Tributes to a literary leader

Emeritus Professor Graham Tulloch

Tributes to the late author, biographer and academic Professor Brian Matthews (1936–2022) have been written by former colleagues and students, including Emeritus Professor Graham Tulloch, left. 

Born into a family of Irish and Scots Catholic background, Brian Matthews grew up in St Kilda, the Melbourne seaside suburb, and remained all his life a committed supporter and member of the St Kilda Football Club. This was, however, only one of his many passionate interests in everything Australian.

After attending Melbourne University and teaching in country Victoria he came to the then Bedford Park Teachers College before quickly joining the English Department at Flinders University.

At the end of his time at Flinders he was given a personal chair, an unprecedented honour in this university at that time.

While at Flinders he joined the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) when it first began, and he quickly became a leading figure in this professional association that did so much to support the teaching and research into our national literature.

For more memories from Flinders University alumni John Schumann and former student and colleague Rick Hosking.

Professor Brian Matthews was an erudite speaker on a wide range of Australian identities and literary topics. Photos courtesy Eureka Street website.

Brian soon made Flinders University one of the leading places in the teaching of Australian literature.

He wrote his ground breaking biography of Louisa Lawson, showing her for what she was, an immensely important figure alongside her better known son Henry.

From that point onwards he displayed his remarkable range of talents and the wide diversity of his interests in Australian culture.

His writing appeared widely in magazines and journals with pieces on football and cricket and other aspects of Australian life as well as fiction.

He published an acclaimed collection of short fiction, Quickening and Other Stories, as well as a novel, Magpie, written jointly with Peter Goldsworthy.

With his particular bent towards biography, he wrote about the lives of two outstanding Australians of very different backgrounds and interests, the historian Manning Clark and the cricketer and renowned cricket commentator Richie Benaud, as well as reflecting on his own life in A Fine and Quiet Place.

Throughout this he remained an inspiring teacher of many aspects of literature in English, including a special interest in George Orwell.

He also made a major contribution to the development of contemporary Australian literature as Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council from 1993 to 1996.

He was a brilliant lecturer and public speaker with the ability to hold his audience through his eloquence and wit, qualities which showed at a more intimate level in his remarkable skills as a raconteur.

Brian was and remains one of the stars of Flinders University and, although we were all personally sad to see him leave, it was also a pleasure to see him shine as Professor of Australian Studies and Director of the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at the University of London, as a Professor at Victoria University, and in a number of other places where he held visiting fellowships.

After his retirement, Brian returned to become an adjunct Professor at Flinders University and he ended his days in the Adelaide Hills, an area he had come to love over his years in South Australia.

We will miss this brilliantly insightful and extraordinarily funny colleague, both as a friend and as a colleague who made an enormous contribution to our discipline and our University.

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