Mark’s Say, November 2018
Not many of you will have heard of Patricia O’Donnell, who sadly passed away last month, and that’s the way she liked it. However, she had a huge impact on Melbourne’s cultural and culinary life that needs to be recognised. My first recollection of meeting Trish was during the Queenscliff Carnival of Words, which Trish initiated. I’d originally known Trish’s sister, Mietta, the proprietor of Mietta’s in the city, a place where we held a very successful series of literary events in the early ’80s. Trish turned the heritage-listed Queenscliff Hotel into Mietta’s Queenscliff, and ran that until 2002. Trish was immediately welcoming and instantly began connecting me with other people she felt I should meet – or, conversely, with people she felt should meet me. That’s the thing she did all her life: connect people.
When she moved from Queenscliff to Melbourne, she took over the North Fitzroy pub Lord Jim’s and, with the help of Six Degrees architects, turned it into the North Fitzroy Star (Trish was always into good local design). The Star became a cultural centre of the north; Readings used to regularly hold events there. Trish helped to make things happen and if she thought something was important, there would be no charge, so the Star became a regular fundraising venue for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, the Stella Prize (Trish was a significant financial supporter of that Prize) and many other organisations. For many years Trish also hosted a dinner for the writers appearing at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Trish, as ever a force in the background, would only attend briefly to make sure everything was OK.
In the upstairs rooms writers such as Carrie Tiffany were given cheap boltholes to practice their craft. People were devastated when she decided not to renew her lease. It was like losing your second home. When her sister Mietta passed away she set up the Mietta Foundation to supports the arts, something Mietta was passionate about. Trish, myself and Readings’ then events manager, Pierre Sutcliffe, created a mini literary festival at Federation Square named after Mietta. Trish served on the Library Board from 1999–2008 and was chair of its collections committee. Trish was one of the most remarkable people I’ve met; I, and this city, will miss her.
It’s five years since we established the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction; our first winner was Ceridwen Dovey for her collection of stories, Only the Animals. This year’s winner goes to another collection of stories, Pulse Points, by Melbourne author Jennifer Down. It’s Jennifer’s second book and I’m particularly pleased because Jennifer was one of the first recipients of a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship funded by the Readings Foundation. It’s also a terrific book!
Each Christmas season we have lots of extra special offers that you can only find about by subscribing to our e-news – you can ask at any of our shops or do it online – don’t miss out. As this is my last column for the year, may I thank you for your ongoing support for Readings and all the writers and artists who produce our wares and wish you a merry Christmas and fulfilling New Year.