Skip to main content

George Johnston, 1941

Max Dupain

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 30.9 cm x 37.7 cm, image: 30.3 cm x 37.7 cm)

George Henry Johnston OBE (1912-1970), journalist and novelist, grew up in Elsternwick, a working class suburb of Melbourne. At age 21 he became a cadet reporter at the Argus newspaper and by 1941 he had worked his way up from compiling the shipping reports to being its accredited Australian war correspondent in World War 2. Having witnessed the Japanese surrender on board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945, Johnston returned to Australia to find himself famous. His courageous reporting from New Guinea, India, China, Burma and Italy, as well as the five books he published throughout, were vivid, exciting and acutely observed accounts of the conflict. Johnston had left a young wife and daughter in Melbourne during the war. On his return to the Argus Johnston fell in love with the beautiful and intelligent writer Charmian Clift. In 1947 Johnston divorced his first wife and married Clift. They moved to Sydney, where they had two sons and collaborated on an award-winning novel, High Valley, before moving to London in 1951. After three years, Johnston resigned from his job with Associated Newspapers and the family moved to the Greek Islands. Johnston, under the pseudonym Shane Martin (a conflation of his first two sons’ names), wrote five detective novels, but he was frustrated in his serious literary ambitions. After several years of financial stress, heavy drinking and smoking, his marriage disintegrating and having developed tuberculosis, Johnston began, in 1962, to write the autobiographical novel that would become the Australian classic, My Brother Jack. The family returned to Australia in 1964 to the recognition Johnston craved. The following year, Clift scripted a miniseries adaptation of My Brother Jack for the ABC. Johnston continued the autobiographical trilogy through the family’s emotionally tumultuous time in London and Greece. In 1969, a month before the launch of Clean Straw for Nothing, Clift took her own life. Johnston did not quite complete the final volume, A Cartload of Clay, set at the time it was written and unsparing in its self-analysis, before he died in 1971.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Danina Anderson, daughter of Max Dupain 2017
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2017.26

Currently not on display

Copyright image request form
Request a digital copy of an image for publication

Artist and subject

Max Dupain (age 30 in 1941)

George Johnston OBE (age 29 in 1941)

Subject professions


Donated by

Danina Anderson (34 portraits)

© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery of Australia (NPGA) acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.