Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall’s writing career began during her time as an academic at Monash University, where she was Reader in the Department of English. Since 1995 she has been writing full time. Her books include award-winning biographies Martin Boyd: A Life (1988), Georgiana (1995), The Boyds (2002), Judy Cassab (2005), and a memoir, Life Class (2007). Her book The Riddle of Father Hackett was shortlisted for the 2010 Magarey Medal for Biography. She is a frequent reviewer for The Age and ABR, and has been a guest at the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Byron Bay literary festivals. In 2004 she was awarded an AO for services to Australian Literature. Her most recent books are My Accidental Career (2022), Can You Hear the Sea? My grandmother's story (2018) and  Friends and Rivals: Ethel Turner, Barbara Baynton, Henry Handel Richardson and Nettie Palmer (2020). 

Brenda Niall reviews ‘Ian Potter: A biography’ by Peter Yule

August 2006, no. 283 01 August 2006
‘The very rich are different from you and me’, F. Scott Fitzgerald thought; and so he told Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, who came back with a deflating reply, ‘Yes, they have more money’, boasted that he had won that little exchange. Yet Fitzgerald was right; and he proved it in The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. In the American novel more generally, money creates and defines charact ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'How to do Biography: A primer' by Nigel Hamilton

July–August 2008, no. 303 01 July 2008
In 1964, newly appointed to the Department of English at the very new Monash University, I was uncertain about nearly everything. But as I unpacked my books in a pristine, sparsely furnished office, I found reassurance in the empty filing cabinet. I knew exactly how to fill its three drawers. As soon as I had some notes and a stack of manila folders, I would put poetry in the top drawer, fiction i ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'The Many Lives of Kenneth Myer' by Sue Ebury

December 2008–January 2009, no. 307 01 December 2008
What if Kenneth Myer, not Sir John Kerr, had been Australia’s governor-general in 1975? There would still have been storms in Canberra, but no intervention, no Dismissal. Readers of Sue Ebury’s fascinating biography of Myer (1921–92) may be tempted to play the ‘what if’ game, speculating on how Gough Whitlam might have used a full second term as prime minister. ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'The Cambridge Companion to Children's Literature' edited by M.O. Grenby and Andrea Immel

July–August 2010, no. 323 01 July 2010
Prepare to be affronted, or perhaps just a bit miffed. Although it does not confine itself to works by British writers, you will look in vain for Australian authors in the new Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature. Among many titles from the United States, Little Women gets its due, as does Little House on the Prairie. Canada’s Anne of Green Gables is there, and so is Salman Rushdie’s ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'A Maker of Books: Alec Bolton and his Brindabella Press' by Michael Richards

March 2023, no. 451 23 February 2023
'I hear that those new people have decided to have books in their library,’ remarked Edith Wharton disdainfully. That put-down, from an eminent novelist and book lover who was also a wealthy member of upper-class New York society, was delivered without ambiguity in the 1920s. The ‘new people’ were using books as interior decoration. They would never disturb the display of handsome volumes in ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'After Fire: A biography of Clifton Pugh' by Sally Morrison

February 2010, no. 318 29 September 2022
Think of John Brack, or Fred Williams, and without effort or prompting a painting will come to mind. These names conjure up Brack’s urban figures with their blank yet expressive faces, or Williams’ minimalist landscapes. Instantly recognisable, they could have been painted by no one else. Yet their makers have never been celebrities. Brack’s Collins St, 5p.m. is more widely known than Brack ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'In the Half-Light' edited by Jacqueline Kent

August 1988, no. 103 24 August 2022
Telling one’s own story comes naturally: we are all in some sense autobiographers. There is nothing new in the urge to seek a pattern in a life while living it, to advertise an ego, to explain, confess, justify, understand – or simply to say ‘I was there’. What is new is the comparative ease with which the urge can be accommodated and the ‘self-life’ made into text. The current intere ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Dear Prime Minister: Letters to Robert Menzies, 1949–1966' by Martyn Lyons

January–February 2022, no. 439 20 December 2021
Letter writing thrives on distance. Out of necessity, in the early years of European settlement, Australia became a nation of letter writers. The remoteness of the island continent gave the letter a special importance. Even those unused to writing had so much to say, and such a strong need to hear from home, that the laborious business of pen and ink and the struggles with spelling were overcome. ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Into the Wadi' by Michèle Drouart

April 2000, no. 219 01 April 2000
‘I remember only peripheries, not centres,’ Michèle Drouan says in her memoir of marriage to a Jordanian and life with his family in a village near Jordan’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. Her perspective is deliberately oblique. Elegantly shaped, and or the most part gracefully written, her story bypasses the obvious cultural divisions. Political, religious, and sexual tensions are given m ... (read more)
Page 1 of 4