The Library has recently acquired a small and very rare volume of Australian poetry. John Manifold’s Verses 1930–1933 was written while Manifold was a high school student and published when he graduated in 1933, aged 18. It contains 13 poems (two are translations, of Goethe and Villon), and annotations most probably in the author’s hand. It is the only known copy of the publication held by a public library.

The cover of the newly acquired poetry pamphlet 'Verses 1930-1933.'

The cover of Verses 1930-1933

John Manifold was born in Melbourne in 1915 and raised mainly on his family’s substantial properties in the Western District of Victoria. He graduated as dux of his year from Geelong Grammar (in 1933). In an interview with protégé Rodney Hall, Manifold described the poems in Verses 1930–1933 as ‘Youthful indiscretion… Puberty sets in pretty early in this country; poetry usually sets in with puberty.’ Despite the poet’s desire to distance himself from these poems, the youthful patriotism and idealistic Australian pastoralism of these juvenilia have discernible echoes in Manifold’s mature, highly politicised oeuvre.

… Still fauns in white-trunked forests peep at us,
Or wake the hillsides with their reed-pipe strains.
That horror of the road, the motor-bus
Scares nymph and dryad down the leafy lanes,
And in his cloudy pastures Pegasus
Snorts his disgust at passing aeroplanes.

(Sonnet, 1932)

John Manifold as seen in The Canberra Times, August 7 1967, pg 3.

Picture of John Manifold taken by Paul Anderson, from The Canberra Times, August 7 1967, pg 3.

After a scholarship took him to the University of Tours in France for a year, Manifold enrolled to read modern languages at Jesus College, Cambridge University. It was here that he acquired the communist ideology that would define the rest of his professional and personal life.

After WW II (during which he served as a British Intelligence officer), Manifold returned to Australia, settling in Brisbane in 1949. He quickly attracted a ‘salon’ of likeminded young writers including Rodney Hall, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (at that time known as Kath Walker), Thomas Shapcott, Judith Rodriguez  and David Malouf, many of whom were also key figures in the Realist Writers Group (founded 1950) and the Communist Arts Group. Throughout his long career Manifold published many books of verse, as well as volumes of Australian bush ballads and music. He died in 1985, shortly after he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Queensland.

This slim pamphlet preserves the formation of a decorated and influential figure in Australia’s post-war literary and cultural landscape. If you’d like to view the pamphlet, call the Library on 8664 7009 to arrange delivery.

Written by Anna Welch
Librarian, Rare Printed Collections.



This article has 2 comments

  1. Dear Anna or associate!
    In an ordinary Google search for a picture of John Manifold, a dear friend, I saw one image that was Spot on! That is the man I new and fore a while worked with in Brisbane. I was shocked.

    While of educational programmes there, John and I worked on a 16 mill film for schools in which John sang at his home while is wife smiled at him. he also made a music track for me about Scott”s expedition in Antarctica. John was a pleasant quiet man who was well liked in many fellow writers as I guess you are full of info about.

    Now in Germany writing a non-fiction book in which I will now mention what I have recorded about him and his uneasy relation with Sir Manifold in Melbourne, who became head of the Racing Club in Melbourne.

    many thanks for this opportunity,

    Cheers from Mainz Germany,

    Neil McPherson

  2. Hi Neil, thanks for reading our blog and for sharing your wonderful memories of John Manifold. (And sorry for this slow reply!) All the best with your current book.
    Best wishes, Anna

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