Across the Ditch

Press Room Coordinator Madeleine Laing reviews Across the Ditch, on Sunday morning, with Leonie Hayden, Hera Lindsay Bird and Louise Wallace. 

It’s unfortunate that this event happens to be the morning after the ball, when attendance levels are lowest, because the New Zealand writers on this panel have been brought over to discuss why it is that there’s so little interaction between the Australian and New Zealand writing communities – could it be that we don’t care? Or is the lack of interest more about how little information we get about each others literary scenes.

Journalist and editor Leonie Hayden and poets Hera Lindsay Bird and Louise Wallace start by giving us a bit of background of how exactly literary stuff goes down in our next-door neighbour. They say that New Zealand’s publishing industry is inextricably tied to institutions – their biggest publishers are university presses funded by the government, so (similarly to Australia) people who are publishing short stories and poetry don’t expect their work to sell, but are subsidised by the government and other better selling fiction books the publisher might also print. New Zealand has a few crime writers and romance writers selling a lot overseas, but they just aren’t considered ‘New Zealand literature’, and everyone else needs to have a day job: the opportunities to make money from writing come from awards or residencies. Also similarly to Australia, grants are hard to come by for young writers because you have to prove that you’re established, generally be part of an institution, and that your work will benefit the community somehow.

Leonie says she doesn’t find the same thing in journalism in terms of it being tied to institutions, and cites how unnecessary it is to do a journalism course to actually be a working journalist, but that there are the same problems with lack of funding in specific areas. When she was editing music street press magazine Rip It Up she found that bands and musicians got a lot of funding for touring and recording, but there’s absolutely nothing there to help music media.

Leonie also points out that her magazine, a current affairs and lifestyle magazine for Māori called ‘Mana’, doesn’t receive any funding from the government and relies only on advertisers, which people are insultingly surprised by. While some of this panel has been slightly negative, as any event that talks about the state of the publishing industry is sometimes wont to be, all the panelists say that slow change is happening, with writers moving away from the institutions and becoming more experimental. They say that self publishing and publishing on the Internet is breeding a new generation of writers doesn’t want a bar of the old institutions. They also point to print journals Hue & Cry, and Louise’s own journal Starling as positive steps. There’s still the problem, however, of the lack of relationship between Australia and New Zealand in terms of authors and audience – positing that perhaps while Australia is looking to America and the UK for audiences, they’re ignoring New Zealand because it’s not a big enough market – this event made me mad that we haven’t, as readers, been given the opportunity to discover and enjoy the obviously rich New Zealand writing scene, because as the women of this panel proves, they’ve got plenty of smart, talented writers that we may never get to hear about.