Bush Boy with Honours
If early life is most character-forming, then John’s halcyon childhood served him well. He was raised on a property outside the tiny hamlet of Niangala in New South Wales. By the beautiful Mulla River on the crest of the Moonbi range he went rabbiting and fishing for salmon in summer; saw snow and ice in winter. His handsome maternal grandmother, Florence Anthill (a matriarchal figure who lived till 98, still firmly in control of all her faculties) introduced young John to boyhood adventure classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Ivanhoe, The Last of the Mohicans and the poems of Walter Scott. Though a professed atheist now, he admits to always having liked Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven during his teens.
This boy went on to be described by Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe as ‘…one of the most underrated poets in Australia’. His poetry has been likened to that of Kenneth Slessor. One of the most eminent writers to join Gold Coast Writers’ Association, John remains modest about his achievements, which include winning the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Scottish International Poetry Competition twice, the Max Harris Literary Award for poetry, and being short listed four times for the NSW Premier’s Awards. From 1962 he has been involved with Poetry Australia, advising on legal and accountancy matters then becoming Editor from 1987.
But perhaps the jewel in John’s crown is having been honored in 1999 with an Order of Australia for services to Literature.
The military was his world for many years – he served in England during WW2 as a Wireless Air Gunner with the all-Australian RAAF No 10 Squadron, from which experience he wrote the popular Tail Arse Charlie, also adapted for ABC radio and the stage.
In an age where the internet enables those with ambition to put themselves ‘out there’ on a personal website, John the quiet achiever remains serenely unmoved to follow suit. With a list (too long to enumerate) of publications at home and overseas under his belt, he continues to contribute poetry and short stories to literary journals worldwide, whilst closer to home using his legal background to give advice on military compensation appeals.
He is now happily settled with his wife and family on the Gold Coast. But perhaps, as he wrote of a retired cattle man in his Surfers Paradise Poems:
Sometimes a night’s drift wakes him
and he watches the dingo eyes of the stars –
and an old clock chimes in his head
when the moon makes a river on the sea
the colour of bees.