Rowbotham, David 1924–

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Rowbotham, David 1924–

(David Harold Rowbotham)


Born August 27, 1924, in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia; son of Harold and Phyllis Rowbotham; married Ethel Jessie Matthews (a registered nurse), January 14, 1952; children: Beverly, Jill. Ethnic-ity: "English descent." Education: University of Queensland, B.A., 1948 and 1964; attended University of Sydney, 1949.


Home and office—Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


Angus & Robertson, Sydney, Australia, member of editorial staff for Australian Encyclopedia, 1950-51; Encyclopaedia Britannica, London, England, editorial assistant, 1951-52; Toowoomba Chronicle, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, staff columnist, 1952-55; Courier Mail, Brisbane, Queensland, literary and theater critic, 1955-64, chief book reviewer, 1964-69, arts editor, 1969-80, literary editor, 1980-87. Australian Broadcasting Commission, broadcaster for National Book Review Panel, 1957-63; public speaker throughout Queensland. Guest lecturer at universities in California and Hawaii, 1972, and at Japan-Australia Cultural Centre, Tokyo, 1974; founding member of Warana Writers' Festival (now Brisbane Writers' Festival), 1962, and Adelaide Festival of Arts, 1962, Military service: Royal Australian Air Force, wireless operator for mobile fighter sector, 1942-45; served in Pacific theater; received commemorative medal, 2005.


International Federation of Journalists, Australian Society of Authors (founding member; member of foundation council and state vice president, 1963—), Fellowship of Australian Writers (Queensland president, 1982), Australian Journalists Association (reserve member), New South Wales Writers Centre.


Competition prize, Sydney Morning Herald, 1949; Grace Leven Prize for poetry, 1964; Xavier Society Award for poetry, 1969; travel grants from Australian Commonwealth Literary Fund (for the United States), 1972, and Australia Council, 1974 (for Asia), 1976 (for Italy), and 1981 (for the United States); awarded Order of Australia, 1991; emeritus fellowship, Literature Board, Australia Council, 1997.


Ploughman and Poet (poetry), Lyre Bird Writers (Sydney, Australia), 1954.

Town and City: Tales and Sketches, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1956.

(Editor) Queensland Writing, Fellowship of Australian Writers (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1957.

Inland (poetry), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1958.

All the Room (poetry), Jacaranda Press (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1964.

The Man in the Jungle (novel), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1964.

Brisbane (monograph), University of Sydney (Sydney, Australia), 1964.

Bungalow and Hurricane: New Poems, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1967.

The Makers of the Ark (poetry), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1970.

The Pen of Feathers (poetry), Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1971.

Selected Poems, University of Queensland Press (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1975.

Maydays (poetry), University of Queensland Press (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1980.

(With Simon Catling and Tim Firth) Beginning Outset Geography, Oliver & Boyd (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1984.

(With Simon Catling and Tim Firth) Outset Geography, Oliver & Boyd (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1988.

New and Selected Poems: 1945-1993, Penguin (Melbourne, Australia), 1994.

The Ebony Gates: New and Wayside Poems, Central Queensland University Press (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1996.

Poems for America: New Poems, Interactive Press (Carindale, Queensland, Australia), 2002.

The Brown Island and Other Poems, Picaro Press (Warners Bay, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.

The Cave in the Sky: Poems at Eighty, Picaro Press (Warners Bay, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.

Also author of The Hammer that Made a Mountain, 1995. Work represented in anthologies, including The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, edited by Geoff Page, 2003; and The Best Australian Poems 2004, edited by Les Murray, 2004. Contributor to periodicals, including Newswrite and Southerly.

Rowbotham's papers, diaries, scrapbooks, correspondence, and drafts are collected at the National Library of Australia.


Readings of some of Rowbotham's poetry were videotaped by Australia's National Sound and Film Archive, 1992; other videotapes include Penguin Book Poems, 2004, and Poems at Eighty, 2005.


Australian author and poet David Rowbotham began his writing career after World War II, at a time when his contemporaries were identifying closely with the Australian landscape. Although Rowbotham also has produced poems that link him to his origins, he writes verse that is different in that it is considered more introspective than that of most other modern Australian poets. From his early writings to his present, Rowbotham has celebrated nature and humanity and has become one of Australia's favorite modern poets. In a World Literature Today review of Selected Poems, Syed Amanuddin noted Rowbotham's "own peculiar idiom and simplicity of diction," and the poet's use of "several themes which suggest the wide range of his knowledge and experience, his love of nature and his humanity." Noting that Rowbotham's poems, unlike many others by Australians, also contain a great deal of social commentary, Amanuddin observed that "no student of Australian poetry can afford to ignore such a poet."

