Annabel Crabb launches Obiter’s first book

Yes, there were tears, laughter and champagne – and huge amounts of cake – at the launch of Obiter’s first title off the press on Saturday 9 December. And some of the tearing up was from Annabel Crabb who graciously did the official honours.

Annabel said she ‘wasn’t quite ready for how powerful the opening chapter was going to be’ and that it was ‘an extraordinary piece of writing’ that wove together the stories of all the women to produce ‘something rather wonderful and beautiful … stories of friendship and generosity and sharing, and building something that is bigger than the constituent parts of the people involved.’ ‘And that is what I love,’ she said, ‘about food and cooking for others, and I think that this book absolutely nails that sense and that spirit.’

Tears, Laughter, Champagne could not have happened without some very special people: the amazing Annabel Crabb who launched the book so warmly; all the Sisters who baked cakes and slices to enjoy with the champagne; the 160 people who attended the launch and bought 117 copies of the book; the 128 Pozible supporters who pre-ordered copies to the tune of $8385; and the Obiter elves Daniel, Dan and Ric who spent hours stuffing envelopes.

The book is now available at selected outlets in Canberra and online in the Obiter shop.

Tears, Laughter, Champagne now available in stores!

As well as being able to purchase copies online from our Obiter Publishing shop we are delighted that you can now purchase a copy of Tears, Laughter, Champagne through several outlets in Canberra.


Book Passion
Shop 35, Belconnen Fresh Food Markets
1 Lathlain Street
Belconnen ACT 2617


ORI Building
59/30 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612

Shop 64, ORI Building
30 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612


Canberra Centre
Shop CL17, Bunda Street
Canberra City ACT 2601


EAST Hotel
Cnr Canberra Ave and Giles St
Kingston ACT 2603


Paperchain Bookstore
34 Franklin Street
Manuka ACT 2603


The Markets Wanniassa
25 Sangster Place
Wanniassa ACT 2903


Beyond Q
Weston Arcade
11 Brierly Street
Weston ACT 2611

Cooleman Court Shopping Centre
Brierly Street., T3
Weston ACT 2611

Orana School
Front Office and School Shop
Unwin Place
Weston ACT 2611


Harry Hartog Bookseller
Westfield Woden
13 Keltie Street
Phillip ACT 2606


For anyone interested in purchasing How I Pawned My Opals this title is currently only available via the online Obiter Publishing shop. We will have further details about this title coming in 2018!

Singed Sisters in the spotlight

Local Canberra media has been quick to respond to the launch of Obiter’s Pozible campaign for Tears, Laughter, Champagne. The story of friendships forged through food and fire resonates with Canberrans who can all tell you where they were and what happened on 18 January 2003.

Kathryn Vukovljak discussed the book with Karen Downing for City News and Elias Hallaj has given it a plug on RiotACT.

Some 40 wonderful people have pledged to the project already. With 22 days to go we need some more supporters to reach our target!


Singed Sisters on air!

Singed Sisters Liz Tilley, Liz Walter, Alison Mills and Karen Downing joined Lish Fejer on ABC Radio Canberra’s ‘Sunday Brunch’ on Sunday 15 October to talk cakes and their upcoming cookbook come memoir Tears, Laughter, Champagne.

Liz W bought along Aunty Pat’s Chocolate Cake, a family recipe that tastes like chocolate cake used to take.

The Sisters love an opportunity to get together and love a chat – you can listen to them on the ABC website and get Aunty Pat’s recipe as well.

You can also help us reach our funding target to make this project a reality at Pozible.

From tea and tears to laughter and champagne

Spread the word. Our Pozible campaign for Tears, Laughter, Champagne is now live!

On 18 January 2003, four bushfires that had been burning in the Brindabella mountains for more than a week combined and roared into Canberra’s south-western suburbs, destroying 500 homes and claiming four lives.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the people behind the headlines?

