John Thompson

Ian Fairweather: A life in letters edited by Claire Roberts and John Thompson

by
November 2019, no. 416

Artist, hermit, instinctive communicator, a nomad who built studio nests for himself all over the globe, Ian Fairweather is a consistent paradox – and an enduring one. In an art world of fragile and fluctuating reputations, his work retains the esteem with which it was received – by his peers – when he landed in Australia in 1934 and, with their help, exhibited almost immediately. His way of life – eccentric, solitary, obsessive – was extraordinary then, and continued so until his death in 1974. Success never sanded off his diffident, abrasive edges. When presented with the International Cooperation Art Award in 1973, he mused, in a letter to his niece, Helga (‘Pippa’) Macnamara:

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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 ...

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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 ...

John Thompson examines Germaine Greer’s sober, meditative, deeply moving account of her efforts to regenerate sixty hectares of degraded rainforest in the Gold Coast hinterland.

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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 s ...

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 Capital Hill where the Australian Parliament, seat of our increasingly raucous national democracy, stands today. The high point of the ceremony was the naming by Lady Denman (wife of the governor-general) of Australia’s new capital as ‘Canberra’.

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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 Natural History Painting in which he excelled’. Two years previously, in an official dispatch commending several fine drawings to the secretary of colonies in London, Governor Lachlan Macquarie – the last but most significant of a succession of vice-regal admirers and patrons – had praised ‘the Masterly Hand of Mr Lewin’. Schooled in England in a tradition of generic natural history illustration in which specimens were placed at the centre of a page devoid of all context, in Australia Lewin’s work was transformed by precise observations and an innovative approach to the illustration of natural history that was unprecedented. For him, New South Wales – its landscape, flora, and fauna, its Indigenous inhabitants, its own growth to a settled colony – was literally inspiring.

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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 film industry without artistic standards was undesirable, but that so too was an industry cut off from market considerations.

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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 ...

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When the English zoologist John Gould died in London in February 1881, he was renowned for his scientific and descriptive studies, principally of birds – those found in his native Britain, the Himalayas, Europe, Australia, North America, and New Guinea – but also of Australian mammals. In the course of his self-made career, Gould produced forty-one large volumes, handsomely illustrated with 3000 plates. These were the work of several artistic collaborators, including, importantly, his wife, Elizabeth, and – early and briefly – Edward Lear, famous later in his own right for his limericks and as a masterly writer of nonsense verse and prose. In addition to his great published works of natural history, Gould was the author of many learned papers and the recipient of high honours from scientific societies. As a leader in his field, he interacted as an equal with aristocratic men of science and affairs; the members of the governing class of his day.

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