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 increasingly resentful at the perverse randomness of his exile. What he could only think of as an administrative error had relegated him to an Australia that seemed vacant and vacuous. When his time came, he ruthlessly withdrew his affection from parents and country. This snake-like shedding of skin was his liberation. Crossing Waterloo Bridge in August 1968, he had – like Wordsworth before him – a moment of epiphany. As the bridge ‘ran out into the Aldwych in a sunny crux of blue dust’, the young Conrad passed innocuously through the door by which he stepped into life. In confessional mode, he later celebrated this as the exact moment of his birth. That was when the years of his Australian youth were cancelled out, relegated to a phase of mere ‘pre-existence’.... (read more)
John Thompson reviews 'Darling Mother, Darling Son: The letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972' edited by Edith M. Ziegler
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 ...... (read more)
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.... (read more)
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 grandiose ...
John Thompson reviews 'The West and the Map of the World: A Reappraisal of the Past' by Matthew Richardson
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 ...... (read more)