Alumni Feature November 2016

Alumni Interview: Dr Ann Moyal, AM

Introduction and interview by Varuna Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Ann Moyal


The weather was uncharacteristically inclement when I visited Ann Moyal in her Canberra home: cold, wet and miserable. It didn’t matter. Once I was comfortably ensconced in Ann’s gracious lounge-room, with its soaring ceilings, judiciously displayed artworks and lovely natural light, the mood inside was in perfect contrast to the rain streaking the tall windows. It probably sounds odd to say it, but I’ve been missing Ann since we met. I revisit our conversation often and just the thought of her gladdens my heart. At 90, Ann remains a force to be reckoned with. The legacy of our conversation is that she’ll forever be one of my top go-to girls of women I admire; she’s simply made of the right stuff.


Ann Moyal I was in Canberra to hear more about Ann’s extraordinary gesture of faith in Varuna’s role in nurturing Australian writers. She’d only recently finalised the details of a bequest that will one day make available an annual 3-week, non-fiction fellowship in her name. It’s a big deal, though now we’ve shared biscuits I cannot bear the thought of its inauguration, nor imagine it, since Ann is so very vital. As she emailed me later, she remains very much alive, with no plans to shuffle off in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the planned bequest marks a significant example of Varuna’s lasting influence on the writers who stay there, and their desire to give something of lasting value in return for their experience.

After a long, transformative working relationship with press lord and Second World War historian Lord Beaverbrook in the 1950s, Ann returned to Australia just over 50 years ago to help launch the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Later earning the ire of a certain Vice Chancellor – for insubordination, no less – Ann threw over a traditional academic path for one infinitely less travelled. It did not slow her down. Now one of Australia’s foremost science historians, Ann’s long, illustrious career as a researcher, author and independent scholar includes being named to the Order of Australia in 1993 and awarded a DLitt by the University of Sydney in 2007.

Ann Moyal's autobiography Ann’s second autobiography – after Breakfast with Beaverbrook – is Woman of Influence: Science, Men & History; and those three subjects lent as much shape to our conversation as they have Ann’s fascinating life. Spending a couple of peaceful hours in her beautiful apartment chatting with this remarkable woman was a delight I’ll never forget (until my mind goes, that is – something my own genetics practically guarantee). Without further ado, it’s my great pleasure to share the best of our conversation with you.

DJ: Ann, let’s start with Varuna: your relationship with the house and the writers you’ve come to know there.

Moorehead cover AM: I first went to Varuna in 2003. I’d been asked by the National Library to begin a series on Australian lives. I’d decided I’d write on Alan Moorehead. He was one of our most famous writers and had rather been forgotten. I started the series with a book that became Alan Moorehead: A Rediscovery [you may like to read Ann’s review of the most recent Moorehead biography, Our Man Elsewhere].

I was very glad to have been given this wonderful 3-week fellowship and I adored Varuna from the start. I was a bit worried, because I’d been given Eleanor Dark’s bedroom.

Virginia Woolf DJ: The weight of expectation was upon you!

AM: It was worse than that. I’d been in England not many years before this and stayed with friends – American scholars – in the house of Virginia Woolf. I slept in Woolf’s study [and] in the middle of the night there was a terrible noise and crashing. It was winter and I didn’t have the heart to get out of bed to put on the light. It wasn’t until morning that I discovered that all my toilet objects had been flung around the room. I believe it was Virginia. So when I came into the master bedroom at Varuna, I was a bit worried that I might get haunted, but it was very benign; a lovely place.

DJ: It has a lovely feeling. I often talk about the atmosphere at Varuna. There are book spirits in the house.

Eleanor Dark AM: Oh, I think so. It’s very strong. What with Eleanor Dark’s very nice portrait of her looking down, this very benign presence: that’s the word that comes to mind and it is a wonderful place.

DJ: The novelist Kathryn Heyman sometimes goes to monasteries to work and she talks about prayerful silence. I’m a bit too godless for that, but I think there is a very potent silence at Varuna. It’s other people deeply engaged in the same thing you’re deeply engaged in.

