Robyn Friend

Robyn Friend
Robyn Friend

I first began writing in the early ’70s while living in Western Uganda with my husband and small children during the reign of Idi Amin Dada. My desire was to record the tragedy happening there. That manuscript, smuggled though customs when I left, was later extracted in newspaper articles here and in the UK, but I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer until I arrived in Tasmania in 1980 and my first short stories appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Nation Review, Inprint, The Canberra Times, Red Earth and Island, gaining some minor awards and honourable mentions. A first novel, Eva, (McPhee Gribble Penguin) followed in 1985. Told in first person through the fictional voice of Eva, the story was based on the real life of Anna Frankie who was imprisoned for killing her husband. This work focused attention on domestic violence and outmoded laws that allowed for rape in marriage. Tagged in the media as ‘ a bible for women’s shelters’, it was for some time on the reading list of the Family Court and was reproduced in extract in Family Law texts. Publication of Eva also led to my first ‘live-in’ workshop for FAW at Waddamana. Its success led to a commitment to community writing, and working with writers, which in turn led to my work as an oral historian and tutor. Two oral history collections were published, as well as further short stories, essays, reviews and feature articles, however, a second novel The Butterfly Stalker did not appear until 2005. Currently, my third novel, Mrs Lear in the market place and a fourth novel is nearing completion.

In 1989, I was appointed State Literature Officer for Tasmania with a brief to co-ordinate and stimulate community based writing. The position was supported by the Literature Board of the Australia Council and Arts Tasmania. Other states followed suit. State Literature Officer positions eventually led to the establishment of Writers Centres.

Following the defunding of the Tasmanian Literature Officer position in 1990 I established a private consultancy, Muse Consulting, in order fill a perceived gab in the provision of information and services for writers. Fortunately, as this was time consuming but never lucrative, the Tasmanian Writers Centre, established some years later, offered excellent services, which allowed me the time to write my second novel The Butterfly Stalker.

In 1990 also, I received an Australia Council Community Writing Fellowship to work in Aged Care facilities across the State. This led to in-house publications of books and magazines and professional development workshops for staff in a technique I called Memory Recall Storytelling. Following this, throughout the ’90s I served on what was then the Community Cultural Development Board of the Australia Council and the Literature Panel of Arts Tasmania. During this period, too, I was twice resident writer in western NSW where I travelled hundreds of kilometres between communities conducting workshops and providing a consultancy service to outback and isolated writers. The contacted writers were then linked with Writers Centre services in Sydney.

In the early ’90s, too, I was commissioned by the Huon Municipal Association under the auspices of the Commonwealth Department of Local Government to record the stories of aboriginal individuals and families, the aim of the Commonwealth funding being the de-marginalisation of disparate minorities. This resulted in a community oral history collection We Who Are Not Here – Aboriginal People of the Huon and Channel Today, as well as the foundation of the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the handing back of Fanny Cochrane’s church. A paper on this project, Voices from the Invisible, was presented at a national oral history conference in Launceston and later at the inaugural international conference at the Centre for Australian and New Zealand Studies at the University of Himachal Pradesh, India. A request to translate We Who Are Not Here into Hindi and an invitation to join the editorial board of the Indian Journal of Australian Studies, a position that I still hold, resulted from that conference.

In 2002 – 2003 I was the Asialink writer in residence in Northern India and participated in a seminar for North Indian academics on Australian Literature held by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. This began my continuing association with that country and with valued friends and colleagues there. India also inspired a novel, The Lovers’ Handbook, which I am currently completing.

Since 2003, through the Tasmanian Writers Centre, of which I am a life member, I have tutored a series of long course workshops in creative writing, the novel and memoir in Northern Tasmania. I have also had the privilege of acting as mentor to a number of new writers. Most of these are now published and two have international reputations. Currently, I am continuing to work as manuscript assessor with the TWC.

While I never expect to be famous, and will certainly never be wealthy, my experience over the last 30 years as a writer, and among writers, has greatly enriched my life.