ANZAAB's Book Fairs in Melbourne — An Overview
The story of ANZAAB book fairs in this UNESCO City of Literature is fascinating. Melbourne offers advantages and challenges to book fair visitors and organisers. The advantages are obvious — a large population with an affinity for books, and many cooperative libraries and universities. The challenges for book fair organisers are several — choosing a central and convenient venue with easy access and good parking is a continuing theme. Attracting international booksellers is also an issue, with many US and UK dealers feeling that Australia is too far away.
Several of these challenges were evident at the First Australian Antiquarian Booksellers' Fair, held at Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University in 1972, where Australian booksellers were joined by colleagues from New Zealand and England. Sydney had the next book fair at Fisher Library, The University of Sydney. The next Melbourne book fair, in 1975, was at The Age Gallery, which was also the site for the subsequent 1978 book fair, run in conjunction with Oxford University Press.
The 1980 book fair, ANZAAB’s eighth, though attended by a sparser number of exhibitors, added a special Children’s Book exhibition and special exhibits by each dealer. It was the first book fair at Malvern Town Hall. Two years later at a new venue, the New Palais at St Kilda, the event was billed as ‘the largest rare book fair ever held in Australia with local, interstate and overseas dealers’. It attracted twice the number of exhibitors of our first Melbourne book fair. The 1984 book fair was held at the Grand Ballroom of the Regent Hotel, attracting a 50% increase on the last fair.
Melbourne Town Hall was the venue for the 1986 book fair, which featured displays of paper marbling and was supported by the State Library of Victoria and Melbourne City Council. The fair moved to Prahran (Ormond Hall) in 1988, the Southern Cross Hotel in 1990 and the Raddison Hotel in 1993.
From 1995 to 2002, Malvern Town Hall, newly refurbished, became the venue of choice. The number of exhibiting booksellers stabilized between 24 and 30 and the event became comparable with Sydney book fairs.
In 2004 ANZAAB hosted the 37th Congress of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and 20th International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton with, appropriately, the largest dealer participation in our history. From 2006 to 2010 ANZAAB returned to the Malvern Town Hall venue. The 2008 fair was accompanied by a series of well-received rare book functions at the Melbourne Athenaeum Library and the State Library of Victoria.
In 2012 it was decided that Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne would host the now annual book fairs. Under the banner of Melbourne Rare Book Week, a variety of complementary events were scheduled with the co-operation of universities, booksellers, libraries and the City of Melbourne.
What changes have occurred over this period? Perhaps the most significant is the move to annual Melbourne Rare Book Fairs. Accompanying events seem to be well established and well appreciated. The issue of the e-book looms, but the response of the Melbourne book-buying and book-collecting public is positive. New faces appear each year. ANZAAB's book fairs have a healthy future!