AM: It’s a very special environment there, because it’s very productive and there’s no sense that you’re lonely or wasting your hours. I think everyone when I’ve been there has found it enormously productive. I’m usually the oldest there, but you bond in those evening conversations and at the end of the week you’re very loath to part. It’s a very strong [connection].

There was one occasion on a Saturday when they brought in two Aboriginal people [for a ceremony]. The young Aboriginal man – who had been made an elder of the local tribe – looked around and identified [from marks] that it was a women’s place. I felt that was most revealing. I have been back to Varuna on various occasions as an alumna and I’m always struck by this key factor. It’s definitely a women’s place; it was so confirming to have that be obvious to [the local tribe].

DJ: How did the idea of establishing a namesake fellowship at Varuna take shape?

AM: When I come to consider leaving a bequest, there are two things that govern me. One is that my career very much has been about an interdisciplinary approach, in the knowledge that I’m not trained as a scientist, but I know how to deal with scientists. Science and the history of science are tremendously important and anything that brings both these sides of our knowledge sets together to solve problems is terribly important. I’ve taken up some policy issues lately about that, so when I come to leaving a bequest, which I’ve done now – for established writers of non-fiction to have a period of 3-weeks at Varuna with the Ann Moyal Fellowship – I’m very happy about it, because I’ve made a point in the document to suggest that we would welcome any cross-cultural or cross-disciplinary work.

DJ: Let’s talk about the cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary moments and milestones of your own life. You’ve had a long, illustrious career. You’ve done many things; you’re across several disciplines, including history, science and story: how have they all come together?

Churchill AM: Well, it’s a long story. I’ve been very lucky. I had a very glittering part of my career in England, when I worked with Lord Beaverbrook and mixed in circles where I spent a month in the house with Sir Winston Churchill, so I feel I’ve been very spoilt.

I was engaged then in helping Lord Beaverbrook to write about the First World War – British history – then I came back to Australia to help Sir Keith Hancock found the Australian Dictionary of Biography, then I came into Australian history.

Two Cultures cover I think Sir Keith Hancock was a mentor to me. I had the good fortune that he and the then-President of the Academy of Science, Sir John Eccles, who was a Nobel Prize winner, decided on the need to bring the two cultures together. It all originated in part with CP Snow in England, who wrote the book The Two Cultures, and they chose me to become the person who would make that join, so that’s how, with very little science in my background, only school Geology, I became an historian of science.

It’s rather ridiculous. I would never have got that post today – not in a million years. They must have thought that I was enterprising, bright and could write –something that’s a useful skill and I seem to have it – and I started my career.

I had five years here building an archive of scientists at the Academy of Science at the Basser Library, but the most important thing was that I began to build up the basic materials in the history of Australian science, see what was in the libraries and begin my own research.

I’ve now published something like 14 or 15 books. They’re not all about the history of science – my main contribution is to the history of Australian science – but I chose quite early in the piece to get out of academia. I was at Griffith University, where I was Director of the Science Policy Research Centre. I did not like the Vice Chancellor, nor did he like me. I had a bad time there and I decided if that was academia, I’d rather not be in it, and so I left and began to live on grants and publishing books, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

In about 1995 I decided there really was an alternative academy of very intelligent and talented people who were writing in some isolation. I founded the Independent Scholars Association, to present opportunities for people to get together, have meetings and an alternative collegiate life. That’s been going now for 20 years. There’s about 200 members consistently [and] we’ve had some highly distinguished members. I was President for 5 years and I had very good contacts with the media, people like Phillip Adams, and that made a big difference.

Today the organisation is more a cosy place where people who are interested in ideas can get together. They’re not critical in discourse, which is what I’d hoped it would become, but when I think about people doing work, I’m sympathetic to those who are making their [own] way.

DJ: What does independent scholarship mean in practical terms? You’re free of the institution?

AM: It has two sides to it. It means that what you’re trying to live by is grants. I only got pretty small grants, from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and sources like that, because it was a new field. If you’re talented you also harness something like journalism.

You have to be strategic and enterprising. You’ve got to get to know people and be around, go to conferences and make sure you’re building networks. One of my strengths has always been my network; I’ve made a big point of it always.

