Obituary: Geoffrey Dutton

GEOFFREY DUTTON was one of the most prolific, versatile and talented writers in the literary history of Australia.

His contribution to Australian letters was probably unrivalled in his generation - a remarkable output of nine collections of poetry, eight novels (three for children), and critical studies, biographies of Australian writers and explorers as well as of the American poet, Walt Whitman, travel books and works of art appreciation: over 40 publications in all including, in 1994, a disarmingly frank autobiography, Out in the Open.

As well he wrote hundreds of essays, articles and reviews for literary journals and newspapers: he was a superb critic, penetrating and incisive in his judgements. He was a formidable force as a literary catalyst, founding some of his country's best-known literary journals, as an editor for Penguin Australia and later co-founder of the publisher, Sun Books.

He was an enthusiastic advocate of government funding of the arts and mainly responsible for the establishment of the now internationally famous Adelaide Festival of the Arts. He was awarded the high distinction of Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1976.

Dutton was born in 1922 into a patrician and pioneering South Australian family whose English forebears had founded the state's first sheep stud farm in 1838 - a magnificent property named "Anlaby" to the north of Adelaide. He was educated at the Geelong Grammar School and the University of Adelaide, where he read English under J.I.M. Stewart (of later "Michael Innes" fame). He interrupted his studies to enlist with the RAAF, where he became a flying instructor.

After the Second World War, Dutton, like his father and brother before him, entered Magdalen College, Oxford. He was unimpressed with post-war Britain, of which he later wrote: "the climate was vile, the dinginess and overcrowding depressing and, worst of all, despite hopes raised by the comradeship of war, the class system was entrenched as strongly as it had ever been". But he greatly enjoyed his three years at Oxford, where a college contemporary was Kenneth Tynan and his tutors J.A.W. Bennett, whom he greatly admired, and C.S. Lewis, whom he did not. "He was like a jolly thick-lipped, red-faced butcher, only that he was not really jolly. You felt with Lewis that if you dropped dead as you went out through the door after the tutorial he would not notice."

After Oxford he toured Europe and returned to Adelaide where, before embarking on a full-time writing career, he lectured in English for a few years at the university.

There was an elegance in Dutton's writing that matched his personality. An entertaining conversationalist and raconteur, he had a wide circle of friends including leading local and overseas writers and artists such as Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. For over 20 years he was an intimate of the Nobel prizewinning novelist Patrick White, notorious for his abrupt termination of friendships. Dutton suffered the same fate when White took exception to something Dutton had written about his work in a local journal. "I've had enough of Duttonry," he wrote tersely.

Happier was Dutton's friendship with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom he arranged to visit the Adelaide Festival in 1966 and again for a visit in 1973 when Dutton took the poet on an outback trip. "He had an enormous capacity for drink," Dutton recalled, "and he developed a taste for Australian champagne."

Dutton had many of Yevtushenko's poems translated and published and they corresponded for many years.

Another visiting poet whose company Dutton enjoyed was Laurie Lee. The similarity of their poetry was a bond between them - lyrical themes of love and an appreciation of the countryside. "Laurie had a crumpled look and an amiable manner and obviously enjoyed the opportunity to get away from the cities. He thought the lyric was still alive and well in Australia because we were all close to the country even if we lived in the city - there was something of the bush in or near every Australian city."

A period in the United States in 1963 as a visiting professor of English at Kansas State University and the American experience led Dutton ardently to embrace the cause of republicanism. On his return he wrote and lectured forthrightly that Australia would not achieve its potential unless it became a republic, enraging a then largely pro-monarch establishment. Nevertheless Dutton attracted a considerable following and in 1990 became an influential member of the Australian Republican Movement, comprising many leading citizens urging the creation of an Australian republic by 2001.

Dutton married twice: in 1944 the well-known enamellist Ninette Trott, by whom he had two sons and a daughter, and in 1985 the writer Robin Lucas.

Geoffrey Dutton's tall, slim figure with his mop of grey hair and his quizzical and always benign expression was usually discernible in any gathering of writers at festivals, seminars and the like. His zest for life, his friendly personality, his enthusiasm for writing and his readiness to offer help and advice to young writers, will be remembered by all who knew him.

Geoffrey Piers Henry Dutton, writer: born Anlaby, South Australia 2 August 1922; AO 1976; married 1944 Ninette Trott (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1985), 1985 Robin Lucas; died Canberra 17 September 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all