Alasdair McGregor
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Books and writing
Books and writing
I am the author, co-author or editor of seven non-fiction books in the genres of travel, natural history, history, biography, architecture and design, and am also an occasional contributor to edited books, periodicals, newspapers etc.
Signed copies of my books are available.  Enquiries:


The Kimberley: Horizons of Stone
Alasdair McGregor & Quentin Chester
Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1993
2nd edition: New Holland, Sydney, 1999
Hardback, illustrated, 208pp.


The Kimberley is one of the most remarkable yet least known parts of Australia. Occupying an immense area of the continent's north-west, it is remote, sparsely populated and a marvel of natural diversity. As a region it stands apart. The great arc of ranges to the south and east effectively isolates the region from the rest of the mainland. The deeply indented coastline to the north, fortified by rugged cliffs  and washed by monstrous tides, completes the Kimberley's natural borders. Enclosed within these boundaries is another world - a wild realm that remains largely unspoilt. This is a place of plateau and gorge, sweeping sandstone escarpments, prodigious waterfalls and surreal formations like the celebrated Bungle Bungle Range. ... The Kimberley: Horizons of Stone is a journey into the heart of this world and offers a memorable experience of one of the world's few remaining wild frontiers.

What the reviews said:

The Kimberley is more than an articulate commentary on rarely discussed aspects of black-white relations - and it is much more than a coffee table book on exotic Australia. It is a dense, even encyclopaedic rendering of one of the most mysterious and compelling areas in the country.'

David Headon, Weekend Australian, 28 February 1993

Australia's Wild Islands
Quentin Chester & Alasdair McGregor
Foreword by Tim Flannery
Hodder Headline, Sydney, 1997
Hardback, illustrated, 280pp.

Islands have always stirred the human imagination as places of escape, natural beauty and seemingly magical charms. During the past 150 years, islands have also attracted attention as windows to the patterns of evolution. With this understanding has come a recognition of the crucial role islands play in the conservation of species and habitats. ... From the coral cays of the northern tropics to the remnant volcanoes in the Pacific and sub-Antarctic, Australia possesses one of the world's most phenomenal collections of offshore habitats. Australia's Wild Islands celebrates the spectacular life and times of 24 of these 'lands apart'. ... Above all else, it evokes a powerful feeling for the diversity and precious solitude that makes islands worthy of being among our most cherished places.  


Australia's Wild Islands was awarded an honourable mention,
Centre for Australian Cultural Studies (Canberra) National Awards, 1997

Mawson's Huts: An Antarctic Expedition Journal
Foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary
Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1998
Paperback, illustrated, 194pp.

In early January 1912, a party of 18 young men landed on a small rocky peninsula on the coast of Antarctica, directly to the south of Australia. In doing so they had journeyed past the edge of the then known world. Over the next two years they struggled against appalling winds and cold, yet managed to explore significant tracts of ice-bound coast and hinterland in pursuit of scientific knowledge. Their leader was a 30-year-old geologist from Adelaide, Dr Douglas Mawson. ... Nearly 86 years later another party landed on the still remote and wild Cape Denison, the site of Mawson's winter quarters. Their aim was to rescue the huts that Mawson's men sheltered and worked in from the unrelenting assaults of wind, ice and time. In so doing the party ensured that these rare and pricelesss relics of Antarctic exploration, the age of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, would survive to their centenary and beyond. ... Vivid descriptions of landscape and wildlife are intertwined with reflections on the history and significance of a great Australian and his vision in this rare glimpse of Antarctica, past and present.

           2nd edn

Frank Hurley: A photographer's life
Penguin/Viking, Camberwell, 2004, 2009
Hardback, illustrated, 460pp. (1st edn)
Papaerback (2nd edn)

Frank Hurley was once a household name in Australia. Now most famous for his photographs of the Mawson and Shackleton (Endurance) Antarctic expeditions, he was also a visual chronicler of many of the major events of the twentieth century and a rapidly disappearing non-Western world. He was an official photographer in two world wars, a pioneering documentary-maker, particpant in early feats of aviation, and cinematographer on major Australian films of the 1930s, including The Squatter's Daughter and The Silence of Dean Maitland. At the height of his fame he even knocked on Hollywood's doors. In his later years, he travelled the length and breadth of his country to produce illustrated books that eulogised Australia and its people.  
Hurley was a man of ceaseless energy and unbounded enthusiam for his craft, an enigmatic and sometimes contradictory character - a loner who courted publicity, a curmudgeonly perfectionist, a pragmatic sentimentalist. He craved adventure, excitement and accolades, often foresaking his family and business commitments to travel and work all over the globe. ... with over 100 photographs including never-before-published Hurley images and other rarey seen material from the family archive and Hurley's lesser known adventures ...

