Guide to the Papers of Debra Adamson [MSS 181]

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Manuscript Name Papers of Debra Adamson
Manuscript Number MSS 181
Last Updated August 2021
Extent 14 cm (2 boxes)
Location Special Collections, UNSW Canberra
Abstract The bulk of this collection comprises personal material relating to the Australian poet and writer Robert Adamson.

Scope and Content

The papers include correspondence, literary drafts, an interview, reviews of his work and photographs. There is a manuscript draft of 'Catch the wild fishes', written jointly by Robert Adamson and Dorothy Hewett. The collection also includes material from the literary magazine New poetry, which Robert Adamson edited for some years.

Date Range of Content



Special Collections staff has imposed the series arrangement for this collection to describe and preserve context and relationships.

Biographical Note

Robert Harry Adamson was born on the 17 May 1943 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, and has lived on the Hawkesbury River, on and off, for most of his life. He spent his earliest years in Neutral Bay and was educated at Neutral Bay Primary School, North Sydney Boys High and Mount Penang Training School for Boys. While in corrective institutions he educated himself and developed his interest in writing, especially poetry.

Adamson is one of Australia's leading contemporary poets, and is a successful writer, editor and publisher. He is well known for his poetry, which has been published widely in Australian and in American literary magazines and anthologies, and translated into several languages. He has organised and produced poetry readings, delivered papers, lectures and readings at literary festivals throughout Australia. He has been writer-in-residence at Australian universities, and was President of the Poetry of Australia, 1970-1980. He was instrumental in organising tours by both Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley to Australia in the 1970s.

He became a member of the Sydney literary scene in the late 1960s and was a significant influence on the rise of the 'New Australian Poetry' in the early 1970s. He joined the editorial team of Poetry magazine in 1968. The magazine underwent a change of editorial direction that included a change of title in 1971 to New poetry, which Adamson edited, 1971-1976 and 1980-1981.

He established Illumination Press with Franco Paisio in 1970, and Prism Books in 1971, which he co-edited with Cheryl Creatrix (Adamson), 1971-1982. He was co-editor and publisher with Dorothy Hewett of Big Smoke Books in 1977, and established Paper Bark Press in 1986 with Juno Gemes and Michael Wilding. He was poetry reader for Angus & Robertson, 1993-1997, and editor of Ulitarra literary magazine, 1993-1997.

During the course of his career, Adamson has received a number of grants and fellowships as well as publication subsidies for his own books, his magazine, and for the books published through his publishing ventures from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. These have helped him to pursue his career as a full-time writer.

He has been awarded the following prizes for his works:
New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, 2002, shortlisted for Mulberry leaves : new and selected poems 1970-2001
NBC Turnbull Fox Phillips Poetry Prize, 1990, winner for The clean dark
New South Wales State Literary Awards, Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, 1990, winner for The clean dark
Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, C. J. Dennis Award for Poetry, 1990, winner for The clean dark
Writers' Fellowship, The National Parks and Wildlife, 1984
WA Sesquicentenary Literary Competition, Poems by Australian Writers Not Including Western Australians Award, 1979, joint winner for 'Growing up alone'
Grace Leven Poetry Prize, 1977, winner for Selected poems

Adamson publications and performances include:
The imitator (1969)
Canticles on the skin (1970)
The rumour (1971)
Swamp riddles (1974)
Zimmer's essay, with Bruce Hanford (1974), part 1, 'Zimmer's essay' (novel) and part 2, 'Some more experiences' (poetry) Theatre I-XIX (1976)
Cross the border, etching by Garry Shead (1977)
Selected poems (1977)
Where I come from (1979)
The law at heart's desire (1982)
Zoo, a play with Dorothy Hewett, commissioned by the Australian Theatre for Young People, 1984
Australian writing 1988, edited by Manfred Jurgensen and Robert Adamson (1988)
The clean dark (1989)
Selected poems, 1970-1989 (1990)
Wards of the state (1992)
The brutality of fact (1993)
Waving to Hart Crane (1994)
The language of oysters (1997)
Meaning (1998)
Black water : approaching Zukofsky (1999)
Mulberry leaves : new & selected poems 1970-2001, edited by Chris Edwards; with a foreword by David Malouf (2001)
Inside out : an autobiography (2004)
Reading the river : selected poems (2004)

Inside out : an autobiography, by Adamson, published by Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2004
Robert Adamson curriculum vitae
International who's who in poetry and poet's encyclopedia, 7th ed. (1993)
The Oxford companion to Australian literature, 2nd ed. (1994)
The bibliography of Australian literature. A-E (2001)
AustLit Australian Literature Gateway database, 2003
Ozlit: Australian Literature Resources on the Net, Books & Writers Database, 2003
Book covers

Administrative Information


The collection is available for research.

