In the 1970s, before Malcolm Fraser (ahead of his time) tightened security and made most of the place a no-go zone, Australia House – a regular embassy – also functioned as an informal social amenity for visiting Australians. There was a howling disjunction between their friendliness to compatriots, and the sombre, almost processional formality of the central hall. Newspapers were spread on long tables: manna from Oz. The fustian nature of the place was a constant reminder of how removed Australia then was from the rest of the world. In four years of living in England, I heard ‘God Save the Queen’ at public functions only twice: once at Covent Garden for Princess Margaret, and then at a concert in Australia House.

Eileen Chanin’s exhaustive study of the building makes it plain that such convergence was its prime purpose. Australia (contrary to the common view that it became a nation in 1901) was still largely seen as ‘an imperial unit’ – albeit one with its own distinctive character. Chanin draws attention to the way that George V personalised the link. Twice he had been to Australia, once to open the first Federal parliament in Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings. So it was entirely appropriate that he should both lay the foundation stone and return to open the building in 1918. On that occasion shouts of ‘Cooee!’ echoed down the Strand. Australians felt they had a home in the imperial capital.


Subscribe to ABR


Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Review Article Yes
  • Show Byline Yes
  • Contents Category Architecture
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In the 1970s, before Malcolm Fraser (ahead of his time) tightened security and made most of the place a no-go zone, Australia House – a regular embassy – also functioned as an informal social amenity for visiting Australians. There was a howling disjunction between ...

  • Grid Image (300px * 250px) Grid Image (300px * 250px)
  • Alt Tag (Grid Image) Capital Designs
  • Book Title Capital Designs
  • Book Author Eileen Chanin
  • Book Subtitle Australia House and visions of an imperial London
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Australian Scholarly Publishing, $49.95 pb, 436 pp, 9781925801316
  • Display Review Rating No

Old friendships and close collaborations between author and subject can be either a blessing or a curse in biography – a tightrope between discretionary tact and open fire. Both call for intimate but balanced subjectivity, especially where virile egos are concerned. The Boy from Brunswick, a massive tome with sixty chapters and 540 pages, offers a bit of everything.

Jan Senbergs, who knew and admired Leonard French from the 1950s, gives a frank account of his fellow artist in the foreword, which makes for valuable commentary. We are informed by the author, Reg MacDonald, that the biography is based substantially on extensive interviews with the artist over a three-year period. Hence, French’s raconteur-like voice resonates throughout the text, in excellent quotations from correspondence between the artist and his family that reveal a perceptive, articulate man and confirm the importance of primary material. MacDonald, who knew French for more than forty years, wisely relies on this valuable resource, but he is also remarkably attuned to the artist’s punchy vernacular. Herein lies one of the more disquieting aspects of this biography, a persistent recourse to blokey banter, reflecting French’s ‘long[ing] for male company’ to record and ruminate over his life. The artist’s quest for ‘enduring monumentality’ in his art is one thing, but MacDonald’s homage is tarred by macho slang and unnecessary repetitions. Further, his pressuring for curatorial ‘critical reassessment’ of this late artist’s work also tends to pushiness.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Sheridan Palmer reviews The Boy from Brunswick: Leonard French, A biography by Reg MacDonald
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Old friendships and close collaborations between author and subject can be either a blessing or a curse in biography – a tightrope between discretionary tact and open fire. Both call for intimate but balanced subjectivity, especially where virile egos are concerned. The Boy from Brunswick, a massive tome with sixty chapters and 540 pages, offers a bit of everything ...

  • Book Title The Boy from Brunswick: Leonard French, A biography
  • Book Author Reg MacDonald
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Australian Scholarly Publishing, $69.95 hb, 540 pp, 9781925801392