Graeme Kinross-Smith

  • CHS 1949-1953
  • Form Captain in Form 4; Prefect in Form 5 (highest year at that time)
  • Member of the swimming, tennis and hockey teams
  • Taught Herald-Learn-To-Swim at Camberwell Baths

Graeme Kinross-Smith grew up within a five-minute walk of Camberwell Baths and the new cream brick buildings of what was to be Camberwell High School (CHS).

As a four or five year-old he was sometimes threatened in mockery at his Catherine Street gate by a Melbourne High School boy on his way home from those cream brick buildings, while the war raged and the Melbourne High campus had been commandeered by the Air Force. Stories of his schooling at Canterbury Primary and Camberwell High School, and as cub and scout at First Camberwell (Melba’s Own) scout troop, have been published to Australian and even international readerships.

The rewards he felt from teaching Herald-Learn-To-Swim children at Camberwell Baths confirmed his ambition to be a teacher like his mother. Matriculation at Melbourne High and a Melbourne University Arts degree led him into teaching after his National Service as a Sergeant of Artillery. First, he taught at Wangaratta Technical School, then, surprisingly spent a year at CHS, teaching with teachers who had taught him. On his promotion to Ringwood High School, already writing many commissioned and freelance pieces for magazines like the Riverlander and Walkabout, he began instinctive moves that would determine the course of his professional life henceforth, centering round writing, teaching, the teaching of writing in open society and at tertiary level, together with photography for publication and exhibition, and the charting of the Australian literary scene, present and past.

The 1960s saw Graeme publishing poetry and fiction widely in the major literary journals and national newspapers combined with poetry readings across Melbourne with fellow poets he revered – Vin Buckley, Judith Rodriguez, Bruce Dawe, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Andrew Taylor, RA Simpson, Anne Elder, Doris Leadbetter, Connie Barber, Rodney Hall et al – and his poetry and fiction appearing overseas and on record (and later CD) and ABC Radio. During an exploratory stint away from the classroom he was appointed an editor and writer at the Publications Branch of the Victorian Education Department, where he managed to persuade the hierarchy to allow him to replace the long-standing School Paper with a two-colour Web Offset magazine more suited to Victorian students’ current needs.

Then, being groomed for a senior editorial position, but missing the face-to-face teaching young people, he found himself suddenly committing his young family to a move to Geelong, becoming the first Lecturer in Creative Writing in Australia in the Arts diploma and then degree in Vocational Writing at the Gordon Institute of Technology. So began a career in conducting a myriad of writing workshops for his Gordon Institute students but also for Melbourne teachers and CAE Summer Writing Festivals and other groups in both the city and the regions unto the turn of the century and beyond. His work continued in the same vein when Deakin University largely subsumed the Gordon Institute. He suggested initiation of Australian Studies as an area of study to the Deakin Interim Council and it was adopted for the first time in the country at tertiary level. He lectured in Australian Studies and the creative writing element of Literature.

Graeme is the author of a number of books – a commissioned textbook on the writing world for secondary students, a book on the Murray-Darling river system, his three books of poetry, the centenary history of the significant Geelong Lawn Tennis Club, a working guide for embryo writers commissioned by Oxford University Press, followed then by his editorial roles in producing The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia and The Oxford Book of Australian Sporting Anecdotes. His literary novel, Long Afternoon of the World, appeared in 2007 to warm critical approval.

But the book most closely associated with his name nationally – involving him in many conference appearances, service on government and academic literary committees, TV and radio interviews, recording of oral history interviews for the National Library, winning of literary prizes, appearances at writer’s festivals and by association overseas readings in such places as London, Essex and Glasgow, Paris, Arhus in Denmark, and Arcata in California – has been his book of literary biography – Australia’s Writers: An Illustrated Guide to Their Lives and Their Work. The book was launched by Don Dunstan, the South Australian Premier, at Adelaide Writers Festival in 1980. It came out of seven years of intensive work travelling the continent to research, interview, and take photographs to do with historic and living members of the Australian literary canon. It immediately became a best-seller. Graeme later continued his research in this field overseas.

In the new century, Graeme has continued publication in literary journals and his work has appeared more than once in Black Inc’s annual Best Australian Stories and Best Australian Poems, accompanying his continuing readings in libraries and galleries.

Graeme’s photography for his books and essays as well as his art photography have appeared in a number of exhibitions in galleries, libraries, restaurants and at conferences. He has donated his photography to the State Library of Victoria for use by writers and scholars. His literary papers are held by the Fryer Library of the University of Queensland. Now an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University, Graeme continues to write in Geelong, Melbourne and in an abandoned church at Waarre via Port Campbell on the Victorian west coast. His essay on the likely social effects of global warming, ‘The Barking of Dogs’, is serialized on the website of the Deakin Contemporary History Research Group, and is likely to become more pressingly pertinent every day forward.

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