Interview - Richard Cashman

Interview: Richard Cashman, Editor & Author, Walla Walla Press:
25th September

We explore the world of sports journalism.

Richard Cashman has enjoyed a successful career in Australian media for 25 years.

In this insightful and rare interview, Richard discusses his background, the bigger picture of Australian sports and some of his upcoming projects.

What's your background, and that of Walla Walla Press?

I've been a sports historian for about 25 years. Most of the 25 books I've either written or edited have been on sports history - on cricket, the Olympic Games and sport generally, including sport in Australia and in other countries. I even wrote a book on Indian cricket. Some of my books have been written for the university market but many are for the more general sports fan. I have been involved in projects such as the Random House book on Australian Sport through Time and the Oxford Companion to Australian Sport and the Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket. I write occasional articles for newspapers and cricket magazines. I teach sports history at the University of New South Wales.

Walla Walla Press began in 1997 as a division of the Australian Sports Consultancy (ASC), which dated from 1989. ASC was begun by six university colleagues around Australia. We completed various projects for individual sports (such as rugby league, golf, netball) and produced a number of reports and publications for clients. While we are all sports lovers to a greater or lesser degree, we are also interested in sports analysis and criticism. Walla Walla Press is run by three Directors but we rely on many valuable links with the Australian sports history fraternity.

What are your aims and objectives?

The primary purpose is to publish scholarly and well-researched titles in sports history. I believe that there is a niche market that we are tapping into for quality sports books that may not sell trillions of copies. The major publishing houses are becoming increasingly cautious and often won't touch a title unless they can see big profits after publication. We are happy to publish good books that may have a small market and print-runs, as little as 500 copies.

Another unstated objective is to provide an author-friendly press. Since we are author/publishers and because we only publish three to six titles a year, we have close liaison with authors throughout the publication process. Our aim is to produce a book that looks good and one that fulfills the author's expectations. We consult the author closely on the look of a book, including the cover. Authors have the opportunity to comment on cover designs.

We operate a vanity press so we have to avoid taking too many risks. Because our margins are small, we usually rely on an author contribution or a sponsor to provide a book subsidy. However, after copies of a book have been sold, we can pay back this subsidy, at least part of it.

When and how did you get your break in the business?

In 1997, when we published our first book, Sporting Immigrants: Sport and Ethnicity in Australia. ASC won a tender from the former Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research, which included a publication subsidy. Previously we had relied on other publishers to publish our research. We thought that we could do a better job ourselves producing the kind of book we wanted. Publishing ourselves gave us control of the whole process from research manuscript to book production.

How have you made a positive difference in the sports media and publishing business?

Yes, I believe that Walla Walla Press is making a big difference. We are publishing a number of worthwhile titles that otherwise would not see the light of day. We are taking a punt on new areas of research, such as our titles on Indigenous sport; gender, sport and sexuality; the representation of Australian sport, its symbols, colours and emblems and sporting immigrants to name a few.

We are also producing and distributing good quality texts on sports history, Paradise of Sport and Sport in the National Imagination that have been set at a number of universities and colleges. Although none of our books have become best sellers, they are being read by students is sports history courses. These students will become future sports journalists, commentators and administrators - leaders in the sports field.

How do you judge a good book?

This is relatively easy. It has to be both original and interesting, have a good research base and be well written. An important factor in judging a book is assessing its market potential.

Books that we take on are reviewed by an independent referee who may make suggestions to an author about how a book might be improved.

What percentage of the proposals coming to you make it?

Probably one quarter to one half but it's hard to be too precise. It depends whether one counts informal versus more formal proposals, book outlines versus completed manuscripts. We don't proceed with a book unless all parties are pleased with the proposed arrangement.

Have any of the books you published been made into movies or TV series?

None as yet but our very first project as consultants was to devise a script for a 13-part television series, 'Blood, Sweat and Tears'. This was show on television, released on video and as a book. We are open to any offers.

What are a few of your personal books and why?

I've got a good sports history library with cricket and the Olympics as the strongest components. However, I particularly like reference works (even non sports ones). They are invaluable for research. My library includes a complete set of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the Australian Encyclopedia and Australian Sport through Time. I've contributed to all of them.

