Vondra, Josef 1941–

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Vondra, Josef 1941–

(J. Gert Vondra, Josef Gert Vondra)


Born June 11, 1941, in Vienna, Austria; son of Josef Vondra (an architect) and Theresa Knoll Horvath (an actress); married Janet (a journalist), August 18, 1975 (divorced); children: Alexandra. Ethnicity: "Middle European." Education: Attended University of Melbourne, 1960-63. Religion: "Pantheist." Hobbies and other interests: Swimming.


Home and office—Lorne, Victoria, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


Sun-New Pictorial, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, cadet journalist, 1960-63; Radio Australia, reporter, 1964-67; freelance writer, 1967-2001; Lorne Independent, Lorne, Victoria, Australia, founding editor, 2001—.


Senior Writer's fellowship, Australian government, 1974; short listed for New South Wales Premier's Prize for children's literature, 2001, for No-Name Bird.


(Under name J. Gert Vondra) Timor Journey, Lansdowne (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1968.

(Under name J. Gert Vondra) The Other China: Discovering Taiwan, Lansdowne (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1970.

(Under name J. Gert Vondra) Hong Kong: City without a Country, Lansdowne (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1970.

A Guide to Australian Cheese, Lansdowne (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1971, 4th edition published as A Guide to Australian Cheese: A Complete Guide, Cavalier Press (South Yarra, Victoria, Australia), 1992.

Paul Zwilling (novel), Wren (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1974, published as For the Prime Minister: The Paul Zwilling Papers, David & Charles (London, England), 1975.

Hellas Australia/Ellada Australia, Greek translation by George Psaros, Widescope (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1979.

German-speaking Settlers in Australia, Cavalier (South Yarra, Victoria, Australia), 1981.

No-Name Bird (young adult), Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.


Josef Vondra once commented: "Coming from an Australian mainstream journalistic professional background, I have always tried to write about what I know, rather than what I have made up. In writing fic- tion, however, the straight putting down of facts is often not suitable and therefore I try to separate the emotion from the fact. A story can be pure fiction, though the thoughts and feelings expressed are personal. This is especially helpful in writing for children as they have keen senses on what is real and what is not.

"I started off writing for adults—travel books, a biographical novel, two historical works and a guide to cheese—but since the publication of my novel, No-Name Bird, I have been drawn to writing more for young adults. There is a strong link between the very young and the mature—a child is the most truthful of human beings. As you grow, you learn to lie, cheat, and to acquire all the other characteristics that make up an adult. With age, however, you tend to know who and what you are and life does become simpler and more truthful, certainly more honest.

"I live in Lorne, a seaside resort town on the southwestern coast of Victoria and the place does inspire me to write. It is not so much the peace and quiet, but rather the companionship of a small community. It's hard to be lonely (and writing is a lonely occupation) in a place like this. Most of my work is done in the morning, from six-thirty a.m. to about two p.m.

"For recreation, I swim at a pool at least twice a week at Colac, a country town about a forty minutes' drive from Lorne. I used to swim competitively and swimming still gives me enormous joy."

Vondra told CA: "Since my early teens, I never ever contemplated a different career. I used to read voraciously (both in German and then later in English) and always knew that I would write. I have never ever had a non-writing job; I feel privileged that I was always offered the opportunity to follow what I loved doing. Writing is about ideas, and the act of writing is the tool by which the idea is expressed.

"I don't think that my writing has been particularly revolutionary, or has had a big impact and or influence. However, my first travel book, Timor Journey, published in 1968, is still used by academics in Australia in studies on Timor Leste, for it is among a very small number of publications that actually gives a good picture of life in Timor under the Portuguese during the 1960s. Most of recent literature on Timor is post-1975, the time of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

"My A Guide to Australian Cheese, came out in 1973 and became a big seller and subsequently was published in three other versions. The reason for the book's success was that Australia at the time was dramatically changing its attitude to wine and food in general. The early 1970s saw enormous interest in the rediscovery of the wine industry and with it, gourmet cooking. My book very much rode on the back of this movement, and through its promotion by the Australian Dairy Board, and my subsequent columns on cheese in some of Australia's leading newspapers (I was columnist with The Age in Melbourne for six years) the manufacture of specialty cheese in Australia changed quite dramatically. It is still considered to be the most authoritative and comprehensive guide to cheese, though naturally it is now very much out of date.

"I don't have any special qualifications in food or indeed cheese manufacture. After my three travel books, my publisher asked me to do the cheese book as I had an amateur's interest in wine and food. After the publication of the first cheese book, I travelled throughout Europe and briefly in the United States to study cheese and a book on world varieties was near publication when my publisher went broke. By the time the manuscript was extracted from the financial chaos, it was out of date and a couple of other books had been published on the subject.

"Through my travels I did know a lot about cheese and this knowledge was used in my fortnightly column with the Age.

"I don't take any interest in food writing any more but channel my creative energy into the Lorne Independent, which is a thirty-two-page A4 magazine style newsletter modeled on the English Spectator format. As a monthly, it enables us to include in-depth reports on local issues, but also stories on the arts (books, paintings), local environmental themes, politics, and a range of other issues. We aim at quality writing. Writing for and editing this publication is quite time-consuming.

"Although I am working on a new fiction manuscript with an aged-care theme, most of my creative energy goes into the Lorne Independent."