Q&A with Dr Georgina Arnott

Q&A with Dr Georgina Arnott
Authors at the National Library
24 April 2017

Historian Dr Georgina Arnott has devoted her career to research, currently working at Monash University in the History Department. She has dedicated a doctorate, and now her first book, on the life of Judith Wright. She loves Australian history, giggles at dirty poetry, and has incorporated both elements in her first book, The Unknown Judith Wright

Image: Judith Wright b/w

On Thursday 11 May, Dr Georgina Arnott will lead a discussion on the mysteries surrounding enigma, Judith Wright. Joining her will be Professor Tom Griffiths from ANU.

We were lucky enough to borrow some of Georgina’s time before the event. We asked her about her writing processes, and the surprises she encountered in writing her first book.

Why do you write?

To understand how our collective and personal histories shape our thinking and behaviour.

What are you reading right now?

Mary Durack’s Kings in Grass Castles, Charlie Ward’s A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off and Tom Griffiths’ The Art of Time Travel.

Cover images: Kings in Grass Castles, A Handful of Sand - The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off, and The Art of Time Travel

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting bookshop?

Bookshops seem increasingly to be customising their selections to suit their clientele, perhaps in response to the number of books being published. So I guess those three titles would differ in almost every case. But I would be disappointed if a bookshop did not have a copy of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents.

How would you describe your latest book?

Experimental, searching, provocative.

What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?

Finding the right narrative to explain the material I was unearthing about Judith Wright’s early years and family background.

What was the best part of writing your latest book?

Coming across Judith’s raunchy and rude poetry and newspaper columns written while she was a student at Sydney University in the 1930s; attempting to convey their significance in a seemly tone.

What’s the strangest piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

Pretty much everything I’ve heard does seem to help my writing: start at 5am, never finish on an uphill start, eat peanut butter sandwiches.


Tamsin Calder, 4, of Rivett munches a peanut butter, banana and walnut sandwich... Courtesy of Trove

They don’t necessarily help other parts of my life.

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?

I welcome strange questions but probably the most surprising thing I’ve been asked is ‘do you draft your work?’ Yes, just a bit…

Image courtesty of Overland Literary Journal 2016

What are you working on now?

A history of Australian pastoral families and their encounters with Indigenous people, and a biographical study of the women who conducted social surveys in Melbourne during the 1940s.

What do you love about libraries?

Practically everything:  the respect for knowledge and the past, the order, the quiet (I have young children). I’m pretty comfortable with the culture of librarians too, which some people find persnickety. My only complaint seems rather trivial but library cafes, like cafes the world over, need to cast aside the teabag and embrace the loose leaf.