DJ: That’s a good thing for young women to remember too, isn’t it?

AM: Yes, it’s terribly important; then you get known for it and people get in touch with you. The negative side, of course, is you’re not making much money. One of the things I’ve discovered with academics, if you move away from them, then you’re slightly on the edge. They make it quite plain. I think that the outsider’s role is both galvanising and a slight disadvantage; sometimes it’s harder.

I thought it was important to form the Independent Scholars Association of Australia, and marvellous people joined. We’ve had a conference every year and the National Library has always been our support and given us access to a conference room every year. We don’t pay them and they believe we are very important.

If you’re alone or a solitary worker, I think it’s a good idea to belong to a few associations.

DJ: I agree. I think that’s one of the reasons why Varuna has become so important and plays such an important part in the lives of so many writers.

AM: It’s a tremendous place, that it’s producing 135 opportunities a year – over years. There must be a huge number of people – women, notably.

DJ: Writers who have benefited from that collegiality and heritage over 25 years now.

AM: I always quote Darwin, because he wrote in solitude, quietness – there’s a lot to be said for that, but you’ve got to have the stimulus of outside contacts.

National Library I have a permanent desk at the National Library, which is my scholarly heart. Having chosen to be an independent scholar, Canberra has had many advantages. I’ve had a wonderful life and I’m very lucky. I won’t say all the books I’ve written have brought money, but I feel on the whole that I have been very fortunate. I’ve won small grants, I’ve had a lot of encouragement and I’ve worked very hard.

Clear Across Australia cover I’m very proud of a couple of my books. One of the books that I was commissioned [to write] was Clear Across Australia. I was commissioned by Telecom (as it was then) to write the [telecommunications] history of Australia, from the first days of the semaphore up to 1984. It was a tremendous undertaking [and] a landmark book. I always felt that was a great thing that had come to me. My husband [the late prominent mathematician JE Moyal] always said it was my good book, but I also wrote a lot on the history of colonial science and the splendid men who crossed the world to come to a completely unknown country.

DJ: Sure, Clear Across Australia is impressive, but my 5-year-old was completely enchanted by the idea that I was coming here to meet the author of Platypus.

Platypus cover AM: Well, Platypus is my most loved book, I think, and it certainly made more money than any other. It’s been reissued often, was taken up by the Smithsonian and published by two American presses. It’s a marvellous story. Of course, I spent a terrible lot of my life sitting, hoping to see the little animal either at dawn or twilight. It always knew I was there and it was very reluctant to come out. Finally seeing one was a wonderful moment.

Apart from that the thing that does please me most in recollection is the fact that so many younger women felt that my experience was encouraging.

DJ: You’re certainly a figure of feminist success: a trailblazer as far as representing women in certain roles in society. Very early you were established, succeeding and enjoying a high profile.

Ann Veronica cover AM: I’ve been a feminist from a very early stage. I was called after a book by HG Wells called Ann Veronica (1909), which my mother was reading when she was pregnant. When I came to look at Ann Veronica, she was a very independent, strong woman and I think I caught something of the idea.

[The character makes] a marvellous remark in the novel: she says, ‘I’m going to take life by the throat’ and I’ve adopted that. I’ve taken life by the throat. I’m not afraid of being a critic, and I think what I’ve done is encourage younger women to feel that they have a real opportunity and a role. I’ve had a lot of feedback along the way and that’s given me a lot of pleasure.

DJ: So in terms of defining your chief legacy, do you think it’s the lessons of empowerment you’ve given to younger generations of women?

Lab girl AM: I suppose that’s true. I married several times, but I don’t have a maternal urge, so I haven’t chosen to have children. I’m always glad [when] women are encouraged because I believe they have a hard row to hoe in general, and so much to contribute, and the culture is still totally unaware. I think I’m well known because I do take a public stance from time to time. I was placed on the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2014; it was a very doubtful set of people. Gerard Henderson was the Chair, Peter Coleman was on it and a woman who has no history at all; she was just a friend of Coleman’s. I was brought in at the last minute and I was perfectly shocked by the way that grouped behaved. Then they chose a book that had no right to be there. I went public and that’s why I’ve got a bit of a reputation.

