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At this independent research club, it's all academic

There is a sunlit corner of the National Library where the near-silent turning of pages replaces the bustle of tourists and schoolchildren.

The Petherick Reading Room serves as spiritual home for a group of like-minded people who have banded together to form a club which, perhaps, could have only found roots in Canberra.

The Independent Scholars Association is now in its 16th year of official operation and serves as a vital network of support and kinship for those whose love of academic discovery is not confined to the hallowed halls of the nation's universities.

Ann Moyal became one of the founders of the association when she realised there were people like herself spending many hours doing serious academic research, but who were largely alone in their endeavours.

''They were a hidden intelligentsia and therefore a sort of alternate academy from universities,'' she said.

Dr Moyal said members need not have published a book or a play - a genuine interest in academic ideas was the only entry requirement.


The association now has about 50 members in Canberra, 10 of whom regularly work in the Petherick Reading Room, and 200 members Australia-wide.

They research a wildly diverse range of topics, from the history of great Australian women to the failings of the NSW mental health system, and meet monthly to network and share ideas.

Some members have only recently discovered their passion for research and writing, while others are retired academics who just couldn't give up their life's work.

Long-time member Alan Roberts, formerly of Macquarie University, said he had little choice other than to delve into the pages of history again.

''The inner me said 'This is what you've got to do, Alan' - I just had this drive, curiosity and desire to get involved in that kind of historical work again,'' he said.

The Independent Scholars Association publishes a journal twice a year and holds an annual conference which is open to the public.

Dr Moyal said independent scholars occupied a unique place in Australia's academic landscape.

''They're not constrained by being part of an organisation, and timid about making statements,'' she said.