Irish born Anna Maria Murray arrived in Australia in 1827 at the age of 19 with her father, a retired army officer who was entitled to a free land grant in New South Wales. She married Captain George Bunn, a mariner and merchant and they settled in Pyrmont in Sydney. Captain Bunn died suddenly on 9 January 1834, aged 43, leaving Anna Maria at the age of 25 years, with two young boys and no source of income. Her family took her in and, in the five years following her husband’s death, Anna Maria wrote a novel titled The Guardian: A Tale. A work that, strangely, combines the Gothic tradition with a comedy of manners, The Guardian was published anonymously in 1838. Despite its being set in Ireland, it has the distinction of being the first novel published on the Australian mainland. Anna Maria Bunn died in 1889. The Guardian is her only known work of fiction.
Chances are, unless you have an interest in nineteenth century Australian fiction, you’ve never heard of Anna Maria Bunn.
if:book’s most significant work to date has pushed the boundaries of experimentation, while incorporating elements of traditional publishing and past technologies. Projects have regularly incorporated print outcomes. Memory Makes Us, for example, uses the typewriter as a genuine tool within the project and as a link to the history of writing.
This year, we’re taking these ideas further. This year, in the literary equivalent of a matching agency, if:book will introduce three contemporary writers to three lesser-known authors from Australia’s past with the goal of creating brand new works that adapt, remix, extend, and mash up work drawn from nearly two hundred years of publishing.
In the first of these match ups, Anna Maria Bunn will be meeting internationally celebrated practitioner of electronic literature, digital multimedia and code-based poetry, Mez Breeze. Mez developed, and continues to write in, a hybrid language called ‘mezangelle’, a visually rich combination of code and regular language that highlights the incursion of the digital into our everyday lives. As well as creating static literary texts using mezangelle, Mez also creates multi-disciplinary multimedia works online, and participates in online events that blur the lines between on- and off-line behaviour.
What will happen when Anna meets Mez? What might the nineteenth century novel look like as a web-based transmedia work? A Twitter feed? An experimental long-form narrative? We are about to find out.
The project is called Rumours of My Death.
Australia has a wealth of writing in the public domain that—Lawson and Banjo aside—is not well known outside academic circles. Rumours of My Death seeks to bring a few of these works to a contemporary audience and to acknowledge the legacy of Australian writing and use it—affectionately—as a launchpad into real-time, hypertextual, networked future.
But the project is also an interrogation of ideas that surround the future of the book, ideas that are intricately linked with the long shadow of the book’s history. How is it that we can resurrect these authors and their works and not others? What is the purpose of copyright and the value of the public domain? What is the difference between access to culture and the actual use and dissemination of that culture? Access is undoubtedly important, but if no one knows a work exists, then what good is its availability? What has happened to Australian publishing changed since our first fledgling novels were published in the 1830s? What has changed and what hasn’t? When an author co-opts someone else’s work, how does that change the meaning of authorship? Is it fair to co-opt the work of an author who can’t raise any objections?
Throughout the year, alongside the creative projects, we will commission essays exploring and documenting some of these issues and more that arise from Rumours of My Death.
It’s one of if:book’s most ambitious projects to date and one that promises are strange journey of discovery into both old and new. The first pieces from Rumours of My Death will see publication from July. More about the project and details of each of the three literary match-ups are available right here at the if:book web site.