In a Times Literary Supplement review of Selected Poems, Ronald Tamplin also complimented Rowbotham's work, which he found tends "to hover between landscape and a metaphysical abstraction." Tamplin made special note of poems such as "Dust" and "Prey to Prey," both written in quatrains. According to Tamplin, Rowbotham's "contribution to Australian writing has been constant and painstaking since 1946." Rowbotham's work has transcended the boundaries of his native country as his travels have taken him to other lands, among them America and Asia. Inspired by these journeys, Rowbotham has written collections such as Maydays, which contains poems that reflect particular aspects of his homeland and the lands he has visited such as ducks in a Japanese garden and the American theme park Disneyland. An "effective verbal painter," according to Amanuddin, writing about Maydays in World Literature Today, "Rowbotham outdoes most Australian poets … by relating his personal and national experience consciously to global experience."

Rowbotham's early career was associated with the Bulletin school of nature poetry, "a school," wrote Thomas W. Shapcott in the sixth edition of Contemporary Poets, "that encouraged Australian writers to look more closely at and reaffirm their own regional identity and meaning." Much of the work produced by the school was characterized by "an ever expanding wash of mynah bird and billabong versification," Shapcott explains. Rowbotham's first book, Ploughman and Poet, was essentially a collection of lyrics in this vein, although of better quality. So was his second work, Inland, which, said Shapcott, includes "probably his most anthologized—and one of his best—poems, ‘Mullabinda.’"

But Rowbotham broke out of the constraints of the nature genre with his third collection, All the Room. "From this point on Rowbotham's poetry has struggled its way doggedly, and with considerable effort," Shapcott explained, "into areas of response and experience far removed from the gentle, sunny Darling Downs countryside of the earlier books." The poems in this work left the examination-of-nature theme and turned instead to an examination of interior issues. These issues continued to be explored with The Makers of the Ark and The Pen of Feathers, Rowbotham's collections from the early 1970s. The best of the poet's later work, Shapcott concluded, "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." Rowbotham continued to publish poetry throughout the 1980s and 1990s; his New and Selected Poems, 1945-1993 is made up of previously uncollected material that had only seen print in literary journals.

Rowbotham once commented in Contemporary Poets on his combination of landscape to humanity: "I acknowledge—as a guidance to my earlier work done among my Australian home-countryside, and to my later work done (say) within the sense of surrounding larger worlds—that man and landscape (outer? inner?) cannot be separated, and that it never occurred to me whether or not they could be."



Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Ewers, John K., Creative Writing in Australia, Georgian House (Melbourne, Australia), 1966.

Hadcraft, Cecil, editor, Australian Literature, Heinemann (London, England), 1960.

Jaffa, Herbert C., editor, Modern Australian Poetry: 1920-1970, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1979.

Strugnell, John, Focus on David Rowbotham, University of Queensland Press (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 1969.


Antipodes: Journal of the American Association for Australian Literary Studies, December, 2002, Nicholas Birns, "Invested with Surprise: A Visit with David Rowbotham."

Australian Book Review, April, 1994, review of New and Selected Poems, 1945-1993, p. 38; November, 1996, review of The Ebony Gates, p. 55.

Australian Weekend Review, March 26, 1994, Martin Duwell, "The Self as Springboard."

Courier Mail (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), February 5, 1994, Manfred Jurgensen, "Powerful Poetry."

Hollins Critic, April, 2005, Nicholas Birns, review of Poems for America: New Poems, p. 18.

Times Literary Supplement, April 9, 1976, Ronald Tamplin, review of Selected Poems, p. 443.

Weekend Australian Review, October 25, 2003, Adrian McGregor, "Surviving the Winter of Discontent," p. 4.

World Literature Today, spring, 1979, Syed Amanuddin, review of Selected Poems, p. 344; summer, 1981, Syed Amanuddin, review of Maydays, p. 526.


David Rowbotham: A Chronicle, (April 10, 2007).