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.

Exciting diversity in awards longlist

Prizes – lauded, maligned, heralded, disparaged. Many have called them elitist and chastised them for upholding the status quo. Many more have derided them as middlebrow harbingers of impending artistic doom. For authors and publishers though, the lure of prize attention persists.

The Stella Prize is no different, except of course, for its founding premise – to redress the gender imbalance of literary prize culture. And for those of us who love new Australian non-fiction, the 2017 Stella longlist delivers a bumper crop. Amidst the 12 titles longlisted (8 of which are non-fiction), are two of my favourite reads of 2016.

The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette) – The kind of incessant, casual racism that others would glibly label ‘micro-aggressions’ is personified in Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir as an insidious, monstrous element of our cultural psyche. The Hate Race is, for the most part, a relatable and blush-inducing memoir of suburban childhood. With adeptly paced and stridently crafted lyricism though, Beneba Clarke brings racism to the fore, forcing readers to confront the truth of our nation’s discriminatory foundations and prevailing prejudices.

Wasted – Elspeth Muir (Text Publishing) – Writing about grief without wallowing in its depths is a feat few writers accomplish. Yet Elspeth Muir manages, with astonishing prosaic skill and aching self-reflection, to intertwine the story of her brother’s early death with a broad and insightful observation of Australia’s drinking culture. Wasted is an un-indulgent and measured examination of the dangers of alcohol that averts blame in favour of insight and reflection.

These two books, and no doubt others on the longlist, are exemplars of the potential of new Australian non-fiction. Particularly, non-fiction writing from diverse voices. They are inherently Australian stories that confront and transcend popular nationalist narratives. These are the kinds of works that we hope literary prizes continue to foster. The Obiter Publishing team commends The Stella Prize for recognising the talents of these formidable Australian writers and congratulates all of the longlisted authors and their publishers.

Call for submissions: Experimental non-fiction

Calling all researchers and writers willing to push the boundaries of form in order to reach new audiences.

Obiter Publishing is currently seeking submissions for works of creative or experimental non-fiction of between 20,000 and 80,000 words. We are particularly interested in works by researchers and writers whose work makes divergent, resistant, and/or intersectional contributions to public discourse.

What is experimental non-fiction?

Experimental non-fiction is any work that is founded in verifiable fact, research, and/or lived experience and which is presented in a manner that blurs or challenges traditional concepts of form. Such works may involve elements of essay, memoir, investigative journalism, narrative non-fiction, analysis, opinion, prose or poetry so long as they are founded in lived experience or rigorous research.

What are we looking for?

We are seeking works of experimental non-fiction that demonstrate originality, creativity, and depth of research. We are particularly looking for works which present heterodox and dissident ideas, imagine alternate futures, and subvert boundaries of form.

Submissions will be judged on the following criteria:

  • originality of ideas
  • research rigour
  • quality of writing style
  • creativity of form

Who are we looking for?

Obiter is particularly interested in works by writers and researchers who identify as diverse, marginalised, emerging, or outsiders in their field.

How do we publish?

Obiter is a profit-share publisher. That means that we do not pay traditional advances or royalties. Instead, all after-cost profits are shared equally between author and publisher. Obiter is committed to minimising production costs and maximising author profits while ensuring all our titles are high quality, bespoke publications.

Obiter is a digital and print-on-demand publisher. That means all our titles will be published as digital-first and available in hardcopy via print-on-demand distribution services. In some cases, we will produce short print runs for wider distribution.

What do you need to submit?

In order for your work to be considered, you will need to submit the following:

  • A one-page cover letter introducing yourself, your work, your motivations, and your intended audience.
  • A brief (maximum 500 words) author bio or CV outlining your literary, research, and/or publishing achievements to date.
  • A brief (maximum 500 words) synopsis or overview of your work.
  • Two draft chapters (maximum 20,000 words) of your manuscript, including an opening or introductory chapter.

If you think you’ve got what we’re after, then head over to our submissions form. (Submissions that do not adhere to these guidelines will not be responded to.)

When can you submit?

Submissions are currently being accepted. We will endeavour to read and respond to submissions as soon as possible.