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John Thompson

John Thompson

John Thompson is a historian and writer now living in Sydney after a long career at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He holds a doctorate in history from the Australian National University and has written for various journals. He is a frequent reviewer for Australian Book Review. The author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History (2006), he co-edited (with Brenda Niall) The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998). His anthology Documents that Shaped Australia was published in 2010.

John Thompson reviews 'First Fleet Artist: George Raper’s birds and plants of Australia' by Linda Groom

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
Late in 2005, after months of delicate negotiations, the National Library of Australia announced a remarkable coup: the purchase of a previously unknown collection of fifty-six watercolours of botanical and ornithological subjects drawn and painted in Sydney in the years 1788–90, the cradle period of European settlement in Port Jackson. The significance of these paintings, unsigned and undated, ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Tales Of Two Hemispheres: Boyer Lectures 2004' by Peter Conrad

March 2005, no. 269 01 May 2005
At the age of twenty, Peter Conrad slammed his Australian door shut behind him. He was travelling into the ‘wider world’, away from his native Tasmania to take up his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford; he went with barely a backwards glance. Growing up as an omnivorous reader of English literature in the years of what he has called his ‘colonial childhood’, the young Conrad had become increasin ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Darling Mother, Darling Son: The letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972' edited by Edith M. Ziegler

Online Exclusives 30 November 2017
On his death in February 2012, Leslie Nicholl Walford, the man who right from the outset of his career had determined to shift Australian taste away from drab interiors filled with Victorian brown furniture, was saluted as one of Australia’s most influential interior designers. With a sensibility honed in Paris, where he attended Le Centre d’Art et de Techniques (1954–55), Walford’s prefer ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Lost Relations' by Graeme Davison

June-July 2015, no. 372 28 May 2015
Clear-eyed, unsentimental, but compassionate, with a nicely honed flair for story-telling, Graeme Davison is one of Australia’s master historians. Now Emeritus Professor of History at Monash University, his early training was in R.M. Crawford’s so-called Melbourne History School, where it was simply assumed that books would be written. Crawford’s department at the University of Melbourne pro ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'White Beech: The rainforest years' by Germaine Greer

February 2014, no. 358 16 January 2014
Melbourne historian Ian Britain has commented that Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) – her first and still best-known work – was ‘a book of outrage: an exposé, a jeremiad, a manifesto’. More than forty years after the Eunuch made Greer an instant international celebrity, her latest book is written in a different mood. Still spirited and sparring (could Greer ever be otherwise?), ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Glorious Days: Australia 1913' edited by Michelle Hetherington

July–August 2013, no. 353 27 June 2013
Not altogether surprisingly, the centenary this year of the foundation and naming of Canberra as the national capital of Australia has passed without any conspicuous celebration of the event beyond the confines of the city itself. Conceived to embody and represent the aspirations of the new Australian nation, unfettered by the rivalries and jealousies of the states, Canberra has always been held i ... (read more)

John Thompson on 'Canberry Tales: An Informal History' by Granville Allen Mawer

December 2012–January 2013, no. 347 26 November 2012
I n 2013, Australians will celebrate the centenary of modern Canberra. This singular anniversary – intensely local but also emphatically national – commemorates not the actual building of the capital (that process was fraught and would not gather pace until the 1920s), but rather the optimistic laying on 12 March 1913 of three foundation stones for the grandiosely named Commencement Column on ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Mr JW Lewin: Painter & Naturalist' by Richard Neville

July–August 2012, no. 343 09 July 2012
Rich in achievement, the artist and naturalist John William Lewin died in Sydney on 27 August 1819; he was forty-nine. With public funds, a stone was erected over his grave in the city’s new cemetery in Devonshire Street. While the inscription referred to Lewin’s official status as the town coroner, its discursive text lamented the loss ‘to this country of an Eminent Artist in his line of Na ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'Memoirs of a Young Bastard' edited by Hilary McPhee with Ann Standish

April 2012, no. 340 01 April 2012
With Tim Burstall’s death in 2004, Australia lost a key figure in the rebirth of a distinctive and energetic national film industry. While critics disdained his rough ocker populism, Burstall’s Stork (1971), Alvin Purple (1973), and Petersen (1974) were significant commercial successes and demonstrated the viability of a product willing to show Australians to themselves. Burstall argued that a ... (read more)

John Thompson reviews 'The West and the Map of the World: A Reappraisal of the Past' by Matthew Richardson

November 2010, no. 326 15 November 2011
Placed on a coffee table – its likely destination – this handsome book will have its greatest appeal to the idle browser. With its generous illustrations of remarkably beautiful early and antique maps of the world, Matthew Richardson’s book provides an elegant showcase for some singular treasures of early world mapping to be found principally in the collections of the State Library of Victor ... (read more)
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