• We are delighted to present The Last Literary Editor, a talk by Susan Wyndham.

    Susan Wyndham was literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1996 – 1999 and 2008 – 2017.

    In her career as a journalist she has also been a news reporter, feature writer, editor of Good Weekend magazine, New York correspondent for The Australian, and deputy editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. She is the author of Life in His Hands: the true story of a neurosurgeon and a pianist (Picador, 2009) editor of My Mother, My Father: on losing a parent (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and contributor to several other books.

    Susan has also contributed essays to two more recent books Rebellious Daughters edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman (Ventura, 2016) and Unbreakable, edited by Jan Caro (UQ, 2017).

    She is now a freelance journalist, book reviewer, moderator at literary events, and working at another book.

    Susan Wyndham’s essay titled The Last Editor will appear on the December 2017 issue of Meanjin.

    We are thrilled and excited to have the chance to hear Susan talk about her experience and share her thoughts with us all.

    Date: Friday 24th November 2017
    Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
    Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
    Cost (incl. light supper):
    Non-members: $20.00
    Members: $15.00

    Tickets are not available for purchase on-line.

  • Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

    Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

    Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

    And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

    It’s funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you.

  • It was a full, excited, house on Friday 6th October to hear Kate McClymont speak to FOBL. Her talk was entitled The Bold, The Belligerent and the Bagmen.

    Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist currently reporting for the Sydney Morning Herald. In the late 1980s, McClymont worked for two years as a junior reporter on Four Corners. In 2002, she won a Gold Walkley, an investigative journalism award, with Anne Davies for coverage of a rugby league salary cap scandal associated with the Canterbury Bulldogs. She presented the 2014 Andrew Olle Media Lecture. She is the co-author, with Linton Besser, of He who must be Obeid,an unauthorised biography of former NSW Minister Eddie Obeid.

    A generous, witty and informative speaker. Kate is pictured here with FOBL Chair, Dr Mariella Totaro-Genevois.

    We were delighted Kate also enjoyed her visit to Balmain “That was one of the most enjoyable talks I have done. The audience was well informed and so receptive!”

  • Tonight we will announce the finalists and winners of the FOBL Writing Competition for year 5 and 6 students in the Balmain area.

    Viv Nicoll-Hatton who was awarded the 2013 Lady Cutler Award, an award presented annually for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in New South Wales will be discussing the young writers’ entries.


    Come along and join in the buzz in the room as the Awards are announced!


    Date: Friday 15th September 2017
    Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
    Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
    Cost: FREE

  • A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

    The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other.

    They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila

  • Tonight we will announce the winners of the FOBL Writing Competition for Balmain Secondary College. Winners and Highly commended entries will be selected from two separate groups. The first group consist of years 7 and 8 students and the second group years 9 and 10 students.

    The task for the students was to write on the theme of Justice.

    Come along and join in the excitement of the Awards Ceremony!

    Date: Wednesday 23rd August 2017
    Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
    Time: 6pm for 6.30pm
    Cost: FREE

  • Thank you to Gerry for moderating Swing Time by Zadie Smith.

    After Smith, aged 24, burst on to the literary scene with the wonderful White Teeth fans always await her latest novel with great anticipation, and so it was for many of us who gathered on Tuesday.

    Opening chapters rewarded our hopes. The developing friendship between two working class, mixed race, brown girls growing up on a council estate in London did not disappoint. The unnamed narrator shared the giggling, the confidences, the jealousies, the falling out and competitive tensions of her friendship with feisty talented dancer Tracey as they negotiated the throes of adolescence. Tracey was a well-drawn character, if not a particularly likeable one.

    The narrator then leaves the estate for a minor university and, on graduation, gets a job as a PA to millionaire pop star Aimee ( aka Madonna/Kylie??). When Aimee sweeps into the Gambia to “fix” its problems by building a girls school and adopting/buying a black baby all completely oblivious its culture mores, we found ourselves on a roller coaster ride with as the narrative swings from London, to New York, to Africa and round and round and back again. Many lost interest finding the text confusing and littered with too many characters whose circumstances were not always fully explored or resolved.

    Smith’s ideas poured off the page addressing themes of race, class, belonging, friendship, daughter/parents relationships (secrets and lies), third world development politics, biological clocks, what defines happiness – are the poor community-rich natives constrained by boundaries they are unaware of, and therefore are not troubled by, happier than Aimee with untold riches and stressed out by too many choices. While there were pearls of insight, there was a lot of clutter in the way to find them.

