University of Melbourne Magazine

Germaine: The Interview

  • The University is acquiring the massive personal archive of Professor Germaine Greer, one of the country’s most influential thinkers. Here Professor Greer discusses the archive in an email exchange.

    Why did you keep the papers over the years?
    If someone writes me a letter, it does not occur to me to throw it away after I have answered it or even if I haven’t answered it. I have kept files ever since I was a student – files of my research, my written essays, and, once I became an academic, of my lectures and of my interaction with students.

    What has been their significance to you?
    The importance of the correspondence files is that they offer a genuine insight into the processes of historical change. The letters, reviews and so forth provide documentary evidence of the gradual change in awareness that has taken place over the last 50 years. There are bits and pieces from celebrities, and biographers of a whole range of people will find material to interest them.

    Were there any surprises in the papers?
    If there were, there still are, especially to Australians who have no idea what I have been doing since The Female Eunuch.

    Are there reflections about the collection you would like to share?
    I have not spent my life re-reading my own correspondence, and recycling my own research. It is now time for other people to use this enormous resource to track down not me, but the development of the issues that have kept me busy, whether they be women’s health or abortion rights or eco-feminism or conservation or Australia or none of the above.

    What interests you most about the collection?
    I use the papers to remind myself of what I have already written about certain issues, especially when I am accused, as I have been, of changing my mind, being inconsistent, being a ratbag, and so forth, but I don’t do (that) so often.

    What do you believe will prove to be of interest to others?
    That depends upon the others. A sociologist will use the collection differently from a psychologist or a historian or a graphologist or a linguist. A great deal will depend upon the retrieval system, which will probably involve digitisation of the originals so that they are machine-readable. The cataloguing system, too, will direct readers in certain ways, which will not and should not be under my control.

    Do you have a favourite correspondent or more than one?
    I am always delighted to receive a letter from a friend, from my godchildren, and most delighted to get one from my sister. These days I get wonderful emails from a young botanist known online as Plant Nerd. He sends me really hard stuff, which I regard as a huge compliment.

    Why did you keep the ‘Nutter’ file?
    I have had letters from a young man threatening to burn himself at a May Ball, from a woman I had never met who wanted to plunge a knife into my stomach because I denied her love and so forth and so on. One such person actually came to my house several times and ended up keeping me pinned to the kitchen floor for four hours. We keep letters from such people in the file under the names they are using, with copies and cross references to the nutters file, so that we can check when the same handwriting appears over different names. In most cases we have succeeded in getting help for the disturbed person.

    What’s it like handing over a significant part of your past?
    I haven’t done it yet. I’ll tell you when the 200 file drawers are empty.


    Read more about the archive in 3010. Further information, and details of how to donate to the archive fund, can be found on the University Library website.