Glenfern writers’ studio in Melbourne could be turned into a Steiner kindergarten


Bram Presser’s 2017 debut novel, The Book of Dirt, drawn from his experience as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, has won numerous awards. But he could never have finished it without getting a studio in Glenfern.

The 1850s Gothic mansion in St Kilda East has been a peaceful home for writers for 16 years. At least 150 writers have used its nine studios over time – including this year’s Miles Franklin winner Jennifer Down – and many have written award-winning and best-selling books within its walls. As Presser says, it is unique in Australia in offering long-term private workspaces, through scholarships or affordable rent.

Writers worry about the future of Glenfern Studios. Left to right, Melissa Manning, Anna Sublet, Rose Lang, Fiona Wood, Iola Mathews, Stephen Sholl and Isabel Robinson.Credit:Eddie Jim

But now its use as a haven for writers is under threat. The National Trust of Australia (Victoria), owner of the building and the land, proposes to install a Steiner kindergarten, a nursery and a playground. The writers believe that the use of space and noise would make it impossible for the studios to continue.

Although plans for the kindergarten have been underway for a year, the Glenfern writers say they were not consulted and weren’t even aware of the proposal until they noticed strangers on site and a container of Steiner equipment in the parking lot. One of the writers, Anna Sublet, dug in and found that Steiner Kindergarten received two grants totaling more than $1.8 million for the project from the state Department of Education last year. , subject to Trust approval and a 10-year lease.

Bram Presser says having a studio in Glenfern helped him write The Book of Dirt: “It was like the dam broke almost overnight.″⁣

Bram Presser says having a studio in Glenfern helped him write The Book of Dirt: “It was like the dam broke almost overnight.″⁣Credit:Louie Douvis

Writers’ representatives Iola Mathews and Writers Victoria CEO Lucy Hamilton will speak to the Trust’s board ahead of its next meeting on August 29 about their concerns. They believe the Steiner project contravenes the wishes of Amy Ostberg, who bequeathed Glenfern to the Trust in the 1980s.

But beyond the legal aspects, the writers are appalled by the proposal and say if it goes ahead it will destroy a vital resource for Australian literature. Several authors have told age Glenfern was where they first took themselves seriously as writers and where they could move on and complete projects.

Presser said he was working on The Book of Dirt for six years, desperate to find peaceful spaces to think and write. Then he won a scholarship to Glenfern. “It was as if the dam had broken almost overnight… it only took eight months to complete a book that I was almost convinced would never see the light of day.

“Having a home almost entirely dedicated to the pursuit of writing, where authors can have long-term rentals so they can escape their otherwise rowdy homes or workspaces and focus on their books is really a gift from the literary gods. To lose Glenfern would be to cut a member of our country’s literary culture.

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