The Australian Society of Authors, the professional association for Australia's literary creators, was formed in 1963 to promote and protect the rights of Australia's authors and illustrators.
It all started with the then President of the NSW Federation of Australian Writers, Walter Stone, inviting delegates from all other writers' societies to a meeting in Sydney in October 1962 to discuss the formation of a national organisation to represent professional authors. A series of meetings followed culminating in the formation of the ASA on 15 May 1963, and the acceptance of a provisional constitution on 26 June 1963.
Much of the work in those early years was done by a largely unsung group of visionaries. Chief among them was the indefatigable, Miles Franklin Award-winning author the late Dal Stivens, who became the founding President of the ASA in 1963 and who invested many hours of his productive life to making sure the organisation survived those early years.
Another of the founders, Jill Hellyer, the ASA's first Secretary, tells the story of how Frank Hardy was dispatched by a Melbourne push (headed by Judah Waten) to torpedo the first ASA meeting, and how he almost succeeded until Dymphna Cusack saved the day with the speech of her life and the passing round of somebody else's hat for donations. Frank Hardy later became an office-holder of the society.
The ASA, now with 3000 members around the country, is about a hundred times the size it was in 1963.
The ASA's first campaign was to abolish the 'colonial royalty' by which British publishers paid Australian authors the full 10 per cent royalty on copies of their books sold in the UK but only half that rate for sales in Australia, which were considered 'export sales'. There were also campaigns for an 'open market' for books in Australia in an attempt to break the monopoly of British publishers.
The ASA also crusaded to convince a succession of governments that Public Lending Right (PLR) is legitimate recompense to authors for loss of sales when their books are held in Australian public libraries. In 1975, PLR was finally brought in. However, for another 25 years the ASA has continued to cajole, argue and lobby for Educational Lending Right to be introduced. Our efforts were finally rewarded in 2000 when ELR was included as part of the Howard Government's GST compensation package to the book industry.
The ASA was instrumental in setting up the Copyright Agency
, which pays creators whose work is copied under statutory licence. This work has resulted in payments totalling nearly $100 million in 2005 being available for creators.
Local industry boom
Forty years ago, the ASA was part of a cultural renaissance that saw Australian publishers, theatres, radio stations, film-makers and television broadcasters bloom and grow. We now boast a publishing industry where over 60 per cent of books published each year are originated here, and where Australian authors, performers and film-makers are respected in their home country as well as in the global marketplace.