Fond memories of Brian Matthews

From his student days, Flinders alumnus and academic Rick Hosking remembers university lecturer, the late Professor Brian Matthews. 

I was a foundation student at Flinders University, and in 1968 I began an honours degree in English. Between 1966 and 1968 we had studied many aspects of the discipline,  but no Australian Literature.

Brian was invited to come up from the (Sturt campus) teacher’s college and offer the first class in OzLit, and I was one of the four students who took the option. Classes were small back then.

Brian put together a course of half a dozen texts: one of the early weeks was devoted to Henry Lawson’s short stories.

One of the students was a loquacious cove called David. He interrupted Brian and proceeded to spend the rest of the class showing us how much he thought he knew about Lawson.

The following week Brian arrived with a manila folder from which he produced some type-written pages which he placed on the desk in front of him. We waited for the class to begin. We were supposed to be talking about Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia. No David. We waited.

Eventually Brian cleared his throat and addressed us. He was sorry that Mr — was not present, he said, because he wanted to respond to what he had said the previous week. He then read out a devastating rebuttal of everything David had said about Lawson, demolishing him point by point.

As he read, I could see that the text he was reading from had been very carefully edited: there were clear signs of Tippex everywhere.

I learned two things about Brian that day: he would later advise me that if ever I had to make a speech, I should write it out, ‘down to the jokes’, he added. As it turned out, I became one of his first postgraduate students, and we remained friends and colleagues for life.

Brian’s jokes. The writer and academic Adrian Caesar was one of the first postdoctoral fellows to spend time at the Department of English at Flinders.

In 2021 he published his splendid novel A Winter Sowing, about a Vietnam veteran with PTSD. The character David is following the road taken by his daughter down to Batemans Bay, and pulls in to a servo to see if she had passed through.

The woman remembers the girl and her friend, because ‘they only bought ten bucks worth of petrol. She gives a giggle. “I asked them if they were trying to wean it.”

When I read this paragraph I knew exactly what Adrian meant, and to whom he was paying homage. This one of Brian’s stories: he would tell how he was driving home to Echunga from Flinders one day and his ute was dangerously low on juice. He had little money in his pocket—it was the days before credit cards, save for a solitary dollar bill.

He called in to a shop in Aldgate and asked the bloke for a dollar’s worth. The bloke knew Brian, and asked ‘Crikey, Brian, waddaya tryin’ to do, mate, wean the bastard?’

Here’s to you, Brian.

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