I’ve just written a paper on women in science, which has always been an interest of mine. We’ve had high flyers – some very distinguished women – but most of the [female] graduates we produce (and there’s a very large percentage of them, at least half) are cooped [and] have difficulty in rising above a certain level. There are developments now that suggest gender equity is becoming much more important as a consideration in universities and research institutes, but I’ve been looking at it for a long time and I can’t say I’ve noticed a tremendous difference.

DJ: What changes have you seen, then, in Australian culture in terms of female engagement with science and history? You’ve got a lot more practitioners and enthusiasts, but is it a question of where the pathways are?

Old men of science AM: Well, and that they’re encouraged. I was on a committee in 1995 about women in physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine: the STEM disciplines. We considered all the evidence and decided there was a mysterious atmosphere: a cultural one from the men. They weren’t really aware of it, but we defined it as gender harassment. That was in 1995. I think culturally men in science are still quite unaware that they’re excluding people – perhaps unwittingly, to be charitable.

The whole business of this attitude in our culture – now that I’m old, I run into this terrible gender ageist [attitude] where people treat you in a certain way. […] An awful lot of people experience it at different stages, so we have to fight it. It’s universal; the literature shows that very clearly.

DJ: It’s very strange, because women are in command of so much power and strength.

AM: And versatility, yes. It will improve if we can get rid of the Mr Howards of the world.

DJ: You mentioned Ann Veronica – are there other personal and professional touchstones?

Julian of Norwich AM: A personal one that has greatly guided my whole approach to life is Julian of Norwich. She was an anchoress during the bubonic plague and she had a window in her little Anchorite cell in Norwich. People would come to it and she would say to them, ‘Go forth gladly and gaily,’ to which she would add, ‘in the Lord, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.’

I have taken that as my creed: ‘Go forth gladly and gaily, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.’ It’s so marvellous [coming] from a woman speaking in the most terrible historical time. I mentioned that in one of my autobiographies [and] I often have feedback from women saying they were going to adopt it.

Otherwise, I’m very aware that my parents made tremendous sacrifices for me. I was the first in the family to go to university. I always think of my mother: how highly intelligent she was, but [with none] of the opportunities. How lucky I’ve been, and how she would have grown in another life, another time, so that’s part of my view.

DJ: Let’s talk a bit more about your family and growing up – were any teachers noteworthy in contributing to your development?

AM: My family was instrumental in giving me opportunities that were terribly important. The influence of my mother was enormous. She was very proud of me. My father was a major teller at the Commonwealth Bank – in those days an important task – but we were not well off. We lived in Northbridge in a nice, modest little house.

I went to Wenona, the girls’ school. I was quite a good student, so I did well. Recently I’ve been asked by Wenona to be written up in whatever digital record they’re keeping. I’ve insisted that I’ll only be written up if they write up my sister too, Mimi Hurley, because she became the first woman on the floor of the [Australian] Stock Exchange. She endowed a library room at Wenona [and] was very attached to the school.

Women's College I spent my last year at Canberra High School and from there, won a university scholarship. I was at the Women’s College [at the University of Sydney] for a tremendously formative period in my life. It’s a very formative period for any girl and I felt tremendously lucky to go to a college like the Women’s College. Then I was lucky (and I worked very hard): I got a scholarship to the Institute of Historical Research in London.

This is where I become like Ann Veronica: I take life by the throat. I decide I’m not mad on these serious academics. I was supposed to be doing a Masters degree, but I had the opportunity of taking a much more interesting job, a research job of Chatham House, which is the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. I gave up on taking my Masters degree, so I never steered a straight academic course.

Men & Power cover Getting that job with Lord Beaverbrook was an amazing experience: lots of travel and a very important job. He was a very powerful press lord…but I make a point of writing about him as an historian. […] He wrote a very important book with my considerable help – Men and Power 1917-1918 – and that put him on the map internationally as an historian.

He went to Canada every year; I only once went with him. I was doing research on the book Men and Power in America, at Harvard, Yale and the libraries, and I flew up to join Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton, which is where he was the Chancellor. I had a rather marvellous time and worked very hard.

