George Johnston, My Brother Jack, 1964

My Brother Jack Book cover
George Johnston, My Brother Jack, 1964, Readings.

My Brother Jack is an Australian classic, first published in 1964, that is often compulsory reading for high school English literature subjects.

Its author, George Johnston, was Australia’s first accredited war correspondent during World War II.

A dashing figure and brilliant journalist, Johnston was revered at the Argus newspaper where the managing director called him ‘golden boy’. But by the time he was writing My Brother Jack, Johnston was a very different man. Close to despair and almost physically and emotionally spent, his health was poor, his marriage to author Charmian Clift was breaking down, and they were living a chaotic life on the Greek island of Hydra.

My Brother Jack seems the outcome of Johnston searching through his past and painfully trying to bring the mistakes of his life into focus. The story centres around two brothers. One is tough, noble, and honest – the ‘Aussie battler’ who is full of life. The other, the narrator, is outwardly successful, but weak, damaged, and incomplete.

The book has a haunting and self-recriminating quality that makes it very moving, and its semi-autobiographical nature has always captured a great deal of attention. But it is also a valuable historical account that is rich in detail about life in Melbourne during the inter-war years, including powerful observations of Johnson’s time in journalism. When the book was published during the Menzies years, its anti-war message was then considered a radical take on the ANZAC legend. It is also a pointed attack on middle-class suburbia, an exploration of Australian masculinity and femininity, and a book which raises important questions about how we define success and failure.

Sally Young Headshot

Professor Sally Young

Professor Sally Young is a political scientist and media historian who specialises in Australian politics and newspaper history. She is the author of Paper Emperors, a study of Australia’s press barons, which won the Colin Roderick Literary Award 2020, the APSA Henry Mayer Book Prize 2021 and was longlisted for the Stella Prize 2020. She has also authored (and co-authored) books on press photography, election reporting and political advertising.