My Brother Jack: about

My Brother Jack

Simon Lyndon and Matt Day William McInnes, Angie Milliken, et al

Australian author George Johnston’s acclaimed novel My Brother Jack was first published in 1964. Today, more than 35 years since it first appeared, My Brother Jack is considered to have made a major contribution to Australian literature. It was the first in a trilogy written by Johnston—the other books being Clean Straw for Nothing and A Cartload of Clay.

My Brother Jack and Clean Straw for Nothing both won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award—in 1964 and 1970 respectively.

George Johnston was born in 1912 in Melbourne. His working-class parents were both actively involved in the First World War—his father fought in France and his mother was a nurse at the Caulfield Military Hospital.

After leaving school at the age of 14 George worked for a printing firm. Two years later he submitted an article on shipwrecks to the Melbourne Argus newspaper and was soon asked to join its staff. George Johnston became Australia’s first official war correspondent and covered the fighting in New Guinea and many other fields of conflict.

In 1938, he married Elsie Taylor. They had one daughter, Gae, but the marriage broke down and they divorced in 1947. George later married Charmian Clift, whom he had met during the war while she was in the army stationed in Melbourne. Charmian was a gifted writer and they collaborated on many works—the first being High Valley.

After a stint with the Sydney Sun, George was posted to London to head up the paper’s bureau. Eventually he realised he couldn’t be a novelist and a journalist at the same time, so he left the newspaper in 1954 and he and Charmian took their young family to Greece. They lived first on the island of Kalymnos and then on Hydra. It was on Hydra that George wrote My Brother Jack.

In 1964 George returned home to Australia for the launch of the novel. Charmian and their three children followed.

George, who had contracted tuberculosis while in Greece, was beset by major health problems while he was writing Clean Straw for Nothing and spent eight months in hospital. In 1969, shortly before the book was published, Charmian took her own life.

George battled ill health and attempted to finish the final volume in the Meredith Trilogy, A Cartload of Clay. George Johnston died in 1970, before the manuscript was completed. However, enough had been written for the book to be published.

My Brother Jack is very much George Johnston’s story.