    A long term OBG member, with a strong visual arts background, commented that as a group we often concentrate on the plot of our books rather than the structure. We need to try to stand back looking at the work from afar. She referenced Monet’s and Matisse’s analysis that the blank spaces in a picture are just as important as the drawn parts to give satisfaction when viewing the whole picture. Using this as a metaphor she argued Smith’s writing had no quiet spaces in it where we could breathe and recover before rushing off again. Admiring glances around the table as she nailed our thoughts.

    There was, however, plenty to like and learn particularly all the reference to dancing motivating us to open YouTube, sigh at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, discover Jeni Le Gon and watch Michael Jackson, with his shoes hammered his shoes to the floor, perform the “anti-gravity lean” in Smooth Criminals.

    During our conversation, many compared to Smith’s friendship characterisations unfavourably to those portrayed in My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Quelle surprise that is our next book, so we can compare and contrast.

    Please see the link below for an engaging conversation with Zadie Smith. You may (or may not) wish to fast forward the first 20 minutes when she reads from Swing Time.


  • We are delighted to present Prof Munjed Al Muderis who will be talking about his book Walking Free .

    Prof Al Muderis is not only a Sydney surgeon celebrated for his pioneering technique which enables amputees to be Walking Free, but he, as a young doctor in 1997, had to flee from Saddam Hussein’s Iran or face certain death for refusing to mutilate the ears of army deserters. Coming to Australia in an overcrowded boat, held in Curtin Detention Centre for 10 months, he was finally able to find himself Walking Free in 2000.

    Today, to add to his impressive medical career, he also gives generously of his time to many humanitarian organisations including Amnesty International, The Red Cross and UNHCR.

    Do join us to hear to the remarkable story of a truly remarkable man.

    Date: Friday 28th July 2017
    Location: Balmain Town Hall Small Meeting Room
    Time: 7pm for 7.30pm
    Cost (incl. light supper):
    Non-members: $20.00
    Members: $15.00

  • FOBL AGM – 2nd June 2017

    Chairperson’s Report

    Mariella Totaro-Genevois


    Good evening and a very warm welcome to everyone here tonight. This is the 19th Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Balmain Library (FOBL). My name is Mariella Totaro-Genevois and I have been Chair of the FOBL Committee for the last ten years. I am really sad to announce that Annette Waterworth, our invaluable Treasurer since 2002, has lost her brother in a light plane crash and has gone to Adelaide to join her family there. FOBL Committee member Rosa Saladino has kindly agreed to read the Treasurer’s Report, while Shirley Allen, another helpful Committee member is standing in for Fiona Chapman, our Secretary, who is unable to be here tonight.

    FOBL, as most of you know, is an independent, non-profit organization, founded in 1998 to fight for Balmain Library’s inclusion within the restoration plan of the Balmain Town Hall. Since achieving that goal all following FOBL Committees – including the current one – have been devoted to supporting, promoting and enhancing the services of Balmain Library.

    But, coming to the present, while Annette’s report will mostly focus on financial issues, I will endeavour to present a concise but comprehensive account of FOBL’s work, initiatives and projects from May 2016 to May 2017. My Report includes three sections addressing the main areas of interest we have covered in this financial year: education, culture, and communication and interaction with our members and the Balmain community at large.

    Of course not everything can be categorised in absolute terms, for instance our 2016 AGM when Shirley Allen, Convenor of the NSW Support Association for Women of Afghanistan (SAWA), gave an informative and inspiring talk about the long-standing and successful work of her Association, this could come under culture because of its edifying content, but could also fit into the area of communication & interaction with FOBL members and the general public. So I hope you will allow me to be a bit flexible.

    I’ll start with FOBL commitment to educational projects.

    In June we held the fifth School Writing Competition Awards Night for students of the Sydney Secondary College in Balmain. This is one of two annual creative-writing contests run by FOBL.  The second Awards Night for the Primary School Writing Competition was held in mid October. The atmosphere at both events was vibrant and joyful, with our venue full of bright excited students, smiling teachers and proud parents and grandparents. Soon after the Primary Schools Awards Night the celebrated writer and distinguished education expert Nadia Wheatley conducted a creative-writing workshop for the lucky winners and the highly commended schoolchildren.

    As you may know since 2010, when our Committee launched the first FOBL Primary School Writing Competition these contests have occupied a central place in our annual calendar, thanks also to the generous financial backing of Bendigo Bank, to which we are and always will be deeply grateful.

    Unfortunately we have recently been informed that the Bank won’t be able to continue supporting us in the future. Let me say that notwithstanding this unexpected drawback, the FOBL Committee would like to continue running its writing competitions for the schools; I am confident we will eventually find support from other community-minded organizations.

    Finally in the education area I want to take this opportunity to warmly thank Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, Maryellen Galbally, Bronwyn Monro and Fiona Chapman, the four highly competent and dedicated judges of the School Writing Competitions. The amount of work required by these contests is huge. It’s not just a question of professional qualifications, but as in most things relating to education qualities such as flexibility, empathy, experience and above all passion are essential, and the FOBL team of judges have all these qualities.

