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Penguin Penguin i(A28218 works by) (Organisation) assertion (a.k.a. Penguin Group (Australia); Penguin Books Australia; Penguin Australia)
Born: Established: 1946 ;
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This history is primarily about Penguin Australia. See also individual entries for Penguin Books Ltd (UK) and Penguin USA.

The Australian branch of Penguin Books Ltd was established in 1946, ten years after its parent company had been founded in the UK by Allen, Richard and John Lane. Based out of a tin shed in Victoria in the inner city suburb of South Melbourne, the operations were until the mid-1950s exclusively as a distributor. When Allen Lane visited Australia in 1953 he instigated a move to Mitcham and the setting up of a head office which could more readily facilitate the business of selling books as well as distributing them.

An Australian list was inaugurated in 1961 by Brian Stonier (Managing Director), Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris, with the first Australian Penguins being published in 1963. These were To the Islands (Randolph Stowe), Kangaroo Tales (edited by Rosemary Wighton) and Three Australian Plays (edited by Alan Seymour). The covers had the penguins standing between two boomerangs' (Dutton, p. 52). Australian artists, including Robert Juniper), Donald Friend and Robin Wallace-Crabbe, were also commissioned to illustrate some of the early covers. In 1964 Penguin again moved its headquarters, this time to Ringwood, and published Donald Horne's The Lucky Country. Although the most successful title to be published by Penguin Australia in the 1960s, the book somewhat surprisingly went through many revised editions over the next twenty-five or more years' (Dutton p. 49).

By 1965 the relationship between Stonier, Dutton and Harris and the parent company in Britain had become strained. In April that year they left to establish their own Australian paperback imprint, Sun Books. The following month Penguin Books Ltd announced that its Australian agency would become a public company - Penguin Books Australia Ltd (Dutton p. 66).

Australia in the 1970s was an era of nationalistic fervour, and Penguin Australia was 'well-run and ready to start stretching its metaphorical wings with an increasing amount of local publishing' (Bob Sessions cited in Dutton, p. 91.). It was also a decade of expansion for Penguin Australia. By the mid-1970s, the company had become one of the country's dominant publishing houses. In 1969 John Hooker had joined the company as chief editor. He subsequently became publisher, and joined forces with general manager John Michie who became Managing Director in 1971. Hooker is especially remembered for publishing 'radical' titles, including social histories such as Kevin Gilbert's Living Black (1977) and Anne Summers's Damned Whores and God's Police (1975). The beginning of the decade also saw Penguin Books Ltd and all of its international divisions bought out by Pearson Longman (later Pearsons plc). The Australian division nevertheless continued to provide opportunities for Australia authors, with 15 percent of the Australian company's turnover being local. Other authors to be published during the 1970s included: Kenneth Cook (Wake in Fright, 1971), Thomas Keneally (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, 1973), D'Arcy Niland) (The Shiralee, 1975), Ruth Park (Harp in the South, 1975) and Helen Garner (Monkey Grip, 1977). The decade also saw the establishment of the Australian Puffin Club (1977).

Publishing Director Brian Johns extended the company's publishing aspirations in the 1980s by co-publishing some innovative independent's lists, including those of Omnibus and McPhee Gribble (1983). While the late 1980s saw major changes take place, notably when several key executives in the company changed, the Australian-originated list 'almost literally doubled' in size (Dutton p. 222). It was in this period that McPhee Gribble, Greenhouse and the Lloyd O'Neil group of companies were acquired by Penguin. Other significant developments included establishing the Earlybird Book Club (1982) and the acquisition of several publishing houses - including Michael Joseph, Hamish Hamilton and Sphere Books (1985). McPhee Gribble was also eventually bought out by Penguin in 1989. By the end of the decade locally-written titles were responsible for 32.5 percent of the Australia division's revenue.

Titles to be published by Penguin Australia the 1980s included Turtle Beach (Blanche d'Alpuget, 1981), Evil Angels (John Bryson, 1985), Unreal (Paul Jennings , 1985), A Short History of Australia (Manning Clark, 1987), Don't Take Your Love to Town (Ruby Langford, 1988) and Inside Black Australia (edited by Kevin Gilbert, 1988).

In the wake of the bi-centenary celebrations in 1988 the early 1990s saw Australian titles reach 40 percent of total sales. By 1996 this was 'split about fifty-fifty between Australian and imported titles' with a turnover 'in excess of $100m'. (Dutton p. 266). Among the titles to be published by Penguin over the course of the decade were Poppy%23{) (Druscilla Modjeska, 1990), Cloudstreet (Tim Winton, 1991), Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta), One of the Wattle Birds (Jessica Anderson, 1994) and The First Book of Samuel (Ursula Dubosarsky, 1995). In 1997 Penguin signed Bryce Courtenay and published his Tommo and Hawk. Veteran actor Ruth Cracknell also published her autobiography A Biased Memoir through Penguin that same year, while 1999 saw the release of Nick Earls' 48 Shades of Brown.

By December 2000, Australian titles comprised 43 per cent of Penguin Australia's turnover, and the company's five publishers, including publishing director Bob Sessions, were commissioning over 200 titles annually.

Since 2000, Penguin Australia - known as Penguin Group (Australia) from 2003 - has continued to support local authors, although the percentage had dropped to around forty percent of all titles during the first few years of the new century. The company's stable includes bestselling and award-winning writers and illustrators such as Maggie Alderson, Stephanie Alexander, Pamela Allen, Graeme Base, Geoffrey Blainey, Maggie Beer, Michelle Bridges, Peter CareyC)), Isobelle Carmody, Kaz CookeVN), Bryce Courtenay, Robert Drewe, Mem Fox, Morris Gleitzman, Sonya Hartnett, Barry Humphries, Paul Jennings, Paul Kelly, Kylie Kwong, Michael Leunig, Melina Marchetta, Monica McInerney, Rachel Treasure, Steve Waugh, and Tim Wintoni8). One significant publication in 2003 was Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancerdu), which was subsequently made into a feature film.

Other publishing-related activities since 2000 include establishing the Aussie Nibbles series through Puffin (2000), establishing the Lantern imprint (2004), and launching the Baby Puffin imprint (2006).

In 2002 Penguin moved its headquarters from Ringwood to Camberwell. It moved again in 2012, this time to the heritage-listed No. 2 Goods Shed in Melbourne's Docklands area. A new distribution centre was set up in Scoresby in 2002 to allow the newly formed Pearson division United Book Distributors to service Penguin, Pearson and agency clients. In 2003 Pearsons implemented a strategy that unifies the various international Penguin divisions as a single brand. Each of the international operations had its name changed to Penguin Group, followed by the name of that country in brackets. Thus Penguin Australia is now Penguin Group (Australia).

Most Referenced Works


  • Further Reference:

    • Dutton, Geoffrey. A Rare Bird: Penguin Books in Australia 1946-96. Ringwood: Penguin, 1996.
    • Mackarell, Bill, and Bryan Price. Book Production in Australia: A Joint Industry Study. Australian Publishers Association and Printing Industries Association of Australia, 2001.

Last amended 23 Mar 2017 07:45:14