We spent time in New York, which was where I got to know the Kennedys. I was taken out by that terrible old father, who had designs of the worst kind, and I met the younger brother, Robert. Then we went down to Nassau, in the Bahamas. I write about this in my book Breakfast with Beaverbrook, but it was a very glittering life. Beaverbrook wanted me to stay with him until he died. He said to me, ‘I can’t offer you sex’ – he was 75.

DJ: I bet you said, ‘That’s a relief…’

AM: He said, ‘But I can introduce you to interesting men.’ But I’d been away for 9 years and I decided I wanted to come home.

DJ: Was it a wrench to leave?

AM: It was a wrench, but I’m not sorry about it. He tried to get me back from Australia, because we worked terribly well together, not only intellectually. We had a sort of chemical [connection], as you do when you get on with someone.

Breakfast with Beaverbrook cover He was a very great influence in my life and he taught me things I would pass on to anyone. They were the coda: to be brave, not to take too seriously men of power or the sources of power; to be critical; to question and to take risks. They’re a terrific foundation.

To come back to Australia to set up the dictionary [and be] expected to make cups of tea for men who came to meetings… I wondered if it was downhill all the way. It wasn’t, but [only] geared by this tutelage.

My colleagues said of me, ‘Oh, she’s very bright, but she’s got no quallies’ – quallies! I went past them all eventually. I never stopped to take a PhD; I always stopped to take the interesting job along the way. Eventually I was awarded a Doctor of Letters – much more senior. You get it as a result of your publications [and] I knew I went past them, which was very satisfactory.

DJ: It’s a lesson that bears repeating. I don’t think women should ever lose sight of their own ability to enable the course that their life takes. I think there’s still a lot of timidity.

AM: Terrible timidity. That’s part of the science story of women. They don’t have any confidence in themselves.

DJ: We’re not necessarily helping each other, either, in many ways. The sisterhood has a lot of tragic failings. Maybe it’s because it’s still so hard for individual women to get through. On their way up, those that manage it just can’t be worrying about everyone else at the same time. Maybe the idea that this is a collective effort is lost [along the way].

AM: Well, that’s very true. I think it is very difficult for women when they haven’t got confidence. If you haven’t got it, no one’s going to take much notice of you.

DJ: And it’s very hard to cultivate in the absence of it.

AM: Yes, and that’s why I think it’s terribly important, and I make a point of this, to help people; when they do something good, to praise them. People don’t get much praise. One of the reasons I got on so well with Lord Beaverbrook is that everyone was a ‘Yes’ man around a person like that. I treated him normally and criticised or praised him [as appropriate].

DJ: He probably found that extremely refreshing.

AM: I think that’s why I was chosen. It was a very competitive field to get that job. You’ve got to have confidence [in order to be] helpful to someone and also show you’ve got something to say. To show that you’re capable in any job and not to be asked to make the tea.

DJ: Not that I’m against being able to welcome people – I think women do that very well and that’s part of being hospitable, but certainly not at the expense of your formidable talents around the table itself. You have to be at the table. That’s something that’s unusual, Ann, in terms of the longevity of your career: how early you were at the table. That’s a significant thing to dwell on: the difference in the women who get to the table and those who never do.

AM: I was quite timid at school and the university. We were never much encouraged at the university. I went through those years silently (no one would ever believe that today). Then I showed talent, so I was picked up by the Vice Chancellor and became his research assistant. I don’t know when I found my voice, but it must have been after I got to England.

DJ: Do you think it was that separation from Australia, being in a new place and being able to make yourself?

AM: I think it helps…distance is not a bad thing. But to be given that sort of guideline [by Beaverbrook] was key: to be brave, to take risks… not to indulge mini-men, not be frightened by people in authority, to go and present yourself to them.

DJ: So what do you think of the removal of the humanities from the model, the fact that the arts have been excised, leaving us with STEM instead of STEAM? All those years ago, as a young feminist promoted and mentored by forward-thinking gentlemen, you and they recognised long ago that there was an opportunity to build the bridge. What do you think of the idea that it’s being dismantled right before our eyes all these years later?

