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The true quiet Australians: 10 of the best of Brian Matthews

  • 09 June 2022
Brian Matthews, academic, award-winning columnist and biographer, and Australia's foremost scholar on Henry Lawson and his mother Louisa, died last Thursday 2 June following complications related to lymphoma, at the age of 86. Brian first wrote for Eureka Street in February, 2002 and continued to contribute his monthly column for 20 years. Despite the sheer volume of work, here we present, in no particular order, a collection of some of Brian’s best pieces from the past 20 years.

Dad’s army

It was Christmas morning of... many years ago. The small hours. I was awake, wound to a pitch of excitement that produced somewhere in my chest of exquisite tension and made breathing difficult. I was about eight years old but, despite my advanced age, I remained a dogged believer in Father Christmas (as my family called him). This belief was maintained in the face of cynicism and derision from the youthful toughs I consorted with and despite my own unspoken qualms in moments of inconvenient rationality. Anyway, that Christmas morning, armed with my fragile faith, curled up in bed in the darkness of my room to which the skylight in the passage just outside the door lent a ghostly luminescence, I sensed his immanence.

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Burke, Wills and ... Rudd?

Getting the whole outfit together was no small task. The 500 yards long caravanserai comprised 19 men, 26 camels, 23 horses, and various wagons carrying 20 tons of supplies and equipment. Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek, Sunday evening, 21 April 1861. Painting by John LongstaffAmong the 'equipment' were cedar-topped dining tables, 12 dandruff brushes, four enema kits and assorted items of sartorial finery belonging to the leader of the troop, including the top hat which he wore as, astride his charger, 'Billy', he led the Victorian Exploring Expedition out of Royal Park, on to Flemington Road and thence to Mount Alexander Road heading for Essendon and distant parts north.

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Illness and the indescribable

When I was a mere toddler, I was diagnosed with diphtheria — a deadly infectious disease at that time but treatable by vaccine. I was rushed to Melbourne’s Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in an ambulance. I think my attempts to anchor myself in my father’s cradling arms and my cries of ‘Don’t let them take me away’ might be among my earliest memories, though undoubtedly embellished by subsequent lore and anecdote. But I’m certain