The end of this week, 28 November 2014, marks a major shift in AustLit's identity. After 20 and 16 years respectively, Tessa Wooldridge and Jane Rankine, two stalwarts of AustLit's mission to expand knowledge about Australian literary culture are leaving the Canberra campus of UNSW, also known as ADFA. We mourn the loss of these two incredibly productive indexers and researchers, but more importantly, the loss of two warm, friendly and supportive colleagues who have contributed much more to the AustLit enterprise than the hundreds of thousands of records they have created, enhanced, or influenced through their perspicacious and intelligent contributions to the various iterations of the AustLit project.
Tessa and Jane, or the ADFA Ladies as they have been collectively known, were there when AustLit was AUSTLIT, a CD-rom index of Australian literature and criticism; they were there in 1999 and 2000 when that AUSTLIT merged with the Australian Literary Heritage project and the Bibliography of Australian Literature to form the first version of the current AustLit, when it was known as the Australian Literature Electronic Gateway. And through it all they have brought a vast knowledge of Australian writing, storytelling, and scholarship to their work. That knowledge and the years of experience in information and knowledge management informed the way we do things at AustLit now. The rigour of our bibliographical description and the way we record biographical information has been influenced by Tessa's and Jane's participation in best practice working groups and committees that wrote the manuals and guides to AustLit that we now rely upon.
For the record, and to show how much Tessa and Jane have contributed to AustLit to date:
- Tessa has created or enhanced almost 175,000 AustLit records
- Jane, in her more part-time role, created or enhanced almost 94,000 records
These are astonishing figures that add up to almost one quarter of AustLit's record base.
We will miss the ADFA Ladies greatly. We are very sad that the Australian Research Council did not make it possible to keep Tessa and Jane working on the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines project in 2015, but the vagaries of funding affect all who work in university-based research. We have received enormous support from the ARC over the years for the development and building of AustLit and realise it is not a magic pudding. The UQ AustLit team will never be able to fully fill the shoes left by Tessa and Jane but we will always be grateful for the grounding they have given AustLit, for the quality of their work, and the generosity with which they approached being a part of a nation-wide team of committed researchers.
Professor Paul Eggert, AustLit board member and leader of the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project on which Tessa and Jane worked most recently, has said:
The pleasure they gave to all who worked with them. Always utterly professional yet warm and supportive to fellow indexers such as Kay Walsh and Elaine Minor who worked on special indexing projects for ADFA. Their dedication to the indexing task was matched by a capacity to problem-solve and to plan as priorities changed over the years from, mainly, current indexing to the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project, in which they felt justifiable pride.
Everyone is saddened by the loss to the project of two such valuable indexers caused by the recent lack of success of ARC LIEF grant applications. Nevertheless Jane and Tessa retain an attachment to the AustLit project as Emeritus Indexers, the first such appointments.
We have created a few exhibitions based on Tessa's and Jane's work on The Colonial Newspapers and Magazines Project. Find out more about the experience of reading and literature in the colonial era here, thanks to the datasets created as they worked their way through the National Library's Trove database of digitised newspapers or wound their way through microfilmed copies of those newspapers that have not yet been digitised.
From the interview 20 years ago when Tessa was told that the most important attribute to have was 'neat handwriting' to the present day when neat typing is only one of the skills required for the creation of AustLit content, the Australian literature community has benefited enormously from Tessa's and Jane's hard work, professionalism, and unflagging dedication to creating the invaluable scholarly resource that AustLit is now.
Thank you, Tessa. Thank you, Jane. As you look to new horizons, we know AustLit will continue being a part of your lives just as the rich contributions you have made to AustLit will continue enhancing our knowledge of the place literature plays in our collective experiences of Australia's conversation with itself and the world.