C. B. ChristesenC. B. Christeseni(A4621 works by)
Clement Byrne Christesen; Clem Christesen; Chris Byrne)
Also writes as: C. B. C. Born:Established:28 Oct 1911Townsville,Townsville area,Marlborough - Mackay - Townsville area,Queensland,;Died:Ceased:28 Jun 2003Templestowe,Doncaster - Templestowe area,Melbourne - East,Melbourne,Victoria,
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Supporter and advocate of Australian literature and writers and founding editor of Meanjin, Clem Christesen was born and spent his early childhood in Townsville, recalled in his short story Arrivals and Departures. He was the son of a Danish-Irish father, Patrick, and Susan Byrne, a mainly Irish mother, a strong-willed woman who worked as a journalist before she married and, later, edited a magazine for the Queensland Women's Electoral League. It was Susan who brought literature into the house.
When Christesen was six the family moved to Brisbane where a series of house moves and childhood illnesses did not stop him from doing well in school and in athletics. He qualified as a wool-classer and worked in the country before becoming a journalist for the Brisbane Courier and the Telegraph. In the Depression years it became harder to find work in journalism and through the influence of the Queensland premier W. Forgan Smith, who had seen his manuscript Queensland Journey, Christesen was employed as a writer and publicist for the Queensland government.
In 1939 Christesen traveled overseas returning home at the beginning of the war. His time overseas had made him realise how lacking in culture Australia was and he decided that he could at least learn a foreign language and chose German. His teacher was Nina Maximov whom he later married. It was a supportive and enduring partnership.
On 12 December 1940, with James Picot, Brian Vrepont and Paul Grano, Christesen published 250 copies of an eight page literary magazine called Meanjin Papers. It met with little response in Brisbane but with an enthusiastic response from writers interstate including Nettie and Vance Palmer. In 1945, in an effort to achieve security for the magazine, Meanjin moved to the University of Melbourne and the Christesens settled in Eltham at 'Stanhope', a house and garden that they both loved and which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Nina Christesen was appointed to a founding lectureship in Russian language and literature at the University of Melbourne.
Meanjin's move to the University was never formalised and the next decades were not easy for Christesen with his and the magazine's position at the University always uncertain. In January 1955 Nina and Clem Christesen appeared before the Royal Commission on Espionage, a consequence of the Petrov defection in 1954, and were exonerated. However, the fallout from the Petrov affair affected them financially and personally including a four-year estrangement from Clem's mother.
In the 1960s and 1970s Christesen spent time travelling overseas and began receiving recognition for his services to Australian literature. Despite political and financial arguments Meanjin itself was a constant. Judith Armstrong in her obituary writes of Christesen's editorial brilliance. 'His one criterion was quality, which he could discern beyond any aspirant's obscurity, political bias or personal animosity. An impressive number of the greats of Australian literature were brought to public notice through the pages of Meanjin....'
On 31 December 1974 Christesen retired from the editorship of Meanjin.
Sources: The Christesen Romance by Judith Armstrong (MUP, 1996); 'Editor who Fostered the True Voices of Australia' by Judith Armstrong (The Age 30 June, 2003)
Following an offer by Melbourne University to publish and manage the magazine, Christesen and his wife, Nina, moved to Melbourne in February 1945. Despite the financial security and institutional support, circulation dropped during the next twelve months. Christesen was forced to seek sponsorship from other sources to supplement the contribution from the university. By the late 1940s the distinct business connection with the university had ended but infrastructure was still provided, maintaining Meanjin 's institutional home.
With the onset of the Cold War, Communist Party sympathisers were being increasingly targetted and Meanjin was no exception. The Christesens were regularly under surveillance and were implicated in the Petrov Affair in 1955. But despite this adverse attention (threatening the approval of literary grants) and the destruction of many friendships, the circulation of Meanjin remained strong throughout the 1950s. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Christesen continued to attract the work of some of Australia's best writers and intellectuals, building a strong group of regular contributors, including A. D. Hope, A. A. Phillips, Judith Wright, Jack Lindsay, John Morrison, Robert D. FitzGerald, James K Baxter and David Martin. Meanjin also contributed to discussion on the visual arts with regular contributions from Allan McCulloch, Ursula Hoff and Bernard Smith. In addition, Several important series were produced in the 1960s with titles such as 'Australian Heritage', 'Godzone', 'Pacific Signposts', and 'The Temperament of Generations'. But with the growth of a new generation in a rapidly changing culture, and Christesen's flagging energy, Meanjin began to lose the distinctive tone that its long-time editor had fostered. The future of the magazine became a concern.
The historian Jim Davidson had been acting as editor for some time before he was officially instated in 1975. During his eight-year term Davidson attempted to attract a new generation of readers to Meanjin, with special issues on Papua and New Guinea, Women and the Arts, and Aboriginal culture. Davidson also introduced interviews in a new format that brought the first change in size to Meanjin since 1951. In the first issue of 1982 Judith Brett was acknowledged as Associate Editor, taking over from Davidson in the next issue. Like Davidson, Brett responded to changes in Australian culture, extending the discussion of women writers begun in the late 1970s and introducing a focus on migrant writers. Throughout this period Meanjin continued to print the works of many of Australia's best creative writers. Contributors during this period included Bruce Dawe, John Tranter, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Tom Shapcott, Jennifer Maiden, Les Murray, Patrick White, Frank Moorhouse, Morris Lurie, Laurie Clancy and Michael Wilding. In addition to established writers Meanjin also published the work of new writers, including Tim Winton, Nicholas Jose, Marion Halligan and Garry Disher.
Throughout the 1990s Meanjin went through several changes to format and faced a number of financial challenges. Jenny Lee's term as editor brought a more academic tone to the magazine and introduced regular thematic issues (but this has not always pre-determined the selection of creative writing). Many issues focused on cultural studies, postmodernism, postcolonialism and the state of the humanities. Other issues explored landscape, music, women's knowledge, Aboriginal issues and the Pacific region.
When Christina Thompson became editor in 1994, she brought another shift in tone, suggesting that Meanjin had become too academic, and pushed for a greater clarity in the contributions. Issues explored during Thompson's term included Canadian studies, corporatisation, suburban life, the Pacific region and queer studies. In the mid 1990s Meanjin faced severe financial setback when regular government funding was significantly reduced. Despite seeking outside funding, the diminished budget had an immediate effect. With inadequate funds to support productions costs, only three issues were produced in 1997. Thompson also experienced strong opposition from some Meanjin board members and did not seek reappointment.
In 1998 Melbourne University bought Meanjin to avoid its closure, imposing stronger control of the magazine's business dealings. Stephanie Holt, with a background in visual arts journalism, was appointed editor. During Holt's term, Meanjin explored issues on travel, crime, reconciliation, and revisited the idea of the cultural cringe. Former editor, Jim Davidson, later remarked that Holt had made Meanjin 'absolutely contemporary again'. But Holt faced some opposition at the end of her term and was controversially replaced by historian Ian Britain in 2001, causing several board members to resign in protest. Britain has since produced themed issues on museums, life writing, drugs and food.