Tears, Laughter, Champagne is the story of nine women who forged an unbreakable bond in the weeks and months following the fires, brought together by the one thing they had in common, loss. In this cookbook come memoir these ‘Singed Sisters’ recount their fifteen year journey from the day the fires changed their lives. Share in their story of recovery through the recipes that gathered them together and celebrated the milestones of rebuilding what was lost.

As devastating bushfires become part of life for so many communities around Australia this book will serve as a reminder of the enduring nature of friendship, good food, and great champagne in tough times. This book is also a chance for the Singed Sisters to pay forward the charity and kindness they received in the aftermath of the fires. All profits from the sale of this book will go to YWCA Canberra – chosen by the Singed Sisters because of their work in housing support, child care services and family counselling as well as their advocacy on gender equity and women in leadership.

To make this book a reality there are some upfront costs to cover such as photography, design, layout and printing. The Singed Sisters have been talking about this book for over a decade now – they are ready to make it happen. And with just a little bit of help from you through our Pozible campaign it will!

We would be very grateful if you could share this email with friends and family who might also like to support Tears, Laughter, Champagne. Thank you!

An emerging sisterhood of women

Katherine Bode has given us her introduction to How I Pawned My Opals and Other Lost Stories and, as the best introductions do, she gives us a greater appreciation of the work of Catherine Martin.

Martin’s family (the Macaulays) began their life in Australia as farm labourers but by the time Catherine moved to Adelaide in 1876, aged 29, she was well educated, fluent in a number of modern languages, particularly German, and widely read in literature, theology and philosophy. Although Martin escaped the extreme poverty of her childhood, she had to work to support herself for much of her life.

Catherine married Frederick in 1882, when she was 34. He was an accountant, social reformer, and writer. The marriage seems to have been a happy and equal one. They shared a belief in social justice, a desire to write and, and together they travelled the world. Martin described Frederick and herself as “comrades”.

No wonder, then, that Martin’s stories have an independent and strongly delineated female character at their core. These women are different in so many ways but they are all decisive and determined, and resist or actively go against the mores of their respective societies.

It is Bode’s fascinating insight that although Martin, with her depiction of Stella Courtland in her most famous work, An Australian Girl, has long been seen as responsible for creating a uniquely Australian form of the ‘New Woman’, these lost stories show that she conceived of this figure as a global phenomenon, an emerging sisterhood of women independent in thought and action.

We are looking forward to introducing these women to you!



Satirical photo from 1901, with the caption ‘New Woman—Wash Day’, US Library of Congress.


Catherine Martin was not as well-known and appreciated as she deserved to be when she was writing from the 1870s to the 1920s, partly because so much of her work was published anonymously or under a pseudonym. Her most popular book, The Australian Girl, was published in 1890 under the name ‘Mrs Alick Macleod’.

She has also suffered in hindsight through comparisons with her contemporary and friend Catherine Spence whose 1854 book Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia During the Gold Fever was the first novel about Australia written by a woman. Spence also fought for female suffrage as vice-president of the Women’s Suffrage League of South Australia (South Australian women were enfranchised in 1894). So while Spence had her portrait painted by Margaret Preston, appeared on a stamp in the 1970s, and was the face on a commemorative Centenary of Federation five-dollar note in 2001, Martin is largely forgotten.

We can’t give her a stamp, but our collection of Martin works How I Pawned My Opals and Other Lost Stories will introduce her work to a new generation of, hopefully more appreciative, readers. It will be available in November.


Huge congrats to our collaborator Katherine Bode

Katherine Bode, Associate Professor at the Australian National University and our collaborator on How I Pawned My Opals and Other Lost Stories, has been awarded a $950,000 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for a project that will generate new knowledge of literary culture and digital approaches to research in the humanities.

ARC Future Fellowships support research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia. They are specifically designed to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers, who too often choose to work overseas to further their careers due to lack of opportunities in Australia.

