Writers Victoria’s 30-Year History
In 1986, Australia Council commissioned a report to look into the feasibility of setting up a writers’ centre in Victoria, from which the position of Victorian Literature Field Officer (LFO) was created as an interim measure. The position was co-funded by the Australia Council and the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. One of the roles of the LFO was to further investigate the level of need and support for a writers’ centre, as well as provide assistance to writers and writing groups throughout the State. One year later, Bev Roberts was appointed for the position.
On the 6th of October, 1989, the Victorian Writers’ Centre (VWC) was established. Its first office was in Tasma Terrace and Bev was the first director of the organisation.
VWC was open for business in January. Tasma Place office was “a lovely old terrace house. The place was so small and space was so tight that an ‘office’ was a desk on the staircase landing between the ground and first floor.” (Thompson, 2014) The organisation’s first project was a Youth Literature Project headed up by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen.
1993 was a big year for VWC. The monthly newsletter ‘Write On’ more than doubled its print run. A radio program ‘Writers at Work’ gained its own half hour slot on a Thursday at 10.30am. The Centre began regional programs for writing workshops in country areas, with the Centre paying the writers’ fees, travel and accommodation. On top of that, 500 new members joined.
When the Victorian Writers’ Centre’s 5th anniversary rolled around, membership was continuing to climb, Writers at Work was given more air time and opening hours increased. The Centre also rebranded and purchased electronic typewriters.
‘The Victorian Writers’ Centre is about to celebrate its 7th birthday and now receives 14,000 calls, letters and visitors a year…the Centre is now recognised throughout Victoria as an organisation central to and proactive in promoting Victorian Writers and their work.’
Despite the challenge of relocating to Fitzroy and the office flooding, VWC began opening its doors on Sundays and extended its reach to the online world.
The first decade saw the Centre become one of the State’s leading literary providers. It now boasted over 2,000 members, was registered as a Cultural organisation and the print run for the 24-page newsletter distributed over 3,000 copies. The new millennium brought more promise still with a temporary move into the Meat Market Arts Centre, more money going towards disadvantaged writers and a new website.
In the mid-2000s, VWC continued to extend its reach by hosting the organisation’s first Summer School. VWC also helped to open Glenfern Writing Studios in St. Kilda and partnered with both Express Media and the Emerging Writers Festival. The Centre also implemented biodegradable plastic sleeves and soya based inks in the printing process for the magazine.
In 2008, after much lobbying, the Victorian Writers’ Centre helped put Melbourne on the map as the second UNESCO City of Literature in the world. In the same year, the Centre celebrated its 60th event and received $26,000 from Marion Grace Wilson trust to support the cost of 12 writers’ studio spaces at Glenfern for a whole year.
Shortly afterwards, then director Joel Becker proposed the idea of a literary centre to host numerous writing organisations – including VWC – and worked with other organisations to make it happen. This idea gave birth to the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.
‘…I’m proud of a fair bit of what happened during the time I was at Writers Vic, but the development of [the Wheeler Centre] will always stand out.
I first floated the idea of a literary hub for Melbourne as a blue skies notion at a strategic planning meeting in about 2003…though [the Nicolas Building] was manageable and central, we had every intention of outgrowing it – an issue with many other arts organisations – having to regularly shift homes, and cope with all the issues involved with survival…
Myself and my good friend, and ex-Writers Victoria Patron, now Life Member, Noel Turnbull, took this idea and worked the corridors. We talked to the Premier’s Dept., to Arts Victoria, to possible venues, including the State Library of Victoria, to the Arts Ministers and their advisers, and of course the leaders of our sister and brother literary arts organisations… Express Media, Australian Poetry Centre, Voiceworks, EWF, MWF, and SPN – a veritable alphabet soup of literary organisations…
We absolutely could not have done it without the support of other organisations…but [Writers Victoria] was the one who really pushed for it to happen.’
In 2011, VWC moved into the Wheeler Centre, rebranded and changed its name to ‘Writers Victoria.’ This was a golden age for the organisation as support for Victorian writers continued to grow in the form of fellowships, additional studio spaces, the introduction of the Write-ability program and membership skyrocketed towards and beyond 3,000.
During Writers Victoria’s 25th year, the organisation hosted its first online course and started paying commissioned writers in The Victorian Writer magazine for the first time.
Now, as Writers Victoria celebrates its 30th anniversary, we remain the largest writers’ organisation in the country. We provide information, resources, skills and professional development opportunities for our members and the broader writing community. We are also the country’s leading employer of writers across all areas of our program.
That’s a history to be proud of and celebrate!