Rowbotham, David (Harold)

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ROWBOTHAM, David (Harold)

Nationality: Australian. Born: Toowoomba, Queensland, 27 August 1924. Education: Toowoomba East State Grammar School; Queensland Teachers' College; University of Sydney (Lawson prize, 1949); University of Queensland, Brisbane (Ford Medal, 1948), B.A.,M.A. (Qual.) Military Service: Royal Australian Air Force, Southwest Pacific, 1942–45. Family: Married Ethel Jessie Matthews in 1952; two daughters. Career: Editorial staff member The Australian Encyclopedia, 1950–51; freelance journalist, Sydney and London, 1949–52; columnist, Toowoomba Chronicle, 1952–55; broadcaster, Australian Broadcasting Commission National Book Review Panel, 1957–63; literary and theater critic, 1955–64, chief book reviewer, 1964–69, arts editor, 1969–80, and literary editor, 1980–87, Brisbane Courier-Mail. Commonwealth Literary Fund Lecturer, University of Queensland, 1956, 1964, and University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, 1961; senior tutor in English, University of Queensland, 1965–69. Member: Since 1963 foundation councillor, Australian Society of Authors; state president, Australian Fellowship of Writers, 1982; member, Commonwealth Games Literature Committee, 1982; since 1992 member, New South Wales Writers' Centre, Australian Journalists' Association, and International Federation of Journalists. Awards: Sydney Morning Herald Competition prize, 1949; Grace Leven prize, 1964; Xavier Society award, 1966; Australian Commonwealth Literary Fund travel grant, 1972; Australia Council grant, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1985. Emeritus Fellow of Australian Literature, Australia Council, 1989. AM (Member of the Order of Australia), 1991. Address: 28 Percival Terrace, Holland Park, Brisbane, Queensland 4121. Australia.



Ploughman and Poet. Sydney, Lyre Bird Writers, 1954.

Inland. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1958.

All the Room. Brisbane, Jacaranda Press, 1964.

Bungalow and Hurricane: New Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1967.

The Makers of the Ark. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1970.

The Pen of Feathers. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1971.

Selected Poems. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1975.

Mighty Like a Harp. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1975.

Maydays. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press. 1980.

New and Selected Poems 1945–1993. Melbourne, Penguin Books Australia, 1994.

The Ebony Gates: New and Wayside Poems. Rockhampton, Central Queensland University Press, 1996.


The Man in the Jungle. Sydney and London, Angus and Robertson, 1964.

Short Stories

Town and City: Tales and Sketches. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1956.


Brisbane: A Monograph. Sydney, University of Sydney, 1964.

Editor, Queensland Writing. Brisbane, Fellowship of Australian Writers. 1957.


Manuscript Collection: National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Critical Studies: Australian Literature by Cecil Hadcraft, London, Heinemann, 1960; Creative Writing in Australia by John K. Ewers, Melbourne, Georgian House, 1966; Focus on David Rowbotham by John Strugnell, Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1969; "Some Recent Australian Poetry" by Ronald Dunlop, in Poetry Australia (Sydney), 1972; "Australian Poetry" by Vernon Young, in Parnassus 7 (New York) 1, 1978; Modern Australian Poetry 1920–1970 by Herbert C. Jaffa, Detroit, Gale, 1979; David Malouf, in Australian Literary Studies 10 (Brisbane), 3, 1982; "Powerful Poetry" by Manfred Jurgensen, in The Courier-Mail, 5 February 1994; "The Self As Springboard" by Martin Duwell, in The Australian (National) Weekend Review, 26 March 1994; "The Age of Vigilance" by David Gilbey, in Australian Book Review, 159, April 1994.

