10 Years

Today marks 10 years since the first meeting of what would later become the Jane Austen Society of Aotearoa New Zealand. We met at The Wellesley, a historic hotel in Wellington, for high tea to discuss Sense and Sensibility. My mother was there and one of my sisters, someone I knew from high school, an academic who still attends today and two local members of the Australian Society (plus many more). I was the youngest person in the room and continued to be for some time.

In my piece “Austen Nerds Unite” in Cocktails with Miss Austen I discuss the impact Austen has had on my life and how my divorce (11 years ago now) lead to me starting the Society.

Originally we were under the umbrella of the Australia Society, supported by their president, the lovely Susannah Fullerton, I attended their conference in Sydney. The following year we emerged as our own Society.

We had our own personality, distinct from other Societies across the globe. For me, it was important to build a community and make Austen accessible rather than academic or elitist. In 2018 I presented a talk in London about the Society and Austen’s connections to New Zealand. I recall standing in front of a room full of people in a gorgeous old church wondering what a girl from New Zealand with green hair thought she was doing talking to these people alongside academics. In 2019 I gave a similar talk in Hawai’i which started a continuing partnership with their Society. My goal was to speak about Austen each year in a different country and meet other Austenites, but Covid happened (New Zealand went into lockdown on the day I was meant to fly to Melbourne to speak) and I haven’t yet ventured back out.

Covid has changed and expanded the landscape. Branches of JASNA, libraries, universities and other institutions started holding virtual talks and meetings. I could finally connect with people from the comfort of my own home (which as an introvert is very appealing). I still attend meetings with JASNA Hawai’i and Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho, people I’ve never met in person know me!

In 2019 I launched The Amateur Austenite podcast, just like the Society, I had no idea what I was doing and adjusted as I learnt. My voice no longer makes me cringe when I’m editing and I plan whole seasons ahead of time. I started a Ko-Fi to raise funds to produce the podcast and support the Society, as everything has come from my pocket.

Something hadn’t felt quite right for a while so in 2022 we rebranded as The Jane Austen Society of Aotearoa New Zealand, to include our countries te reo name. I found an artist to create a logo of Jane Austen with the head of a Huia, an extinct, easily recognisable, native bird. The female has a long distinctive beak you can see in the logo. This year marks 100 years since the last potential sighting of a Huia. The birds were known for their highly valued black tail feathers with white ends.

I wanted us to have more of an identity and found a perfect quote from Austen for our motto: “The pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions.” This is from a letter Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 20 June 1808 (the quote finishes “will make good amends for orange wine”).

I don’t know what the Society will look like in the future. The friends I mentioned in my piece for Cocktails are now gone, new friends replaced them and have since moved on too. But the great thing is there are always more passionate Austenites out there. I’m no longer the youngest person in the room and have (mostly) got over my imposter syndrome that I’m not an academic or in any official way qualified to be running this thing.

In another ten years the world will be a different place, I’ll be 52 and different too. But Austen will always be there, she’s outlived her works and I’ve made plans so this Society can outlive me too.