The Journal of the Australian Association of Writing Programs




An Allegory

During August, the TEXT office had a phone call from Professor Barry Goode of Eunaymit University. Professor Goode had, on the face of it, a simple request. He needed to know who owned TEXT and where did the journal align itself.

The question about alignment could be answered quite simply. TEXT aligns itself:

  • with the AAWP and its members;
  • with those staff teaching writing in tertiary institutions in Australian;
  • with those who donate their time to TEXT as referees, book reviewers, proofreaders, web consultants and the like;
  • with all those who write and research for TEXT and with the executive of the AAWP;
  • and finally, with the unselfish and discipline-committed furthering of the cause of teaching writing across Australia (and by extension, internationally).

But the question of ownership was another matter. This question had never been asked before. The editors themselves had never asked it.

TEXT was dreamt up by the current editors, and the concept was presented to delegates at the first AAWP conference at UTS in 1996. By way of preparation, Tess and Nigel had met with Cassandra Pybus (the originator of the Australian Humanities Review, the first Australian academic journal on the web) and had taken themselves off to learn HTML - a task easier than they anticipated.

In 1997, on an old 486 PC, they coded the first issue, and set up the contributions, refereeing and subscriptions procedures. Living strongly from support generated by delegates to the first AAWP conference, the initial issue was netcast from the Griffith University site, the host to all issues so far.

TEXT went from a small beginning to far greater strength. With the October issue of 2001 the journal completes its fifth year of publication, having in that time published 80 refereed article, 19 creative pieces, 3 interviews, 34 reviews and 8 non refereed papers in the soapbox section we called "The Mouse". Additionally there have been three allied sites: a comprehensive Australia-wide Programs Guide and two special issues sites (Creative Nonfiction and Writing Online/Online Writing). All of this research material can be accessed from the comprehensive TEXT Index.

In the last five years, through all this endeavour, TEXT has established itself as a research site of extraordinary value. There is nothing like it in the rest of the world: a single site that covers theory, praxis and practice in the discipline.

During the five years, one of the editors moved from Griffith University to Deakin University and that institution now co-sponsors the publication in terms of recognition of academic time and equipment needs. No university actually gives the editors or the AAWP any up-front funds for the work involved in an issue. (For only one issue, a proofreader was paid by Griffith.) The AAWP itself has never provided funds to TEXT (and has never been asked to do so).

The editorial office PCs are kept up to date by two universities (Deakin and Griffith), and Griffith provides the server. The editors do the editing as part of their research activities but receive no DETYA points for doing so and no teaching relief. Like the others who referee or otherwise contribute to TEXT, they do it because they deeply believe in the importance of generating debate, discourse and vitality in a new field of study.

TEXT survives on the continuing widespread recognition of its research and the significance of its publishing (as reflected in the Australian National Library's continued archiving of the journal in the Pandora Project). Thirty-seven universities - through the commitment of their academic staff in editing, writing, refereeing and reading - keep TEXT up and running. This thirty-seven represents almost the entire complement of Australian universities.

TEXT is clearly, therefore, a national academic activity. It does not belong to any one university or campus. TEXT's domain comprises that umbrella domain defined by all the activity and representation of the Australian Association of Writing Programs.

So who owns TEXT?

Could the editors take TEXT and sell it, for example, to the SBS website as an important cultural activity? Could the AAWP replace the editors and take TEXT to another site, giving it another philosophy, another publishing 'look'? Could Griffith University claim it as theirs (as they have from time to time suggested when they have gone into the site and re-arranged its layout, or removed it from the server - our relationship with the Griffith sever has been a continual hassle)? Could Deakin claim 50% of TEXT - and if so what would it do with it?

Could another university buy out TEXT over the head of the AAWP? Or could another university simply state a claim and equally simply remove it to its own site?

If TEXT ran up a debt (we don't have any budget so there isn't much chance of this) who would have to pay it? If TEXT was sued (again unlikely) who would have to go to court or pay the costs?

Perhaps TEXT is owned by a number of stakeholders: the editors, the AAWP, the host universities? Or since no one has ever taken legal possession: do the contributors and their copyrights own it? Or might the actual owner simply turn out to be the next most aggressive, bullying, university cartel with a selfish takeover mentality and a useful budget?

All of this brings us back to Barry Goode's recent questions. He asked the questions because his colleague, Professor Maffeeya, at a recent meeting at Eunaymit University, claimed TEXT as one of his (Professor Maffeeya's) own assets.

Who is Professor Maffeeya, many of you may well ask, and what right does he have to claim a major stakeholding in TEXT? Has he ever contributed to TEXT? Is he a member of the AAWP? Has he ever attended an AAWP conference? Does he teach creative or professional writing?

Shouldn't academics with a view to taking over research domains have at least done something in that domain previously? Shouldn't they have established at least some credibility in the area? What are we up against here? A new academic stand-over group trying to gain territory by bluster, deception, big-noting and narcissism?

Professor Maffeeya, among other things, runs a website where innocuously he asked TEXT (and presumably a number of other online journals) to let him carry links from his gateway/index page. He was trying to collect or corral into one site various online publications based in Australia.

On the face of it, this is a good idea and not an unusual one. TEXT is frequently asked if this or that publication can offer a link to the site. After all, TEXT has been published online now for five years and is something of a flagship in online scholarly publication. But, the permission having been given, the link to TEXT suddenly made it one of Professor M's claimed 'assets'!

'Armed' thus with TEXT (and other website links), Professor Maffeeya then went on a rampage. He tried to rip Professor Goode's entire creative writing program off him! He tried to suggest that he owned TEXT and would set up a swag of courses in teaching creative writing around them as his personal-use website. He tried to suggest that the AAWP should come right in under his new umbrella - the flimsy one he had suddenly erected by his mere talking up. Being a Lilliputian in the world of creative writing research, he wanted to tie down the whole Australian industry and claim it for his own.

Out there in the world of university money and politics we are witnessing thinking and planning that involves sly maneouvring, takeover bids, and asset-stripping. All this in the creative writing/teaching field! Not from writers, nor necessarily from those who teach writing; but from cultural studies personnel who see writing as a cash cow, it seems.

TEXT will resist these takeover bids, as will our AAWP president who is carrying the AAWP in its own right into the heart of the current debates regarding creative and research funding.

This editorial is written to inform readers and AAWP members of the existence of unsavoury developments around us. TEXT and the AAWP have made enormous efforts to unite the various approaches to the teaching of writing in the Australian university sector and to embrace colleagues in the TAFE sector. TEXT will resist upstart efforts from peripheral players keen to muscle in on the valuable advances already made in the creative writing discipline.

The upside of all this excitement is that subscribers to TEXT should be proud and active regarding how the AAWP and TEXT draw so much attention - how the two bodies, hand in hand, have generated a force and voice of significance. This has been made possible by the number of people who have organised national conferences (we are about to have our sixth), nominated to the executive of the AAWP, organised forums, sent in comments and submissions, contributed to TEXT, refereed for TEXT, and generally promoted the discipline under the aegis of the AAWP umbrella.

The AAWP and TEXT need your continuing support as part of keeping the discipline independent and democratic.

Nigel Krauth
Tess Brady


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Vol 5 No 2 October 2001
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady