In the August [1993] Newsletter Andy Whyte asked: "Can anyone explain why Australia needs a society of authors, a writers' guild and a fellowship of writers?" In the normal course of events that would have elicited an immediate response from our great friend Jim Hamilton, but he didn't see it: Jim died on 17 August. He was 57.
Jim was a prodigious writer of letters, most of them brief, to the point and good-humored. In his early retirement, which he seemed to be enjoying hugely, he stepped-up his letter-writing: he commented on most issues of the Newsletter this year. I will miss his letters. I will miss his cheerful and invariably helpful answers to my telephone queries about writers, books, literary awards, organizations . . . Most of the time he just happened to be on the board of the organization I wanted to know about.
James Stuart Hamilton was born in Sydney. After a time in the Air Force he became a teacher, then an editor in the Victorian Education Department's Publications Branch, and later an education administrator. He was elected Secretary of the Victorian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1967, and President in 1977 and every year since; in those 26 years the Victorian FAW's membership increased from 60 to over 2000. Through Jim's initiative the FAW established or administered a veritable host of literary awards, among them the FAW Barbara Ramsden Award, named in honor of that great editor and since 1971 awarded each year to the author and editor of what the FAW judging panel considers the Australian book of the year. Jim was an early member of the Society of Editors, and always one of our most loyal supporters. He was particularly proud of establishing the FAW Barbara Ramsden Award, and jealous of its prestige.
A couple of years ago Jim was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia; he deserved more than that. He was not mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1985); he deserved better than that. I have never heard anything to suggest that he felt slighted by such things, that he desired greater recognition; he wasn't in it for that. He did what he did for the love of it, from his great love of books and writing, of the makers and promoters and users of books; and we are all in his debt for that.
I forget when I met Jim. It was certainly no later than the FAW/ASA conference on humor in Australian writing and art, in early 1972 (I think). In 1981 I applied for a job with the Australian Library Promotion Council, and asked Jim if he would be my referee. "Yes," he said, "of course. I'm on the board, but that's not a problem: the board won't be making the appointment." I didn't know he was on the board, but I might have guessed.
Jim liked the way I did the Newsletter, and was fond of calling it "the world's first stream-of-consciousness newsletter". Compared with his Victorian FAW Bulletin it did seem like that, but his newsletter, which I found rather dull and predictable (and told him so; he didn't mind), was always crammed with useful information and always appeared on time -- and Jim produced far more issues of that than I ever will of this.
This note is not an attempt at a stream-of-consciousness obituary, but it does appear in a Newsletter that I wasn't expecting to be working on so soon after the last, and for which I have nothing prepared, so this issue may have more than usual of the character that Jim called stream-of-consciousness (that I call making it up as I go along). In fact, to make sure it has, this note will now digress or disperse into an anecdote and a short collection of reprints, recalling some fun from years ago that Jim enjoyed as much as I did.
In between the FAW's regular monthly meetings Jim started what he called social meetings, informal gatherings at a pub in town. Announcing them every month in the Bulletin, Jim invariably said "Perhaps carry a book" -- an eminently sensible suggestion. For most of 1979-80, announcing our meetings at the John Curtin Hotel (in the heart of trade-union-land in Carlton), I suggested the opposite.
August
Don't carry a book: the barman will think you're a wharfie and you could end up anywhere.

October
Don't carry a book: the barman will think you're a member of the Socialist Left and you could end up in Parliament.

November
Don't carry a book: the barman will think you're an intellectual and charge you double.

February
Don't carry a book: the bar-flies will think you're an FAW member and pester you for your autograph.

March
Don't carry a book: if you feel you may not be recognized as an editor you could carry a cash-flow chart, perhaps, or a small computer. (If you are really big in publishing and think you may not be recognized, bring an aeroplane.)

April
Don't carry a book: everyone knows editors can't read and you'd feel such a dill if the barman told you you had it upside-down. FAW members may carry a book, this month only, to honor the fallen. This has nothing to do with war or religion, as you would know if you were an FAW member: the fallen are those who not only did not get an award of any kind at Dallas Brooks Hall last month but were not even mentioned. Your Newsletter editor will be carrying a slim volume entitled Mimeocyanometry, which, every hour or so when things get boring, he will pick at listlessly, wondering all over again why it is that stencils melt on the Roneo whenever he tries to reproduce an illustration using blue ink. Luckily he is an FAW member, and therefore entitled to write his way out of holes left in newsletters by blue illustrations that fail to reproduce.

May
Do not carry a book, unless it is Australian Explorers, ed. K. Fitzpatrick (Oxford, World's Classics, 1958), for which your Newsletter editor will make you a handsome offer.

June
You must carry a book: that's an order. Persons not carrying books will be refused admittance. If you do not possess a book, ring Jim Hamilton and ask him where you can get one. Books borrowed from the barman must be returned to him after the meeting. Would the person who spilt soup on page 131 of the barman's only spare copy of Wittgenstein's Tractatus at the last meeting kindly offer to replace it. See the secretary.
Ah, Jim -- Jim, OAM -- what will we do without you?


The Society of Editors Newsletter, September 1993




John Bangsund
Melbourne, Australia



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