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

January–February 2022, no. 439 20 December 2021
Brenda Niall reviews 'Dear Prime Minister: Letters to Robert Menzies, 1949–1966' by Martyn Lyons
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
Brenda Niall reviews 'Into the Wadi' by Michèle Drouart
‘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)

Brenda Niall reviews 'The Ghost at the Wedding: A true story' by Shirley Walker

July-August 2009, no. 313 01 July 2009
Brenda Niall reviews 'The Ghost at the Wedding: A true story' by Shirley Walker
Some stories deserve to be told more than once. Retold, they cannot be the same. Even when the teller is the same person, the shift in time and experience will make the story new. In The Ghost at the Wedding, Shirley Walker returns to the material of her autobiography, Roundabout at Bangalow (2001), in order to focus more closely on the saddest and most powerful memories therein: those of the youn ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Pomegranate Season' by Carolyn Polizzotto and 'Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree' by Cassandra Pybus

June 1998, no. 201 01 June 1998
Brenda Niall reviews 'Pomegranate Season' by Carolyn Polizzotto and 'Till Apples Grow on an Orange Tree' by Cassandra Pybus
Two autobiographical works, both by women historians, are presented in the elegant small format which often says ‘gift book’ and may suggest more surface charm than substance. In fact, there are at least as many contrasts as resemblances between the two, and although the mood is quietly reflective, there is no easy nostalgia. ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'B.A. Santamaria: Your most obedient servant: Selected Letters 1938–1996' edited by Patrick Morgan

March 2007, no. 289 01 March 2007
Brenda Niall reviews 'B.A. Santamaria: Your most obedient servant: Selected Letters 1938–1996' edited by Patrick Morgan
Among countless unused fragments of information from my convent schooldays, I remember the correct forms of address for churchmen of all ranks. For the pope, it was Your Holiness; for a cardinal, Your Eminence. Next came Your Grace and My Lord, for archbishops and bishops. Then the cumbersome Right Reverend and Dear Monsignor, followed by Dear Reverend Father, which sufficed for a priest. Few of ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'The Collected Stories of Shirley Hazzard' by Shirley Hazzard

December 2020, no. 427 25 November 2020
Brenda Niall reviews 'The Collected Stories of Shirley Hazzard' by Shirley Hazzard
When Shirley Hazzard was invited to give the 1984 Boyer Lectures, it was an astonishing break in tradition. Her twenty-three predecessors included only one woman, Dame Roma Mitchell, a supreme court justice who was later governor of South Australia. Except for architect and writer Robin Boyd, and poet and Bulletin editor Douglas Stewart, Hazzard was the only creative artist on the list. All her pr ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Oh Happy Day: Those times and these times' by Carmen Callil

November 2020, no. 426 22 October 2020
Brenda Niall reviews 'Oh Happy Day: Those times and these times' by Carmen Callil
Scanning my bookshelves, I see a dozen or more of the distinctive green spines of Virago Press. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Virago imprint was a guarantee of good reading by women writers whose works were rediscovered and sent out to find a new public. I had read Margaret Atwood, Rosamond Lehmann, and Elizabeth Taylor for the first time in hardcovers; Virago made them new. Kate O’ Brien’s ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Islands: A trip through time and space' by Peter Conrad

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
Brenda Niall reviews 'Islands: A trip through time and space' by Peter Conrad
‘There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself.’ So begins D.H. Lawrence’s bleak little fable ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. Lawrence’s islander wants control, sole possession, mastery of people and place. When his first island, fertile and beautiful, fails him because of the vast expense of mak ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'My Father’s Daughter: Memories of an Australian childhood' by Sheila Fitzpatrick

October 2010, no. 325 01 October 2010
Brenda Niall reviews 'My Father’s Daughter: Memories of an Australian childhood' by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Even the cover design of Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir gave me something to ponder. The title, which signals the father–daughter story, is linked with an engaging seaside photograph of the two of them. The father’s swimming trunks and the daughter’s bathing cap have an authentic 1940s look. Add to that a bland subtitle, Memories of an Australian Childhood, and the tough confrontations of the ... (read more)

Brenda Niall reviews 'Correggio Jones and the Runaways: The Italo-Australian connection' by Desmond O’Grady

May 1995, no. 170 01 May 1995
Brenda Niall reviews 'Correggio Jones and the Runaways: The Italo-Australian connection' by Desmond O’Grady
Desmond O’Grady is uniquely placed to interpret Australia for Italians and Italy for Australians. He grew up in suburban Melbourne, but as a journalist, biographer, and writer of fiction he has spent most of his working life in Rome. In his new book, Correggio Jones and the Runaways, O’Grady brings together a fascinatingly varied group of expatriates’ portraits in order to examine the ideas ... (read more)
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