Kaz Cooke NLA Fellowship presentation

Kaz Cooke NLA Fellowship presentation

By Shelley Burr

On Thursday, 22 August 2019 I had the privilege of being part of the sold-out audience to a fellowship talk by cartoonist and author Kaz Cooke, a 2019 National Library of Australia Fellow.

This fellowship, one of many offered annually by the Library, is sponsored by the Stokes family. Every year for ten years three researchers will have the opportunity to spend twelve weeks immersed in the Library’s extensive collections, to support a research project on any subject, thanks to the family’s $1 million donation in 2018. As a condition of all Library fellowships, fellows are expected to engage with the public, staff and donors on their progress.

Cooke’s presentation was billed as: Advice to Women (If You’re a Woman You’re Doing it Wrong). Women have been told how to look, what size their feet should be and whether they were human enough to vote. They’ve been told what shape to be (which changes), what colour to be (which varies) and that riding a bicycle will give them ‘bicycle face’. Take a tour of 500 years of advice to women, from the clergy to the Kardashians.

Cooke is herself a trusted provider of advice to Australian women. She has written columns for publications including Dolly, The Age, The Australian, Who and The Canberra Times. Her books are consistently bestsellers, beloved for advice that is reassuring but frank, and always sharply funny. Her book Up the Duff, was my life raft during pregnancy, although I have no recollection of ever buying it. It simply appeared in my house one day, left by a friend or relative who knew I needed it, which I suspect is a common occurrence. Cooke’s books are the sort that leave you longing to pass them along to every woman you know.

Many Fellowship presentations are live streamed or recorded, and are accessible through the National Library of Australia website. Cooke however opened her talk with a request to the audience. Her research is still a work in progress, and may one day become a book. She doesn’t know yet what will end up in the final project, what she will use and how she will use it. As a result, she asked us to let what we heard stay in that room, and not post it to social media or anywhere else. She did give permission to tweet ‘My goodness, she’s magnificent,’ which I was happy to do, because she is:


Attending a fellowship presentation is an opportunity to look under the surface and see the work and process of discovery that goes into the Fellow’s research. There is no expectation that the project will be finished before the end of the fellowship period, and no obligation to produce a specific end product. Attending one of these presentations is an opportunity to share the thrill of unexpected discoveries, the frustrations, the peculiar finds and the intense emotions that can come with having original documents and artefacts in your hands. Easy access to cultural institutions like the National Library of Australia is one of the benefits of living in Canberra for anyone with a keen interest in our heritage and our history.

Past fellowship presentations can be found on the NLA website, and future presentations can be found at https://www.nla.gov.au/whats-on.The National Library of Australia Scholarship applications for 2020 are now closed.

2 thoughts on “Kaz Cooke NLA Fellowship presentation

  1. Well done Shelley – you have done a great job of introducing us to the Fellowship program, of giving us insight into how magnificent Kaz Cooke is, without giving away any of her secrets!!

  2. Great write up, but how frustrating (and honourable of you) that you had to keep the contents a secret! I was very disappointed I missed out on this one, and heard it was fantastic

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