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Outback Press Outback Press i(A37086 works by) (Organisation) assertion
Born: Established: 1975 Melbourne, Victoria, ;
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Outback Press was founded in 1973 by Morrie Schwartz, Colin Talbot, Fred Milgrom, and musician Mark Gillespie. The idea behind it was the desire to publish fiction, poetry, and non-fiction by emerging Australian writers who were finding their options limited by the domination of the local industry by British publishing houses. The timing of the venture was fortuitous: barely a few weeks after the press had been formally registered and a few authors commissioned, the newly elected Whitlam Government established a number of literature grants as part of its drive to raise the profile and output of Australian creative arts. Outback Press subsequently received a $5000 boost to its starting operations.

Among the first authors to be published by Outback were Walter Adamson, Kris Hemensley, Suzanne Holly Jones, and Michael Dugan. The press also published the first anthology of Australian women's poetry, Mother, I'm Rooted, edited by Kate Jennings, which went on to sell more than 10,000 copies. Other early Outback titles included The Wit of Whitlam and Australia's first blank book, The Wit of Malcolm Fraser. The press even published a number of plays, including some by Steve J. Spears and Morris Lurie.

For most of Outback's period of operation, Schwartz, Talbot, and Gillespie actually lived in the company's office, a terrace house situated in Gore Street, Fitzroy. In a 2009 interview with James Button, Talbot recalls that they were often drunk and that they even lost a couple of writers' manuscripts because the place was such a mess. The situation was also reflected in the quality of some of their publications. Button notes, for example, that when they published Laurie Clancy's A Collapsible Man, the author complained about the printing quality, suggesting that it was more like a collapsible book. The article further records that 'At the launch of a book on Fitzroy, Into the Hollow Mountains, the poet PiO burst in and grabbed a pile of books, shouting that he was liberating them for the people of Fitzroy. He handed them out to the drunks in Brunswick Street. A town hall function ended when council staff ordered them to leave — Outback Press the joke went, were thrown out of their own book launches' (n. pag.).

Five years after starting Outback Press, the relationship between various partners became fractured, resulting in a 'devastating falling out' when suggested changes to how the company should be run were raised (Colin Talbot, ctd. in Button, n. pag.). The result was that Schwartz and Milgrom sided together and forced the others out.

In 1977, Schwartz travelled to the USA and set about buying the Australasian rights to a number of commercial titles, including Irene Kassora's sexual self-help paperback Putting it All Together, James Fixx's The Complete Book of Running, and The Pritkin Diet. The press also published a number of titles under its imprint Circus Books (initially overseen by Milgrom). Among the Circus titles were the novelised adaptation of the film Mad Max (1979) and the horror thriller Thirst (1979). Despite the enormous sales of its self-help books, Outback's financial situation remained on edge. The final straw, according to Schwartz in his chapter on Outback in Paper Empires, was the legal battle it fought over the memoir Lambs to the Slaughter, by Australian cricket captain Graeme Yallop. Although Outback won the case and the book generated a great deal of publicity, the legal costs and much-lower-than-expected sales effectively brought about the end of the press.

After publishing Outback's final title in 1980, Schwartz founded Schwartz Publishing, which subsequently established the imprint Black Inc., as well as a paperback imprint Unicorn Books. Black Inc continues to publish books today, as well as Quarterly Essay and The Monthly. Fred Milgrom (who, in 1978, had moved to London, where he set up Melbourne House) moved out of publishing and became a pioneer in the world of computer games.

Among the authors and poets to have their works first published by Outback Press are Elizabeth Jolley, Colin Talbot, Kate Jennings, Doug McLeod, David N. Pepperell, Morris Lurie, Rowan Hewison, and David Martin.

Schwartz, Morry. 'Case Study: Inner-Urban and Outback.' In Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia 1946-2005, 2006.

Most Referenced Works


  • Further Reference

    'Board and Staff.' Australian Film Institute. Online. (Sighted: 17/04/2011.)

    Button, James. 'The Art of the Deal.' The Age 21 March 2004. Online. (Sighted: 17/04/2011.)

    Schmidt, Lucinda. 'Profile: Morry Swartz.' Brisbane Times 29 April 2009. Online. (Sighted: 17/04/2011.)

Last amended 11 Mar 2015 14:07:09
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