Ron Pretty AM
Fellow of the University of Wollongong
Citation orated by Harold Hanson AM
Chancellor, I present Ron Pretty.
In 1987, Clive James, wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: “Australian poetry is currently running miles ahead of anybody’s ability to sum it up. The young are in one another’s arms. They are in one another’s books”. In that same year, another Australian born in Kogarah published a seminal textbook, Creating Poetry. Ron Pretty, poet and teacher, has dedicated his life to ensuring those young Australian poets are in “one another’s books”. Over the years, Ron has lifted the profile of Australian poetry and creative writing. In doing so, he has enriched the culture of his country, the regional community and this University.
A Teachers Certificate from Balmain Teachers College in 1959 was the start of a learning path that led to an Arts degree with Honours in History and a Masters in Australian Literature from the University of Sydney. Ron also holds an Associateship of the Institute of Education from the University of London. Ron’s academic career in Wollongong spans three decades. He was appointed as a lecturer at Wollongong Teachers College in 1970 and thence moved to the University where he became Head of Writing for fifteen years until he retired in 2000 as an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Creative Arts. He subsequently taught writing at the University of Melbourne for five years.
In Ron Pretty, UOW had teacher who introduced students to the joys and excitement of the arts while giving them careful and experienced advice on how to understand and become part of that professional world. His approach is a model for all disciplines. One of his former colleagues writes: “I could always send [students] to Ron who, as a practicing and published poet, could guide them in this area much more effectively than I was able to …he would encourage and inspire their better efforts and the criticism he provided would be constructive and supportive”.
A postgraduate student, who later became a Professor, recalls him as “always knowledgeable and kind” and “a great force in the weekly and memorable Art of Lunch readings and performances, bringing many poets and possibilities into my orbit”.
Ron Pretty has an impressive scholarly and creative record. For fifteen years, he edited the literary/arts magazine, scarp, published by the University. He is author of fourteen books, including eight collections of his own poems, and editor of a further seven, including Outlook: An Anthology of Australian Poetry for Senior Students and Blue Dog: Australian Poetry 2002 – 2007. The third edition of his textbook, Creating Poetry, will be published this year.
Amidst the demands of his academic and publishing commitments, Ron found space for an outstanding contribution to his community. With passion and skill, he sought to give it a different image, one coloured by creativity rather than darkened by cultural cringes and misconceptions. Ron helped to establish the South Coast Writers’ Centre, a community writers’ organisation that has nurtured many of the Illawarra’s writers. From 1987 to 2007, he was the director of Five Islands Press, a leading publisher of contemporary Australian poetry. During his tenure, the Press published 230 books by Australian poets, many of which have subsequently been shortlisted for or won prizes. Between 2000 and 2007, Ron ran the Poetry Australia Foundation, a community based, non-profit-making organisation which was established to promote poets and poetry. He is now a life member of its successor, the Australian Poetry Inc.
Ron Pretty’s services to literature, and Australian poetry in particular, were acknowledged by the NSW Premier’s Special Prize in 2001 and by his admission as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2002. In 2012, the Australia Council for the Arts also awarded Ron a residency at the Whiting Studio in Rome. Probably the most cherished honour of all, however, was the Ron Pretty Poetry Prize, established by Five Islands Press in 2014, which attracted a thousand entries.
Chancellor, Ron Pretty is a teacher, scholar and a relentless advocate for new and young writers. He has made an extraordinary personal contribution, sometimes at the cost of his own art. A critique of his poetry describes him as: “a craftsperson, a thinker, a lover of language, with a knowledge of the poets who have come before him, and the result is poetry of quality, ambition, and daring”. Those words sum up the man himself for Ron Pretty has demonstrated that he is also person of “quality, ambition, and daring”.
Chancellor, it is a privilege and pleasure to present Ron Pretty for admission as a Fellow of the University of Wollongong.