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Pub Date 27 Oct 2021 | Archive Date 23 May 2022

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The extraordinary rise, devastating fall and enduring legacy of an Australian icon

Henry Lawson captured the heart and soul of Australia and its people with greater clarity and truth than any writer before him. Born on the goldfields in 1867, he became the voice of ordinary Australians, recording the hopes, dreams and struggles of bush battlers and slum dwellers, of fierce independent women, foreign fathers and larrikin mates.

Lawson wrote from the heart, documenting what he saw from his earliest days as a poor, lonely, handicapped boy with warring parents on a worthless farm, to his years as a literary lion, then as a hopeless addict cadging for drinks on the streets, and eventually as a prison inmate, locked up in a tiny cell beside murderers. A controversial figure today, he was one of the first writers to shine a light on the hardships faced by Australia's hard-toiling wives and mothers, and among the first to portray, with sympathy, the despair of Indigenous Australians at the ever-encroaching European tide. His heroic figures such as The Drover's Wife and the fearless unionists striking out for a better deal helped define Australia's character, and while still a young man, his storytelling drew comparisons on the world stage with Tolstoy, Gorky and Kipling.

But Henry Lawson's own life may have been the most compelling saga of all, a heart-breaking tale of brilliance, lost love, self-destruction and madness. Grantlee Kieza, the author of critically acclaimed bestselling biographies of such important figures as Banjo Paterson, Joseph Banks, Lachlan Macquarie and John Monash, reveals the extraordinary rise, devastating fall and enduring legacy of an Australian icon.


'Engagingly written ... one of the most nuanced portraits to date' -- The Australian

'Vivid, detailed and well written' -- Daily Telegraph

'A staggering accomplishment that can't be missed by history buffs and story lovers alike' --

'A free-flowing biography of a great Australian figure' --- John Howard

'Clear and accessible ... well-crafted and extensively documented' -- Weekend Australian

'Kieza has added hugely to the depth of knowledge about our greatest military general in a book that is timely' Tim Fischer, Courier-Mail

'The author writes with the immediacy of a fine documentary ... an easy, informative read, bringing historic personalities to life' -- Ballarat Courier

The extraordinary rise, devastating fall and enduring legacy of an Australian icon

Henry Lawson captured the heart and soul of Australia and its people with greater clarity and truth than any writer...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780733340529
PRICE A$36.35 (AUD)

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Featured Reviews

The great 'People's Poet' and writer of short stories which have been compared to Chekhov's led a drama-packed life in which his travels ranged from Outback Australia to New Zealand and England. He also met many famous figures in Australian history, including Banjo Patterson, Mary Gilmore and Jack Lang. It was an almost unremittingly miserable life, though, and as I read the book, I couldn't help wondering what poor Henry would have to endure next!

The lanky, deaf child had a tough childhood in the 'bush' in which he was troubled by his parent's unhappy marriage, a meagre education and bullying at school. His mother was more interested in writing and women's rights than bringing up children and his father, a hard-working Norwegian, could never please her, and didn't share her intellectual interests. Even though Henry eventually became very successful with his highly-praised writing, in which he told the stories of the 'battler's and their long-suffering wives, he went from job to job carriage-painting, even travelling to Western Australia and NZ in search of work. At one stage, he and a friend walked for miles in the outback to find stories.

Henry had several problems to face - heavy drinking, an unhappy marriage, lack of money. Although he was likeable and generous, there are conflicting stories about his marriage, and just why it was so unhappy. He and the much younger Bertha were certainly unsuited.

This is a dramatic story about a huge life. Grantlee Kieza pays the great Australian writer a fitting tribute in this excellent book.

I received this free ebook fromNetGalley in return for an honest review.

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‘The life and times of Henry Lawson.’

I confess to knowing very little about Henry Lawson before reading this book. Sure, I have read ‘The Drover’s Wife and a few other pieces, and vaguely knew that he had written pieces published in The Bulletin. But I knew nothing about the man himself.

Henry Lawson (1867-1922), short story writer and balladist, was born on 17 June 1867 at Grenfell, New South Wales. He was the eldest of four surviving children of Niels Hertzberg (Peter) Larsen, Norwegian-born miner, and his wife Louisa, née Albury. Peter and Louisa were married in 1866 and changed their surname when registering Henry’s birth. Henry Lawson died on 2 September 1922 in Abbotsford, New South Wales.

Mr Kieza writes of Henry Lawson’s upbringing by unhappy parents, of the bullying he faced, his minimal education and of his deafness. But this shy man was clearly perceptive, able to capture the aspirations and struggles of the ordinary Australians around him. His short stories and poems reflect this. Sadly, Henry Lawson was a deeply troubled and self-destructive man. An unsuccessful marriage, emotional highs and lows fuelled by an addiction to alcohol all took a toll on his health, his relationships, and the quality of his writing.

I finished this biography, resolving to read more of Henry Lawson’s work, especially his short stories.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Henry Lawson: Australia’s ‘People’s Poet’.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Grantlee Kieza’s book Lawson, is a thoroughly researched and referenced biography of the well-known and celebrated Australian writer and balladist / poet, Henry Lawson. Kieza’s book is an extensive narrative which begins by introducing us to Lawson’s family story and personal circumstances, which were a crucial influence on Lawson’s life and writing. The book progresses to follow the evolution of Henry’s life from a young boy growing up in the bush with warring parents on a worthless farm, to a shy, partially deaf, self-conscious, fragile man, filled with self-doubt and a penchant for alcohol. Grantlee’s exhaustive study of Henry Lawson uncovers a complex character whose inadequacies and troubled life belie, but, in many ways explain, the beautifully descriptive and captivating writing for which he is known. It was said of Lawson that he put his whole soul into his writing, and it is clear from Kieza’s meticulous portrait that Lawson was a deep thinker who wrote from the heart, and from what he knew. He championed the underdog, the working-class battler, and produced writing that was very relatable to ordinary Australians.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned more than I expected to. While exploring Lawson’s life Kieza has provided research which documents an impressive array of contextual information about Australian history. The material about Lawson’s mother Louisa’s work as a newspaper proprietor and suffragist was fascinating. The background history of the Bulletin magazine, the republican movement, Lawson’s interest in socialism, as well as the details about the shearers strike were relevant and illuminating. This in-depth chronicle of the life and times of Henry Lawson has given me a greater respect and appreciation for his incredible writing and encouraged me to re-visit his work.

I would highly recommend Grantlee Kieza’s book Lawson.

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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