AM: I’ve become a spokesperson on this subject. I looked on the internet yesterday to see how many chief social scientists were appointed around the world. There aren’t any and all the indications of work on it were by ‘Ann Moyal.’ I had an article in The Australian after I’d given a paper on it last October for CHASS, which is the Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Melbourne, and it’s one of the only things you can read about it.

2 Cultures To solve our national problems, it’s one thing to have a Chief Scientist; you really also need a Chief Social Scientist. We need to bring all kinds of knowledge of human behaviour, all the things the social sciences and humanities are interested in, [and] bring them to science. It’s not just science that’s going to solve our problems: that’s one of the things that I set store by.

It’s tremendously important that we have the behavioural sciences. Obama has brought in a whole set of approaches around using the social sciences. The current Chief Scientist doesn’t agree with me that we should have a Chief Social Scientist, but we have to apply pressure. Though this government’s talking about agility and innovation, this is an innovation in our whole structure: to have someone who sits in an equal position with the Chief Scientist [and has] direct access to government.

Interdisciplinary work is being done by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) – they’ve produced at least 15 reports in the last two years that are highly interdisciplinary, but they are still sat upon by the Chief Scientist. They’ve had a lot of input from social science and the humanities, so I’m pressing that. I’m talking to the independent scholars about it at their annual conference and one can only keep getting publicity and trying to get the ideas taken, because it’s slow. We have to hope that Mr Malcolm Turnbull really believes in innovative approaches because this is a very important one.

Quite a lot of discussion focuses on evidence-based policy; scientists find it easier to produce that. There’s been a Chief Scientist in this country since 1989; there’s a long tradition of putting science at the heart of national goals. The governments seem very resistant to the idea, [but] the opportunities are so real here in things like commerce with Asia. We’ve got such opportunities, with such a large population of people who have very strong connections with Asia, and this is a way, with these sorts of links and [a Chief Social Scientist] focusing it, that it could be very useful. There are a whole lot of opportunities when you’re designing cities, for example, people who are geographers and social scientists, they’re tremendously important areas.

As Obama’s discovered, how people behave really should be influencing policy, which is why the behavioural sciences are being pressed into service in the USA. But here? No. Not yet. So I’m carrying this little banner rather furiously.

DJ: Ann, you’re 90…

AM: Don’t speak about it. It’s the worst thing that’s happened to me. Though I’m very lucky, you become a freak. It’s freakish.

DJ: No one in my family has reached 90, so I don’t expect I shall, but I think to be as sharp as you are at 90 is deeply impressive. It means you’ve got this vast store of working memory. Perhaps a blessing and a burden, because you’ve seen so much, but it puts you in the enviable position of knowing what’s happening now, what things used to be like and perhaps how to project a bit into the future.

For instance, you were talking before about national problems. Some of them will take years to unravel. They’re very dense, and very entrenched in some cases, so I’m interested in your thoughts on how we might approach that. You’ve done a lot of work; what work remains for us, including those younger writers you’re hoping will benefit from your bequest?

AM: It’s almost impossible to answer that question. One of the things I’m very struck by is that technology can be linked with the humanities and social sciences. I have a younger friend in America who is an archaeologist. Organisations like NASA and others are very interested in her when she has something to give them. There’s tremendous opportunity for that sort of linking. There has to be, because technology is obviously going to be a major part of our future.

It’s the arts that can come in there. Many social areas [across] so many disciplines are relevant to all our problems. It’s a question of being aware that they’re there – that’s why I’m very struck by these ACOLA reports, because they do look at questions, though anchored in science, to which the other academies can bring expertise and important insights. That’s what I’m interested in: how you do use the knowledge?

CP Snow CP Snow first wrote about the two cultures. He was a physicist by day and novelist by night. This was in the 1950s, after the Second World War; he’d go between them and these two sets of people didn’t have any communication with each other. He said it was very dangerous. Now, he’s saying that in the 1950s; it’s much more dangerous now. That’s my thrust at the moment. We’ve had a Chief Scientist since 1989. Now we’re in 2016. We have to use our whole tremendous range of knowledge.

