Dolphin Publications

In the immediate post-war years of 1946 and 1947 Vic O’Connor and his friend, writer Judah Waten started a small publishing business, Dolphin Publications, located at 272 Bourke St, Melbourne. They were keen to make local Australian writing accessible and affordable. They wanted something similar in Melbourne to the left-wing magazine, Australian New Writing that was established in Sydney in 1943. Vance and Nettie Palmer were also enthusiastic and they set about getting stories for publication.

Vic explained in an interview in the 1980s:

‘Judah and I decided we’d start a publishing company and we had no money. We just ended up with no money but with the help of the Palmers [Vance and Nettie] and others, we published several books. We published an anthology of Australian short stories, [Twenty Great Australian Stories] and we published Bergner’s book, Between Sky and Sea. We published The Eureka Stockade [Raffaello Carbone], which was then out of print.’

Their first publication in 1946, the magazine, Southern Stories: poems and paintings, included an introduction by Brian Fitzpatrick, ‘The Australian Tradition’, stories and essays by Alan Marshall, Gavin Casey and others, poems and reproductions of paintings by Vic O’Connor, Noel Counihan and Yosl Bergner. It sold for one shilling and sixpence.

Between Sky and Sea was translated from Yiddish into English by Judah Waten. The story inspired Vic to do a number of related drawings and paintings, including the frontispiece for the book. They also published a book of short stories, Sailors Belong Ships, by John Morrison, a writer and waterside worker.

‘We called it the Dolphin Press [Publications]. Everyone thinks it was named after Bill Dolphin [the violin maker and host of a left-wing salon at his Bourke Street shop] but it wasn’t. The Dolphin press was one of the first Phoenician presses. And you know, Penguins and Pelicans were professionals so we thought we’d have a Dolphin Press.’

Vic noted that, ‘In those days printing was pretty cheap. We published on newsprint, our first books, and strangely enough the man that printed the Catholic Advocate printed them for us'. However the distribution of the books to bookstores and trying to collect payment for sales proved daunting. Vic concluded, ‘Judah wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be a painter. Who wanted to go off into the city and try and make Robertson and Mullins pay for four copies of a book; that could be done tomorrow’. They did not have enough margin to employ a distributor and Dolphin Publications closed in 1947 after five publications.