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Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews (1936–2022) was the author of short stories, essays, and biographies. His memoir A Fine and Private Place (2000) won the inaugural Queensland Premier’s Award for non-fiction and his Manning Clark: A Life (2008) won the National Biography Award in 2010.

Brian Matthews reviews 'The Story of Australia’s People: The rise and rise of a New Australia' by Geoffrey Blainey

December 2016, no. 387 23 November 2016
The seminar, as far as I can remember, took place in what was then the Melbourne Teachers’ College on Grattan Street. The late-afternoon sunlight slanting through ornate windows burnt bright on a huge World War I scene on the wall behind the speakers’ table where the names of those who had made ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ were listed with melancholy precision. I remember gazing at that painti ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'City Dreamers: The urban imagination in Australia' by Graeme Davison

November 2016, no. 386 28 October 2016
In The Oxford Companion to Australian History, of which he was a co-editor with John Hirst and Stuart Macintyre, Graeme Davison begins his essay on Geoffrey Blainey by saluting him as ‘the most prolific, wide-ranging, inventive, and – in the 1980s and 1990s – most controversial of Australia’s living historians’. In volume one of the Encyclopaedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Geo ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'Growing Wild' by Michael Wilding

August 2016, no. 383 25 July 2016
Undaunted by Joseph Furphy's autodidactic complexities and indulgences, A.D. Hope proposed in his 1974 collection,  Native Companions, Essays and Comments on Australian Literature 1936–1966, that Such Is Life was 'a novel based on a theory of the novel'. Reading, with great pleasure, Michael Wilding's Growing Wild, it occurred to me that here was a memoir based on a theory of memoir. The theo ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'We Need Silence to Find Out What What We Think: Selected Essays' by Shirley Hazzard

May 2016, no. 381 26 April 2016
In her speech as the winner of the 2003 National Book Award, Shirley Hazzard said, 'We should do our best by the language. We mustn't torture it; we mustn't diminish it. We have to love it, nurture it, and enjoy it.' Reading Hazzard, as she is variously represented in this collection, is to encounter a writer who has done her 'best by the language' and, in these essays, continues marvellously to ... (read more)

John McLaren (1932–2015) by Brian Matthews

January-February 2016, no. 378 23 December 2015
John McLaren, who died peacefully in St Vincent's Private Hospital on 4 December 2015, was a man of many fine attributes and talents, not the least of which was his capacity for friendship. John had many close friends towards whom he showed great loyalty, affection, and generosity. They, in their turn, recognised the strength and quality of the quite precious bond his character and personality mad ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'Frank Lowy' by Jill Margo

December 2015, no. 377 30 November 2015
'Let us now praise famous men / ... men renowned for their power ... / Leaders of the people by their counsels ... wise and eloquent / ... Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations ...' These aspirations, from Apocrypha: Sirach 44, pose some problems for a biographer. The famous, the powerful, the leaders, the wise and eloquent, the rich and able would all seem to be ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'Island Home' by Tim Winton

November 2015, no. 376 26 October 2015
Tim Winton's island home seethes and rings, whispers and beckons with sheer life. It tantalises through shreds of memories and phantom histories turned to stone or engraved in ocean-scored rocks and remote caves. Like William Blake's 'green and pleasant land', it is compromised but offers 'a World in a grain of sand / And a Heaven in a wild flower'. His isle, like Prospero's, is 'full of noises / ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'Archipelago of Souls' by Gregory Day

August 2015, no. 373 29 July 2015
An official account of a naval battle off the coast of Crete on 22 May 1941 includes reference to a ‘friendly fire’ incident when ‘HMS Orion was … repeatedly hit by 40mm shots from HMS Dido, which, in the maelstrom, ended up shooting at her comrade’. A few days later, during the evacuation from Heraklion, the crippled HMS Imperial had to be scuttled and, according to one version, some Au ... (read more)

Reading Australia: 'For the Term of His Natural Life' by Marcus Clarke

Reading Australia 28 May 2015
In his essay ‘The Fiction Fields of Australia’ (1856), Frederick Sinnett conducts an inquiry ‘into the feasibility of writing Australian novels; or, to use other words, into the suitability of Australian life and scenery for the novel writers’ purpose and, secondly, into the right manner of their treatment’.The problem, as Sinnett identifies it – and he was not the first and certainly ... (read more)

Brian Matthews reviews 'Jovial Harbinger of Doom: short stories of Laurie Clancy' edited by Richard Freadman

December 2014, no. 367 01 December 2014
A story called ‘The Burden’, which appears at about the halfway mark of this collection, begins like this: ‘Graham was finding the burden of freedom a little too much for him …’ He is working alone in his room above a Chinese restaurant near the Berkeley campus of the University of California, where he is a visiting Australian Fellow, writing a novel about, it seems, academic life. But t ... (read more)
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