DJ: Has that been something for you, Ann, and perhaps why you’ve been good at marrying history and science, that sense of range, of an intellectual or scientific quest?

AM: Yes. It was an opportunity. No one had done much in the field. I was no scientist, but you develop knowledge anyway. You talk to people, you go into new fields – that’s the whole thing about cross-disciplinary work: you have to.

I had first thought of leaving this money to the Academy of Humanities, of which I’m a Fellow, because I thought I’d give money to have a yearly forum of an interdisciplinary nature looking at current problems. […] Then I thought no, it’s much more important to find a proper outlet for people who have ideas, who are writing major articles or books, [and] give them a certain period at this wonderful place, Varuna, where you are greatly stimulated, quiet and sorted out.

I’m very happy that’s the conclusion I came to. Who knows whom you’re helping and what may come out of it? I rather hope it could be a model for other people.

DJ: That’s really got to be the future, doesn’t it? Funding from government is becoming smaller and smaller and costs are rising.

AM: Having spent some time in America with my husband in Chicago – I was the science editor for the University of Chicago Press for several years – I was so struck by the sense of philanthropy there as a natural outcome of an immigrant society. We don’t have that in Australia.

It’s a lack of gratitude, in a sense, for what your opportunities have been. We’re all migrants in a way, often a long way back, but it’s very much a feeling in America [that] generosity and returning is built into it. It’s certainly not here – not even with people who’ve made a lot of money. There are some benefactors, of course, but it’s not a major activity.

Mick Dark DJ: That’s a lovely note on which to end, because Varuna is the result of Mick Dark’s gifting his inheritance from his parents and establishing the National Writers’ House in the first place. In some ways it’s the most obvious receptacle for a gift such as yours, because it’s always been about giving back and a desire to do something [of] real significance for a group of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.

AM: That’s absolutely right. I met Mick Dark when he was working in the garden. He was a very sweet man and I noticed his son working in the garden too. I’m very pleased about [the bequest because] I’ve always taken [Eleanor Dark] seriously as an historian. Her contribution is major – I notice other historians are now arguing that – and to have benefited from that and be alert to her generosity, then [Mick Dark’s] generosity, it’s a tremendous thing. It’s a base to be built on in many directions. [Varuna’s] already served the community in a very special way.

DJ: It certainly has. I look at that library and it’s almost hard to grasp the contribution Varuna’s made. In many ways it’s practical, but there are intangible elements too. We’d be much poorer as a society without it.

AM: The number of writers who’ve come out of it is quite amazing. You don’t know all their names, but there they are: a marching army.

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  • Fascinating article! So great to learn more about Ann Moyal, this wonderful woman- her achievements, views and influences, and immense generosity.
    Thank you Diana- just like sitting around the fire at Varuna with you both .

    julie bail Friday, 11 November 2016 17:34 Comment Link
  • I agree Di Jenkins, what a go-to girl Ann Moyal is, and quite apart from her prodigious output (with thanks for reminding me to read Alan Moorehead) she will be forever remembered for her generous bequest - what a good idea, and thank heavens for Varuna.

    Nicola Walker Friday, 11 November 2016 21:49 Comment Link
  • Very proud to be the publisher of Ann's book from 2014, Woman of Influence. What a woman! Very fondly and with great respect, Terri-ann White

    Terri-ann White Saturday, 12 November 2016 12:56 Comment Link
  • Thanks, Julie - I thought of you and other Varuna writers while I was with Ann, really wishing we were doing just that.

    Thank heavens indeed, Nicola. And yes, Ann is prodigious, generous and impossible to forget, bequest or no bequest!

    Hello, Terri-ann, a very warm welcome to you. Lovely to see you here, and what a well-judged decision to publish Woman of Influence. Thank you for being one of Ann's many champions, as we're all beneficiaries of her adventure and her success.

    Diana Jenkins Monday, 21 November 2016 22:40 Comment Link
  • I'm so pleased to have found this interview- I have just finished the two autobiographies and am about to start on Joe. This conversation brings Ann's voice alive in a different way- thank you both

    Laurann Yen Saturday, 11 November 2017 14:35 Comment Link

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