What makes a good sports person?

Someone who is passionate, professional and committed to his or her craft, respects the best traditions of the sport in question and is a good winner and loser. Someone who avoids becoming big-headed.

Has the credibility of Australian sports suffered in recent years? explain...

Possibly according to some people but I doubt whether Australian sport ever had a golden era when things were close to perfect. It varies from sport to sport anyway. While some sports have enhanced their credibility others have suffered.

Who are Australia's greatest sports ambassadors?

Those who are willing to make the time and the effort to represent the country as well as to achieve success in their sport. Those who respect the best traditions of their respective sport. Those who are honest and frank in their assessment of their individual and team achievements. Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe and Steve Waugh come to mind …

What Australian sports journalists do you respect the most, and why?

Those whose material is well researched and crafted, who respect the efforts of athletes and those who paint a broad picture of a sport and its context. Some of the ones I enjoy reading are Mike Coward, Martin Flanagan, Greg Growden and Spiro Zavos. They have all written informative books. I enjoy the commentary of Jim Maxwell and Karen Tighe.

What sports media websites do you visit?

Individual sports sites, such as cricket, rugby and AFL, Olympic sites, the Australian Society for Sports History, the Walla Walla site (to update and refine) and sports sites with a good research base, such as the website of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.

How much comment should Australian athletes make about political affairs?

As individuals they are as entitled to comment as much as anyone (no more, no less) as long as they remember that politics is a different arena to sport and expertise in sport does not necessarily mean political expertise. If they have something worthwhile to say I can't see why they shouldn't say it. However, there is always the risk that if an athlete who buys into political debate may antagonise some of their fans.

What effect did Cathy Freeman waving the Aboriginal flag have on her cause, and the plight of the Aboriginal community?

I think that Cathy Freeman is an ideal role model for Aboriginal people. While her stance in 1994 and 2000 (draping herself in the Australian and Aboriginal flags) boosted the morale of the Indigenous community, I don't think it did much to alter the plight of Aborigines or to change the attitudes of many Australians to Aborigines.

Who are Australia's greatest ever indigenous athletes?

This is a tough question because one is comparing athletes, such as Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert, who were not properly recognised with others who have achieved wide acclaim, such a Cathy Freeman. There have been so many. I admire Nicky Winmar and Michael Long who have taken a strong stand against racism in sport.

What books of yours touch on this?

Walla Walla Press has published three books on Indigenous subjects: a biography of Jack Marsh; a book on Aborigines and cricket; and a book on the 1997 'Festival of the Dreaming', which was part of the Cultural Olympiad. I have a chapter on Aborigines in Australian sport in Paradise of Sport.

The cover of my book Paradise of Sport features Cathy Freeman at Vancouver in 1994 when she first draped herself with the Australian and Aboriginal flags.

What are your current projects?

I hope to start a major project on the objectives and outcomes of Sydney Olympic Park working with the Sydney Olympic Park Authority. The title of the project is 'From Aboriginal to post-industrial landscape: a history of Homebush Bay'. The future of this precinct is a big issue both for sports fans, as well as the NSW Government and taxpayers. Since Sydney Olympic Park was the home for the biggest sports event in Australia, it is important that its legacy be properly nurtured.

What other media attention have you received?

Quite a lot both local and international in radio and television. As Director of the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of New South Wales I was inundated with media requests at the time of the Games. I enjoy any opportunity to talk about current issues in sport and sports history, including my current projects.

What other important information should we know about you and your operation?

Although we primarily publish quality sports books, Walla Walla Press has diversified its operations and will introduce a general list later this year. Our first title, Dead Parrot, is a bird-watcher thriller by John Huxley, associate editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. It will be published in December. It's probably appropriate that we publish such a book. I've learnt that bird-watching is quite a competitive 'sport' in its own way. Bird-watchers can be quite competitive and passionate about this leisure activity!


Editors note: A educational, insightful and entertaining interview. We will be hearing a great deal more from Richard.


Walla Walla Press official website


Richard Cashman

Books and Authors