David Rowbotham comments:

I found when I began that I belonged with poets who contributed to the renaissance of Australian poetry in the immediate postwar years, a historical and prolific movement seldom acknowledged now. Of my postwar generation of fellows who returned from the war and started publishing verse, I am, at seventy-five and among a turbulent poetic scene, the only one still alive and practicing. This claim and perspective, this alpha and omega, now seems to be the only way of precisely advocating that, while silly yet divisive "poetry wars" have been waged in Australia in the midst of life's always greater issues, from people's day-to-day battles in town and city to brutality and duplicity amongst the grandeur of the world, I have preferred to keep to my own compulsions. As a returned serviceman, I wrote, in lyric, narrative, and portraiture, about what I might have lost. I did not express "experimentation." The countryside and people were far more important to get down, which I did in Ploughman and Poet (1954) and Inland (1958), my first books of verse, poems from which appeared in new anthologies for decades. I was a poet instinctively drawn toward telling a story of his time, which might well become a story of himself; Lermontov said the story of a man's soul could be more interesting and instructive than the story of a whole nation. Over time change and development came in preoccupations, imagination, and technique simultaneously. They came in an emerging endeavor in the whole of my work to range. (One can not have been born on a mountain without wishing to use such an operative verb.) They came, too, with an endeavor to admit all variety as well as engage with the energy that the dimension called vision demanded. From the lifetime that went by, issued—I give as instances—poems not only about ploughmen and townsfolk but about myself as one of them and about men in space (The Pen of Feathers, 1971), emigration, travel, wars, death (Maydays, 1980), love, loyalty, belief, and their opposites such as life, peace if ever possible ("Honey Licked from a Thorn," 1993), and home, hates, betrayal, and the wrestle for faith ("The Ebony Gates," 1996), concomitant with the wrestle to continue writing. And it is here that new assessments by Shapcott, Duwell, Jurgensen, and Myers may be taken as an analysis of what, through poetry, my poetry and perhaps I have become. Here also, toward the end, my new book of verse, The Pacific Star, a volume largely examining war, sums up what, unknowingly, was to be the final reach of the young survivor who wrote so long ago of the home country he returned to and began to celebrate. I have always written as a survivor and have tried to do so without humbug.

*  *  *

David Rowbotham began writing and publishing after World War II as a young follower of the Bulletin school of nature poets, a movement that encouraged Australian writers to look more closely at and reaffirm their own regional identity and meaning. Such a coming to terms with the Australian landscape was important at the time, but it threatened poetry with an ever expanding wash of mynah bird and billabong versification. Rowbotham wrote a number of very delicate lyrics in his first book, Ploughman and Poet, but his second collection, Inland, though it contained probably his most anthologized (and one of his best) poems, "Mullabinda," did not really prepare his readers for the change in direction, to a more introverted and personal poetry, that was first displayed in the volume All the Room.

From this point on Rowbotham's poetry has struggled its way doggedly, and with considerable effort, into areas of response and experience far removed from the gentle, sunny Darling Downs countryside of the earlier books. It is a measure of Rowbotham's integrity that he has not paid easy court to currently fashionable styles and mannerisms, even when they have been shown to be amenable to the sort of personal self-exploration he has been struggling to realize. At its worst, then, his later work in such books as The Makers of the Ark and The Pen of Feathers is marred by a residue of quatrain-making habits not fully explored or justified. At its best the later poetry counterpoints a conservative vocabulary and rhythm with an intensely felt response to the poet's own discoveries and concerns, which have been thought through with an almost painful honesty to their own relevance in his poetic search. Rowbotham has become one of the significant loners in Australian poetry.

In 1989 a series of individual Rowbotham poems began to appear in literary journals, giving evidence of a continuing personal grappling with experience and contemplation, expressed in terms of a taut lyricism along the lines of his best earlier work. New and Selected Poems 1945–1993, which was published in 1994, contains fifty-one pages of previously uncollected work and, together with a tautly selected sampling of earlier poems, demonstrates the persistent integrity and individuality of his mature achievement. The Ebony Gates continues the strain of vigor and tautness, though the chafing tone, tinged with an old rancor, is modified and reconciled (if uncomfortably) with a warmth of recognition of his early origins and a sort of homecoming.

—Thomas W. Shapcott