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Jim Davidson

Jim Davidson

Jim Davidson is an historian and biographer, and a former editor of Meanjin. He is the author of A Three-Cornered Life: The historian WK Hancock (2010) and the memoir A Führer for a Father: The domestic face of colonialism (2017). His biographies Lyrebird Rising (of the musical patron Louise Hanson-Dyer) and A Three-Cornered Life (of the historian Keith Hancock) have won major awards. His most recent books are Moments in Time: A Book of Australian Postcards (2016) and A Führer for a Father (2017). He is currently writing a double biography of two literary magazine editors, Clem Christesen of Meanjin and Stephen Murray-Smith of Overland.

'Bouncing on the Trampoline of Fact: Biography and the historical imagination' by Jim Davidson

July–August 2010, no. 323 01 July 2010
Biography seems relatively easy to produce, but difficult to write well. It is therefore treated with a certain amount of suspicion by academics. Historians tend to regard it as chatty, not primarily concerned with policy or the identification of social factors; literary people are more sympathetic, but, in order to blot out the prosy or the fact-laden, tend to revert to a default position. Biogra ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'French Connection: Australia’s cosmopolitan ambitions' by Alexis Bergantz

October 2021, no. 436 23 September 2021
While France provided a relative trickle of immigrants – the French in Australia numbered only four thousand at the end of the nineteenth century – its influence in Australia was surprisingly pervasive. Some years ago, an exhibition entitled The French Presence in Victoria 1800–1901 drew together an extraordinary range of materials, including French opera libretti and school textbooks printe ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'After The Australian Ugliness' edited by Naomi Stead et al.

August 2021, no. 434 22 July 2021
Robin Boyd was that rare thing, an architect more famous for a book than for his buildings. The Australian Ugliness, first published in 1960, was widely read when it appeared, and for quite some time after – the Penguin editions alone sold nearly 100,000 copies. It was entertaining, satirical, and, with its unwavering judgements, played to the then prevailing yearning for sophistication. Togeth ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'Under the Rainbow: The life and times of E.W. Cole' by Richard Broinowski

October 2020, no. 425 24 September 2020
Melburnians above a certain age will remember Coles in Bourke Street. Unknown to most of them, it stood on the site of another Coles, Cole’s Book Arcade, for half a century probably the most famous shop in Australia. Its founder, Edward William Cole, is now the subject of an engaging biography by Richard Broinowski. E.W. Cole was born in Kent in rural poverty in 1832. His real father was unknow ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger' edited by Kay Dreyfus

April 1986, no. 79 01 April 1986
Some years ago a perky little tune used to introduce Jong Amis’s programme, Talking About Music. Stravinsky, I thought, listening to the cupped trumpets. But no, the BBC had chosen a piece, by our very own Percy Grainger. Surprise number two occurred when it was announced a few years later that Benjamin Britten himself was conducting an all-Grainger programme in London’s Festival Hall. Could t ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'Tom Roberts 1856–1931: A catalogue raisonné' by Helen Topliss

December 1985–January 1986, no. 77 01 December 1985
When Scholars wandered across our television screens recently, palettes in hand, many were offended by the anachronisms: busts taking artists off to Sydney, or feminist polemics leading out to a car-clogged St Kilda Road. One Summer Again was an impression of Australia’s impressionists, and had the honesty to make that plain; and the more one reads about Roberts, Streeton, and Conder, the more i ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and critic' by Suzanne Robinson

November 2019, no. 416 24 October 2019
Australian classical music. Not quite an oxymoron, but certainly an unfamiliar phrase. Yet Australian literature has been promoted by a battery of university courses overseas, following the beachhead established by Patrick White’s Nobel Prize. Similarly, Australian art has twice had great moments of impact: the Whitechapel exhibition of 1961 for the Nolan–Boyd generation, and now the continuin ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'Capital Designs: Australia House and visions of an imperial London' by Eileen Chanin

September 2019, no. 414 26 July 2019
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 lo ... (read more)

Jim Davidson reviews 'Youth' by J.M. Coetzee

June–July 2002, no. 242 01 June 2002
In Youth, the South African novelist J.M. Coetzee (who has recently taken to the Adelaide Hills) continues the project he began with Boyhood: Scenes from provincial life (1997). We are told by the publishers that this is a novel; indeed, the use of the third person throughout makes this plausible. But there is little doubt that it is autobiographical, if not autobiography; if it is a novel, then t ... (read more)
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