Life of an expatriate Australian author

May 19, 2017

Martin Boyd, A Life

By Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall has to be one of Australia’s top biographers, and this book, the story of one of the lesser-known Boyd family, demonstrates that.

Born in 1893, fourth son to the A Beckett Boyds, Martin’s childhood was one of relative wealth and ease, culminating in some successful years at Trinity Grammar in Kew.

He studied for various careers — such as service in the church and architecture — but finished none, and eventually volunteered for the army (British) and wound up in 1916 in the hideous trenches of France, where he was lucky to survive unscathed.

Afterwards he realised he was more comfortable in England than Australia, and made his home there.

He never married but saw family members frequently, since most of them persistently referred to England as ‘‘home’’ and visited often.

He started writing, depicting the people he knew (and himself) thinly disguised, and was eventually successful enough to make a comfortable living at it.

He was a stickler for good manners and protocol, and with his very un-Australian accent he was often mistaken for an Englishman.

In middle-age he returned to Australia and bought the historical family home at Harkaway, renovated it, and commissioned Arthur Boyd to paint a huge mural in it; but the lifestyle didn’t work for him and so he returned to Cambridge, the friends he knew and his writing.

His health deteriorated and in his mid-sixties he went to live in sunny Rome.

He loved the atmosphere and the people, but his finances had declined, although generous gifts from family and friends kept him going until major surgery meant that death was imminent.

In his last days he converted to Roman Catholicism, but is buried in a Protestant cemetery.

He would have liked that anomaly and might have used it in a book.

— Lee Stephenson

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