What the reviews said:

This new landmark study is written with respect and admiration, but also with a discerning awareness of the problems presented by his subject's driving ego ... and his own relentless myth-making. ... McGregor brings a refined and educated sensibility to his examination of an important Australian life: he does his work with respect and admiration, but never with the gush of hero-worship. As with the life itself, this is a rich and interesting book. One of its strengths is McGregor's deft understanding and presentation of historical context, especially in his narrative of Hurley's sojourns in Antarctica and later of the circumstances that affected the production of photographs and of documentary film in the two world wars.
John Thompson, Australian Book Review, February 2005.
Alasdair McGregor's thorough, scholarly, yet eminently readable biography ... is a hugely valuable addition to the literature of both Antarctic exploration and photographic history. ... McGregor covers all of [his] ground with impressive historical breadth and depth of knowledge and a marked understanding of Hurley's personality and psyche. When combined with the technical expertise he brings to the field, it makes for a book of both great interest and worth.
Beau Riffenburgh, Polar Record, University of Cambridge, January 2006.
This is a magisterial study. … It is a biography of both painstaking effort and a representation of a man whose life has remained largely as a negative waiting to be developed. … McGregor is not intent on taking Hurley down in this book –  [instead,] he is scrupulously fair in his analysis of an extraordinary life. ...This is an impressively comprehensive and finely written biography. … It’s a must for Antarctic devotees and is, in a word, superb.
Christopher Bantick,  Hobart Mercury, 27 November 2004.

Dad would have been very pleased as you didn't pull any punches.

Adelie Hurley


Frank Hurley: A photographer's life
was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards and the Westfield/Waverley Library Prize 2005, and the National Biography Award in 2006. 


Grand Obsessions: The life and work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin
Penguin/Lantern, Camberwell, 2009
Hardback, illustrated, 545pp.

The Griffins' real story is one of great drama, and of abounding hopes and ambitions - some met, yet many others dashed. Their lives were played out on three continents against a backdrop of great change and upheval in world and local events: the rise of modernism in architecture, and the growth of the city planning movement; war and economic disaster; Federation and nation-building.

What the reviews said:

This biography, of the two Americans whose imprint on this country possibly exceeds that of any other foreigners in our post-Federation history, is a treasure. Beautifully written, designed and produced, it tells dozens of stories of people, places, passions and politics, all interwined in a tapestry around the lives and work of its two leading characters ... Over the past twenty years it has become accepted practice to ascribe Griffin projects to both Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, yet Alasdair McGregor is the first to link them in writing this joint biography. And he is right to have done so; theirs was a partnership in which each was essential in their contribution, but interestingly, my reading of McGregor's book clearly places each where history had them; Walter as the designer and Marion as the documenter. ... The story of the Griffins is a salient reminder that we lose what we don't value. Before we treat another as we have treated the Griffins and Utzon, we should step back and question our hestancy to embrace what is being offered.

Dimity Reed, Sunday Age, 27 September 2009

This is a lavish creation ... but don't be fooled by its opulence: this is a work of serious scholarship packaged with avant-garde design from the subjects' era. It is the sort of cultural history Australia needs, dealing with individuals and their ideas rather than abstractions of gender and ethnicity. ... Whether specialist scholars accept [McGregor's] interpretations will not matter much to general readers drawn to this beautiful book.

Stephen Matchett, Weekend Australian, 3 October 2009

McGregor tells their story with a confidence borne out of his extensive research and guided by his conviction that "we need the spirit of Walter and Marion more now than they ever could have imagined." Be forewarned, it is a sad tale and the vividness with which he brings his subjects to life makes it all the sadder; they were as energetic, enthusiastic and talented as their opponents in Australia, and later in India, were vindictive and petty. McGregor, like almost all biographers, asserts the importance of his subjects, but the case he makes for the Griffins is convincing, even if it must necessarily be based on what might have been.

