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George Johnston

In their own words

Recorded 1964

George Johnston
Audio: 2 minutes

I, including the three novels in collaboration with my wife, have written 25 books, the most recent of which is a novel called My Brother Jack which, oddly enough, is the first Australian book I’ve ever written, and even more odd, perhaps, is the fact that it was written on the island in Greece 10,000 miles away from Australia and removed from its setting, which is Melbourne, by a period of 17 years.

A lot of people have questioned this curious aspect of it, of being able to write an entirely Australian novel, because it’s entirely set in Melbourne, from that sort of long remove in time and space. But I’ve always felt, when one is looking back on a thing, and you must remember that this novel is to some degree autobiographical and certainly there’s a nostalgic looking back on a past time. And I think in a way this can be done rather better from this long remove because there’s nothing of the present Australia obtruding on the scene; one sees it perhaps a little bit out of true, out of perspective but with a sort of a queer clarity, almost a dreamlike clarity in a way. And it’s terribly odd, the moment one sets oneself the exercise of examining this past time; in the beginning it is very, very difficult indeed and then as you rather painfully evoke some early image it seems to breed the other early images and a most extraordinary chain of memory is in some curious way revived, sometimes quite frightening. And you find details seem to come up from some bottomless pond that one had for decades utterly forgotten, the names of people, their appearance, the clothes they wore, the streets, the little shops where one bought those long-vanished sweets, nulla-nullas and silver sammies and lamp posts and liquorice sticks and so on. And all this comes up, and it comes up in a very fresh and strangely vivid way.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of George Johnston is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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George Johnston OBE

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The National Portrait Gallery 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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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