    Let me move now to cultural initiatives and events.

    On June 10 2016 children’s literature star and collage artist Jeannie Baker fascinated her audience illustrating the genesis and development of her latest book Circle. At the same time the book’s original artwork was on display in a traveling exhibition at the Sydney Maritime Museum. I must also mention that since then Circle has attracted national acclaim for its powerful, environmental message and artistic merit, and has been chosen as the best picture book for children by the Independent Bookshops NSW. It has earned Jeannie Baker the honour of being chosen by the International Board on Books for young people (IBBI) as the Australian nominee for the prestigious 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration.

    At the end of July Emeritus Professor Nerida Newbigin from the University of Sydney, a specialist in Italian Renaissance Studies, captivated us with the story of the discovery and subsequent transformation of a 15th century Florentine manuscript firstly into the PhD of her postgraduate student Kathleen Olive, and later into a magnificent book that was given to Pope Francis on his first visit to Florence. A facsimile of this precious and splendidly illustrated volume was on display for the audience to inspect on the night.

    In November we decided to present a daytime function, a well attended and well-received talk by Anne McCloud, who presented her recently published biography of Marie Byles, the first female solicitor to practice in NSW. A lively question time followed ending only because there was a delicious lunch waiting to be enjoyed.

    Our end of the year function in early December was called Carols, Carousing and Cooking: a Medieval Christmas. Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton, who had put in a tremendous effort organising it, gave us a lively introduction to this special celebration. The event also included traditional carols sung by the local small choir PerSona. On this occasion our customary generous supper featured tasty examples of medieval finger foods.

    Do I need to add that the FOBL crowd had a highly successful and fun night?

    Coming now to this year, FOBL’s cultural program for 2017 was inaugurated in March with the best selling author and well-known memoir-writing teacher Patti Miller. Her topic was Truth Telling in Memoir, and her thought provoking presentation fully engaged the audience.

    If we move now to FOBL’s interaction with its membership and the wider community, first on the list is of course the increasingly popular Open Book Group. Its regular meetings take place on the second Tuesday of the month. Discussions are always lively and stimulating, a great achievement by inspirational convenors Gillian O’Mulloy and Jan Atkin.

    Still on the subject of connecting with the public FOBL’s website, au, keeps expanding its content and is regularly  and meticulously updated. This is a time consuming and specialised task that our wonderful Gillian carries out in her usual generous and understated style.

    Our regular publication, Bookworm, on the other hand, remains a reliable and valuable source of information about matters of interest for FOBL members, always presenting it in a very appealing format. The Committee is deeply grateful to Rosa Saladino, its accomplished Editor. In addition, as unfortunately Rosa is not nominating for next year’s committee, I wish to publicly express our deep gratitude for her skilled and generous contribution to the FOBL Committee work in the past four years.

    As for Hill of Content, our local bookshop, FOBL is truly grateful for its generous support. The collaboration is not only very welcome but also very enjoyable for us all.

    Finally, and still on the subject of the FOBL Committee connecting with people, we have a new initiative, in the form of a quarterly morning tea for the Staff of Balmain Library, when they join us for a brief break, which offers the chance for a quiet chat over a cup of tea and home-made cake.

    And now, having concluded my 2017 AGM Report, once more as in the past ten years, and most importantly with the same enthusiasm as the first time, I wish to sincerely thank every member of the FOBL Committee for their amazing and resourceful work.

    For me it has been not only a wonderful experience but also a real privilege to be part of the team!

  • Book boost newsFriends of Balmain Library workers had a very happy time presiding over our Third Book Boost. We spent almost $5,000.00 buying books for the Library on the weekend of 17/18 October.

    This is how it works: we ask the Library staff which areas need a top up. Last year it was non-fiction which resulted in a very colourful supply of cookbooks. This year it was children’s books and fiction. There was a particular need for board books for the littlies who do use them for teething and tearing practice.

    Then the public are invited in to choose what books they would like to see on the shelves. People usually are quite surprised and cheerful that they can choose a book without spending a dollar of their own money. The kids are delighted to rummage through the collection and of course want to take their book home straight away. The idea of waiting a couple of weeks for the staff to process them is not always well received.

    We FOBLers have a great time chatting to old friends, making new ones, joining up new members and watching the beautiful kids enjoying the beautiful books.

    A special thanks to the Hill of Content staff who provide us with a really good selection of titles at very good prices and of course to the Library staff who grabbed the selections for processing ASAP and also kept us supplied with tea and chocky biccies.

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