Obiter is very pleased to be working with one of the best and brightest scholars in Australia!

Yes, we do have a book coming!

Nell has a friend in need but will her kind heart wreck her chance for future happiness? Is Marie’s runaway kookaburra the last straw or the answer to her problems? A meddlesome prank and a stray kitten bring Helen and Gabriel together but will he be able to admit his feelings? Will Teresa’s faith in the Madonna bring her beloved Carlo home safely from the coral fishing? When Lily goes missing will Archibald trust his wife or listen to the ‘evidence’ of his domineering mother?

We think you will enjoy meeting the loyal, wilful and feisty heroines in Catherine Martin’s nineteenth-century tales of manners. How I Pawned My Opals and Other Lost Stories is a collaboration between Obiter and Dr Katherine Bode, Associate Professor at the Australian National University working in digital humanities, literary studies and book history. Catherine Martin (1848?-1937) was the author of poems, essays, short stories and novels, including the popular An Australian Girl (1890). All her stories in this collection were published in the Australian press between 1881 and 1898 but they have never been published in book form before.

Katherine Bode’s Australian Research Council funded project, To Be Continued, has unearthed an astonishing bibliographic index and full-text archive of fiction in Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1955. How I Pawned My Opals is just the first tapping of this rich vein of lost fiction.

A lesson in the limits of form

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the Photo-essay that Never Was

When James Agee and Walker Evans set off for Alabama in 1936, their assignment was to produce a photo-essay for Fortune magazine. It was a simple task. The two would head south. Evans would photograph a series of cotton tenant farming families. Agee would write the prose. The essay would document the plight of the farmers under the New Deal’s Agricultural Adjustment Act. That essay never came to be.

For the project, Evans was on secondment from the Farm Security Administration where, under the employ of Roy Stryker and working alongside the likes of Dorothea Lange, he helped to establish the strikingly direct tone of American documentary photography. He joined Agee, a drinker who spent most of his relatively short life writing for Time Inc.’s various publications and became well-known for his film reviews. It was intended that Evans’ images and Agee’s words would be distilled into the mass media photo-essay format popularised by Henry Luce’s Time Inc. magazines that included Fortune and Life.

The abject poverty to which Agee and Evans bore witness had a profound effect on Agee. Unable to succinctly recall his experience in the populist format desired by Fortune’s editors, Agee failed to submit his account (although the original has since been found). Instead, the prose that he eventually produced to accompany Evans’s portraits was a book length examination of the minutiae of the lives of three tenant farming families. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was published in 1941. In it, Agee, like Evans, presents with vivid clarity the raw, physical details of his subjects’ lives, portraying the crude reality of their poverty.

Let Is Now Praise Famous Men explores much more than the challenges of The Great Depression and the political plight of sharecroppers under Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative. Through its commitment to documentary evidence, the book provokes larger contemplations about humanity and its fragility.

In writing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee committed to his subjects with integrity and boldly showed fidelity to their experience above responsibility to his commissioning editors. He experimented with form for the sake of content at the very same time that his employer was establishing a common format for middle-class, mass media journalism. As a result, Agee and Evans’ work remains one of the most poignant and affective documentary works of the 20th century.

Obiter Publishing is accepting partial manuscript submissions for experimental non-fiction until 31 March.

Further reading:

Agee, James. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Allred, Jeff. American Modernism and Depression Documentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Baughman, L.. Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Brinkley, Alan. The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Denby, Davis. ‘A Famous Man: The collected works of James Agee,’ The New Yorker, 9 January 2006.

Graf, Catharina. ‘The birth of the photo essay: The first issues of LIFE and LOOK,’ paper via

Rule, Vera. ‘Dispatches from the Dustbowl,’ The Guardian, 18 August 2001.

Shloss, Carol. In Visible Light: Photography and the American Writer, 1840-1940. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Time-Life Books. Documentary Photography. New York: Time-Life International, 1972.

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