Opening speech by Brian Stonier

Opening speech - Sun Books

1 June 2005

Opening address by Mr Brian Stonier, one of the founders of Sun Books

Thank you for being with us this evening on this most auspicious occasion, chosen with some care because it was forty years ago on 4 June 1965 that Sun Books Pty was established and incorporated.  This great event was announced in October of the same year when we claimed to be Australia's first paperback publisher, with the first seven titles published the next month on 8 November 1965.

I have promised Cathrine I wont speak for more than on minute on each year of Sun's existence, though I could easily do that thanks to all the history written of Sun by my late colleague and co-founder Geoffrey Dutton, who was a great believer in Mae West's dictum,

"I always keep a diary and one day it will keep you".

Geoff has written of Sun in his "Snow on the Saltbush" in 1983, and in his autobiography of 1996 "Out in the Open", so you are saved about 30 minutes.

It is quite impossible to over estimate the contribution Geoff made to Australian Literature in the second half of the 1900's, as a lecturer at Adelaide University, and a prolific author and inspirer of creative writers, a literary magazine publisher, an arts TV presenter, and as a book publisher he was an indefatigable talent scout.

He established the Australian publishing programme for Penguin Books Australia in 1960 with only a little outside help from Max Harris and me and then when we all went off to establish Sun Books, he found us most of our books to reprint and authors for original paperbacks.

My role was quite simply to run the business, get the books printed and sold, keep the bank manager happy and us solvent, so I had the easy part.

The third contributor to the existence and success of Sun Books was Max Harris our literary adviser and consultant.  He was the proprietor of the well established Adelaide book selling business Mary Martin Book Shop, and a long time friend of Geoff's.  When I knew him in the 1960's, he had successfully lived down the Ern Malley affair, which I confess made so little impression on me as a young school boy, that I never discussed it with him, which I now regret.  Max's eye for a literary marketable classic was unerring and we reprinted many successful hardback classics.  These were so important in the first few years of our life as we commissioned and waited for the first Sun Book originals.

Among them were Roger Covell's 'Australia's Music' in 1967, Ronald Anderson's 'On the Sheep's Back' in 1966 and of course the 1965 success' Tyranny of Distance' which we had commissioned at Penguin Books and who turned it down when we left to establish Sun.  We were extremely fortunate that Geoffrey Blainey offered it to us in our very first year – we published it in 1966 and it has been in print ever since – surely some sort of record.

Another person who has been instrumental in this collection of Sun Books and in tonight's occasion is John Arnold now a senior lecturer in the National Centre for Australian Studies in this University, who has over a period of ten years built up the collection of Sun Books established by Geoffrey Dutton and by adding to it from many sources: by purchases in the second hand market, donation by members of the Dutton family and from Sun Books staff, such as Mrs Lee White-Docker the first ever Sun Books employee who became our brilliant first editor, and from my own duplicate copies.  John has also written on Sun Books in volume three of the 'History of the Book' in Australia, to be published by UQP by the end of the year.

This collection includes all the known books published from 1965 to 1982, being the period of our greatest publishing independence – not necessarily financial independence – and the collection stops when Sun Books Publishing finally became the paperback, print of Macmillan Australia, to whom Geoff and I had sold Sun Books on 1 April 1971 and then took on the task of running that great firm.

Macmillan is incidentally celebrating 100 years of publishing in Australia and has just released a book about that, written and collected by Professor Jenny Zimmer. Sun features quite prominently in that book also.

This exhibition displays some wonderful memorabilia such as the original artwork for the Wandjina by Lawrence Daws and turned into a striking colophon by Brian Sadgrove who is also with us this evening, and who was responsible for the highly successful black, white and gold covers of our early books.

Among some notable Sun Books firsts were:

  • Producing student texts in paperback in 1966.
  • Copyrights issues with an attack on UK publishers' British Empire market.
  • 2 books supporting Republicanism, and Geoff being asked to resign from the Adelaide Club.
  • We helped nurture the developing interest in Australian wine with 3 books by Dan Murphy, the first in 1966.
  • A collection of original articles on Capital Punishment in 1968, edited by Barry Jones.
  • Publishing for the first time in paperback the hugely successful children's information books by peter Mayle (Where Did I Come From? Etc) in 1975.
  • Poetry in paperback, a pretty tough marketing call unless one had visiting Russian poet to tour (1966).
  • The 1979 attack on censorship in Australia with the Bazza McKenzie title 'The Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie' by Barry Humphries and Nicolas Garland – banned for importation into Australia because one tiny sketch showed Bazza in a urinal where some graffiti on the wall said "the Pope is a Jew".
    Geoff and Max arranged for Don Dunstan not to prosecute if Griffin Pres printed it in SA, and we distributed it to all States under S.92 of the Constitution relating to freedom of interstate trade.

Every small business needs a lot of luck to survive and support from many sources.  In my case the first among these was, and is, my wife Noel who, as a bride of just ten years agreed without a seconds hesitation to help establish Sun with a hefty mortgage on our home.  She was instrumental in making Sun Books a very personal, welcoming, family business for many authors and staff.

So too the help given by that great printer Aubrey Cousins of the Halstead Press, who on discovering we had left a potential libel in that beautiful book "Aunts Up the Cross' by Robin Eakin, first published by a tiny UK firm Anthony Blond in 1965 and reprinted by us unaltered in 1967, contained a dangerous defamation with the name of the two large rats that could not be removed from her fathers medical practice in Kings Cross and who wrote to the firm meant to remove them by saying he didn't really want them exterminated because he was so fond of them he called one Mr Houghton and one Mr Burn.  Aubrey phoned us to say that we really had to change that and he reprinted the entire edition at his company's expense as we couldn't afford to do it!

But of course what really makes a publishing firm as well as its skilled and dedicated staff, is its great authors, and we were incredibly lucky in finding so many brilliant authors that made Sun Books eventually the modest financial success it became.

As well as those I've already mentioned successes came from

  • Thea Astley
  • Martin Boyd
  • Sir McFarlane Burnett
  • Ronald Conway's – 'Land of the Long Weekend' a 1978 'Examination of Australia Today'
  • Fred Daly
  • Keith Dunstan (and I'm only up to the letter D!)
  • Donald Horne, David McNicoll
  • 5 titles by Barry Humphries
  • 2 by Thomas Keneally and in 1966 Jock Marshall & Russell Drysdale's 'Journey Among Men'.

Jock, as Professor of Zoology in this fledgling university, recommended Sun Books to his colleagues who were writing, so we became the de facto publisher to Monash University, and published works from many academics here, among them

  • Bill Williams (Zoology)
  • Prof Joe Isaacs (Economics)
  • Dr Peter Eisen (Child Psychiatry) and Dr Ian Turner (History)

So it is very appropriate that this collection of the first 350 Sun Books should find its home here, where we hope that it will facilitate research into the early history of paperback publishing in Australia and the Australian culture of the times.

I hope you will all enjoy this marvellous exhibition and the treasures in it, put together with great dedication and loving enthusiasm by Richard Overell, assisted by John Arnold, and I do thank them and Monash library for making possible this, for me, very moving and memorable occasion.

So now it gives me the greatest pleasure,
on behalf of the late Geoffrey Dutton and his family
and on behalf of John Arnold
and on behalf of my own family

To present to Monash University Library

The Dutton – Arnold – Stonier collection of Sun Books.