Restrictions on Use

No copying is permitted without the permission of the copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

Papers of Debra Adamson, MSS 181, Special Collections, UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy, Series [Number], Folder [Number].


The collection was acquired from Debra Adamson in 1990.

Additional Information

Related Material

Further material relating to Robert Adamson is located in the Guide to the Papers of Robert Adamson at MS 149 and in the Guide to the Papers of Garry Shead at MS 288.

Separated Material

Further papers of Robert Adamson are held by:
National Library in Guide to the Papers of Robert Adamson at MS 5713 and in the Papers of Cheryl Creatrix at MS 6422
State Library of New South Wales in Paper Bark Press - records, 1982-1995 at MLMSS 6124.

Access Terms

Personal Names

Adamson, Robert, 1943- -- Archives.

Topical Subjects

Authors, Australian -- 20th century -- Archives.

Poets, Australian -- 20th century -- Archives.



Series List and Descriptions


Series 1 Correspondence, 1978-1989

This series comprises business and personal correspondence with Robert and Debra Adamson. The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters written to Robert Adamson, and generally concerns Adamson's writing and publishing activities during the period 1979-1983. There are letters from editors and contributors regarding publication of New poetry and Adamson's poems in various literary magazines, anthologies and newspapers. The personal letters are mainly from Robert Adamson to Debra Adamson.

Folder 1
Business correspondence regarding New poetry, 1979-1982

Including David Brooks, Sylvia Kantaris, Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, Kate Llewellyn, Eddie Woods, Roger Mackell of Gleebooks, Michael Heyward and Peter Craven of Scripsi

Folder 2
Business correspondence, 1979-1983

Including Angus & Robertson, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Collier Macmillan, Yasuko Gushikata, Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, Overland, Oxford University Press, Quadrant, Stand magazine, the Age and William Collins


Series 2 Literary Works by Robert Adamson, 1974-1985

This series comprises drafts of unpublished poems and typescript drafts and newspaper cuttings of published poems. Also included is a typescript of the screenplay 'Catch the wild fishes', written jointly with Dorothy Hewett.

Folder 1
Manuscript and typescript drafts of poems by Robert Adamson, 1974-1985

'Friend', 'All the letters at once', 'Where we are going', 'Night rain', 'A flowering bush', 'The act of dedication', 'House people', 'A convention : the complete police state', 'Sibyl', 'The play', 'Angel's own kind : 1 : Ram lives', 'Songs for Juno', 'Something survives', 'Estuary heart', 'Rainbow lorikeet', 'Explaining the birthday cake', 'The way south', 'Last line', 'In the park', 'Every hotel', 'The real story', 'A curse on Roger Barnes', 'The grandfather', 'Apart', 'For Debra', 'Foul papers' poem sequence, 'Mr Burroughs'

Folder 2
Photocopy typescript draft of 'Catch the wild fishes', written by Robert Adamson and Dorothy Hewett, 16 p. Original concept from Wards of the state : an autobiographical novella, by Adamson (1992)


Series 3 Miscellaneous Papers, 1974-1983

This series includes journals and newspaper cuttings of interviews with Adamson, together with criticisms, articles and other writings regarding Adamson and his work.

Folder 1
Annotated typescript draft of an interview with Robert Adamson, 58 p. (first part of p. 1 missing), c. 1975-1976

Including Adamson's early life; Francis Webb influence; his poetry and publications; Poetry magazine and its transformation into New poetry, criticism of the magazine; the creation of the magazines Leatherjacket and Beyond poetry; Australian and American poetry and poets published by Adamson; Australian artists and Artists for Labor

Folder 2
Cuttings of book reviews and advertising flyers for poetry readings by Robert Adamson; Prism Books - list of books published, 1971-1982 and brochure; invitation to the launch of The law at heart's desire; photocopy of poetry by Robert Duncan; Currency Press invitation, 1974-1983


Series 4 Photographs, 1976-1985

This series comprises mounted photographs of Robert Adamson and friends at various functions.

Box-folder 1
Robyn Nevin and Robert Adamson at the launch of The law at hearts desire, held at Glover Cottage, Sydney, 1982
Brett Whiteley and Robert Adamson at the launch of The law at hearts desire
Garry Shead, 1984
Robert Adamson and Bob Debus receiving National Parks and Wildlife Literature Board grant, 1984 (2)
Robert Adamson at Dymocks, 1982
Robert Adamson, Sydney Harbour, 1982 (2)
Michael Wilding, Robert Adamson, Balmain, 1985
Tim Storries and Robert Adamson at Brett Whiteley's home
Harry, Robert and Betty Adamson
Robert and Debra Adamson, Mosman, 1979