For over a week, almost from the moment I learnt that I was to be presented with a plaque at the Fellowship of Australian Writers' National Literary Awards Dinner, I kept saying to myself "I must not get up in front of all those distinguished people and say 'Does this plaque cause mental decay?'" As the dinner began I tried to rehearse gracious platitudes and gentle quips of a literary nature. Andrew Lemon, joint winner of the local-history prize for his excellent The Northcote Side of the River, made a gracious acceptance speech between the soup and the main course, and I was thinking That's the style, forget the puns, when I heard him saying that last year he had been on last and had drunk enough to make what everyone apparently regarded as a quite scintillating speech. Earlier I thought I'd heard Jim Hamilton tell Lloyd Robson that he would be on last, so when Andrew finished I said to Lloyd "OK, Robson, you've got to scintillate!" "Fair enough," he said, "but what do I do after 8?" God, I thought, I'll bet he gets up and says that, and when everyone groans he'll say it was my joke. I'd better tell it and blame him. Later I saw him writing notes. "Scintillate", I thought, I'll bet that's what he is writing. Maybe I'd better write some notes too. Say nothing about pearls of wit rejected by Access Age. Plaque -- no! Be gracious: remember thank FAW, Jim, Eileen, Robson, Oxford. Mention sad plight editors, always forgotten, except for this award? No, bit political, remember be gracious. Alan Marshall Award, Con Weickhardt Award, C.J. Dennis Award, Mary Grant Bruce Award, Shell Award, Bendigo Advertiser Award, Anne Elder Award, Wilke Award, Christopher Brennan Award, Shaw Neilson Award. Anyone not got an award yet? State of Victoria Awards, FAW Young Writers Award . . . can't be many to go now . . . "the FAW Barbara Ramsden Award, named in honor of . . ." Damn! My pulse is racing, bloody unfair, I haven't been nervous all night. ". . . for A History of Tasmania, volume one: Lloyd Robson!" So I am on last. Pulse subsides. Lloyd very amusing, as always. Much applause. ". . . the publisher's editor: John Bangsund." Polite applause. I walk to the lectern, look at my notes ("scintillate", "literary cricketism" -- is that all?), look at the plaque, look at the audience, pause, then: "Does this plaque cause mental decay?" Wild applause! I love them! I tell them all about Access Age and how I'd rather be a poet than an editor and it's puns all the way and the worse they get the more they seem to like them and I forget entirely to be graciously grateful to FAW, Jim, Eileen, Oxford, wife, Nigel my budgie, and end up saying that while I have books like this to work on, and authors like Lloyd to work with, I don't really mind being an editor at all. Suddenly it's over, and Gerald Murnane is saying "You pompous bastard, Bangsund" but in a nice sort of way and Stephen Murray-Smith is beaming at me and a couple of kids who turn out to be science fiction fans ask for my autograph and it's compliments and flattery and smiles and all too much all the way.
The Barbara Ramsden Award is unique among Australian literary prizes in that it honors the editor as well as the author of "a book of quality writing in any field of literature", or to be exact, the one judged by the FAW to be book of the year. It is named after one of the great book editors, the late Barbara Ramsden of Melbourne University Press. Not uniquely among Australian literary prizes, no cash accompanies it: the award is in the form of a beautiful little bronze plaque by Andor Meszaros depicting "the Origin of Art, showing the creator at work and a figure representing the forces that ensure its effective communication". The plaque is mounted on an elegant piece of timber. It could serve as a very superior cheese-board.
I am immensely proud of this award. If I don't deserve it for editing, I deserve it for being lucky enough to win it, so my mind is at rest about that.


The Society of Editors Newsletter, April 1984




John Bangsund
Melbourne, Australia



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