Biography James Phillip McAuley

James Phillip McAuley

photo of James Phillip McAuley
  • Time Period1917 - 1976
  • Place
  • CountryAustralia

Poet Biography

James McAuley Was born in Lakemba, NSW. He received his education at the University of Sydney. In 1940 he was awarded his MA. In 1942 he was drafted into the military where he was appointed to a post in the Australian Army Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. In this position he was part of the training staff instructing the members of the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit. After that time McAuley maintained an great interest in New Guinea. He was then an instructor at the Australian School of Pacific Administration from 1946 to 1960, and frequently visited new Guinea. He gained world-wide regard among experts for his essays on New Guinea, which were printed in the publication South Pacific, throughout the 1940s and 1950s. His involvement in the Ern Malley Affair in the 1940s was influenced by his belief in conservative command, composition, elegance and exactness as opposed to what he considered to be the self-absorbed vast deviation of avant-garde verse of that time. McAuley became editor of Quadrant in 1956, and was named reader in poetry at the University of Tasmania in 1961, prior to becoming professor of English; a chair he held until his death. In his last years he was increasingly regarded as an intellectual and critic of some standing. From 1970 to 1975 he was president of the Australian Association for Teaching English, and was heavily involved in the founding of Australian Literary Studies. He won the Australia-Britannica Award in 1972, and was made AM in 1975. The James McAuley Lecture is delivered in his honour, at the University of Tasmania, annually.

A hard hitting published review of 'The Devil and James McAuley' listing many errors of fact.
James Phillip McAuley was born in 1917 and died in his prime in 1976. He attended Fort Street Boys High School in Sydney and went on to become one of the many significant talents that were nurtured there. At the University of Sydney he was the outstanding intellectual figure of his generation, distinguishing himself as a conversationalist, poet, jazz pianist, drinker, and bohemian. Strangely, he did not top the honours list and missed out on a travelling scholarship to Britain. Instead he became a school teacher until he was recruited into the mysterious wartime research unit convened by Alf Conlon. Fellow poet Harold Stewart was a colleague in the unit and together they produced the 'Ern Malley' poems during a wet weekend in barracks. McAuley's work in the research unit took him to New Guinea where the drama of impending decolonisation aggravated his mood of spiritual and intellectual turnoil. After the war he worked out his professional and intellectual concerns in the Australian School of Pacific Studies, and joined the Roman Catholic church in 1953.

One of his early poems, Envoi, conveys an unsentimental sense of place and provides a hint of his lingering need for some kind of spiritual consolation which he eventually discovered in the church.

And I am fitted to that land as the soul is to the body,
I know its contradictions, waste, and sprawling indolence;
They are in me and its triumphs are my own,
Hard-won in the thin and bitter years without pretence.

All the while he continued his career as a poet and in 1956 combined his interest in public affairs and art when he became the first editor of Quadrant, the Australian organ of the anti-communist Association for Cultural Freedom. His poetry continued to develop when he moved back into academia at the University of Tasmania and it is likely that his best work was to come when he died after a lingering illness at the age of 59.