in the offices of the Australasian Publishing Company in Hornsby on Sydney's north shore in 1976. Allen and Unwin Australia then opened for business with a team of eight in North Sydney on 1 January 1979. 'With its early titles, Allen & Unwin Australia led social sciences publishing'. The establishment of the Australian/ Vogel Award in 1981 'helped propel the publishing company into a wider publishing sphere', and in the early 1980s the firm ventured into publishing fiction. Trade publishing expanded further in the mid-1980s with the appointment of specialist trade publishers.
In 1990, as the purchase of the British parent company by HarperCollins was in progress, Allen and Unwin's Australian directors (Rhonda Black, Paul Donovan, Patrick Gallagher and Peter Eichhorn) effected a management buy-out and 'the company became fully independent, owning the Allen & Unwin imprint throughout the world'. Throughout the 1990s, more trade publishers joined the company, and the list became increasingly commercial in orientation.
In mid-2005, Allen and Unwin was 'one of five major trade publishers in the Australian marketplace and one of the biggest independent publishers in the world'. The company publishes trade fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, an academic list specialising in social sciences and health, and commercial or mass-market titles - about 220 new titles per year in total - all under the Allen and Unwin imprint. The fiction list includes literary, crime and commercial fiction, although the company's reputation as a 'serious publisher' has sometimes slowed mass-market sales. Literary fiction authors at Allen and Unwin have won a range of literary awards, including the Miles Franklin Award on five occasions. Allen and Unwin also has been associated inadvertently with literary hoaxes and impostures; most notably the Helen Darville/ Demidenko affair in 1995, and the revelation in 1996 that Jack (not Paul) Radley wrote the inaugural Australian/Vogel award winning novel, Jack Rivers and Me.
Allen and Unwin represents 'an astute mix' of Australian and overseas publishing houses to the Australian book trade, including ABC Books, Bloomsbury (publisher of the Harry Potter novels), Faber and Faber and Orion Publishing Group. In 2005, '50 per cent of sales were from Australian publishing and agencies, with 50 per cent from overseas agencies'. The company also has developed a 'thriving business in translation rights', especially for children's books, and a 'strategic joint distribution alliance' - Alliance Distribution Services - with Hodder Headline, which commenced business on 1 January 1999.