How the Fellowship began in Western Australia
Back: H. Drake-Brockman, Jesse Hammond, Walter Murdoch, J.K Ewers, E.W (Bill) Irwin, W.C. Thomas, Gavin Casey.
Front: Mary Durack, Annie Mark, C. Hartley Grattan, Ethel Davies, Katherine Susannah Pritchard.
Early activities included monthly meetings with guest speakers on a wide range of topics of interest to writers, Round Table workshops to discuss members’ writings and public reading of works by Western Australian writers.
The Fellowship was soon involved in entertaining writers from overseas and interstate, as well as meetings of community organisations such as the Good Neighbour Council and Adult Education, in planning literary activities for the annual Festivals of Perth and organising Children’s Book Weeks.
Members lobbied to improve conditions for Australian writers in fields as diverse as the policies of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, censorship, newspaper syndication, the establishment of children’s libraries, the Commonwealth Literary Fund and literary pensions as well as Public and Educational Lending Rights payments to writers.
The FAWWA played a major role in the formation of the Australian Society of Authors, the Children’s Book Council and, in the 1970s, the rescue of the Greenmount home of writer Katharine Susannah Prichard, and the formation of the KSP Foundation and Writers Centre.
In 1949 the FAWWA gained a headquarters of its own when Samuel Furphy, son of author Joseph Furphy, known as the Father of the Australian Novel, bequeathed to the FAWWA the wooden cottage built by his father in 1908. The author of Such Is Life lived there until his death in 1912. In September 1949 it was officially opened as Tom Collins House.
In 1959, Sydney writer Kylie Tennant, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald about the Festival of Perth under the title 'Culture Blooms in the West' asserts:
"...and every established writer, whatever his shade of political opinion, is a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers." (Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday February 21 1959, p. 17)
From the early 70s the FAWWA established regional branches in Albany, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and the Hills Region. For the following twenty years they organised annual country tours of schools by writers with the aim of ensuring that every school student had contact with at least two writers during his or her education.
Dr Patricia Kotai-Ewers traced the origins and development of FAWWA and its influence on the development of literature in Western Australia for her Doctor of Philosophy thesis in 2013. It's a fascinating read indicating the at times turbulent interaction between early members, and even the political intrigue which surrounded them.
Dr Kotai-Ewers in her thesis recorded an account of the visit by science fiction author HG Wells to FAWWA members in Perth in December, 1938.
Consequently, the FAWWA planned to entertain the writer at a dinner, on 27 December, at the Palace Hotel, at the cost of 7/6 per head ... FAWWA members met the visitor as soon as his boat berthed, took him on a sight-seeing tour, then delivered him to the University in Crawley, where he was to have afternoon tea. They collected him again from Crawley at five o’clock, so that he would have time to rest before speaking at the FAWWA dinner.
— The Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) from 1938 to 1980 and its role in the cultural life of Perth. Patricia Kotai-Ewers, November 2013, P83.