Alan Miller, Berkshire Review, February 2010

A “grand” winner in every sense of the word. This is a book about architecture that transcends itself with boldness and grace. In a notable year for Australian biography and memoir, Alasdair McGregor’s Grand Obsessions: The Life and Work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin stood out and was the unanimous choice of the three judges. The Griffins emerge as two of the most significant individuals in our cultural history: staunch, idealistic, not always widely respected.  The judges considered Alasdair McGregor’s dual portrait of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin the most elegantly published book in a large field not always notable for high production values. Grand Obsessions – superbly written and presented – also offers a kind of biography of the new capital city they envisioned, and of the young Commonwealth itself. A splendid biography, marvellously written and produced, a credit to the author and publisher.

Judges report, National Biography Award 2011.


Grand Obsessions won the 2010 Barbara Ramsden Award for excellence in editorial collaboration.
Presented jointly by the Fellowship of Australian Writers and the Institute of Professional Editors.

Grand Obsessions was short-listed for the 2009 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards and the 2010 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards.

Grand Obsessions won the 2011 National Biography Award.

Antarctica: that sweep of savage splendour
Collected writings edited by Alasdair McGregor

Penguin/Viking, Camberwell, 2011
Hardback, illustrated, 324pp

Throughout history, Antarctica has captivated and overwhelmed with its stunning landscapes and wildlife and extremes of isolation. The massive seventh continent has witnessed feats of human endurance in the face of unimaginable hardship and, in an era of global warming, has become a symbol of our planet's fragility.
In this wide-ranging collection, Alasdair McGregor draws on the best factual and fictional accounts of human activity on the ice to paint a vivid picture of a 'land of unsurpassed desolation'. 
Gathered here are first-hand accounts by Sir Ernest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen of their quest for the South Pole, that 'beacon of ultimate ambition'. There is the 19th-century story of the first winter spent on the ice and an essay by the incomparable Helen Garner, who joins a ship of tourists alomst 100 years later. Read Douglas Mawson's dreamlike contribution to Aurora Australis, the first book wholly produced in Antarctica, and Meredith Hooper's sobering account of the 'sound of extinction' of the Adelie penguins, which she describes as the 'bellwether of climate change'. 
Just as no visitor returns from Antarctica unchanged, no reader of this will remain unmoved by the courage and passion of those who have explored, described and sought to protect this challenging, awe-inspiring and spectacularly beautiful environment.

What the reviews said:

... the collection as a whole is shot through with the odd combination of pragmatism and wonder ... that enlivens so much of the best writing about Antarctica, and a pleasing resistance to the mythologising impulse that afflicts so much of our thinking about it. 
This dual quality is presumably a function of McGregor's familiarity not just with Antarctica itself but also with its various cultural representations. ... It is also a duality that underpins much of what makes the book so unique and so fascinating. ...
Faced with ... a plethora of writing, the anthologist's challenge is to sidestep expectations, not just by finding new less familiar works, but also by finding ways to let us see work that is already familiar in new, surprising ways.
It is to McGregor's credit that he has been prepared to do just this, deliberately rejecting the mythologising impulse in place of something both more gregarious and immensely more interesting. Again and again the book offers up voices and images that allow the reader to see Antarctica anew. ...
What makes McGregor's collection absorbing is the fact that the unconventional nature of his choices is tied to a larger and more subversive attempt to wrest our imagining of Antarctic
a back from the images of noble sacrifice and doomed bravery we so readily associate it with.

James Bradley, Australian Book Review, September 2011.


A Nation in the Making:
Australia at the Dawn of the Modern Era

Australian Geographic, Sydney, 2011
Hardback, illustrated, 210 pp

With foresight and cultural awareness, entrepreneur, art dealer, museum owner, publisher and one of Sydney's best known second-hand book dealers, James Robert Tyrrell (1875-1961) amassed one of Australia's most comprehensive collections of late 19th and early 20th century photographic glass-plate negatives.  

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