Alasdair McGregor
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News and events
  • Late September 2009 saw the publication of my new biography, Grand Obsessions: The life and work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. (Penguin/Lantern, Australia)

On 23 May 1912, Walter Burley Griffin was announced to the world as the winner of the international design competition for the new Australian capital to be built on a sheep paddock they called Canberra. Almost a century later, Griffin’s design – but most of all its implementation – is still hotly debated. What was this steadfast but unassuming American’s vision, how did he come to Canberra, what happened once the Australian establishment tore him to shreds, and what was the role of his wife, helpmate, fellow architect and equal creative partner, Marion Mahony Griffin?

In this definitive new biography of Griffin husband and wife, Alasdair McGregor delineates the role each played in the production of their greatest works – Canberra, Castlecrag, Newman College and the rest – and charts their lives, from their childhoods and meeting in Chicago in the employ of  the larger than life Frank Lloyd Wright, to their battles in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, and their swansong in India.

This book is many things. It is the fascinating story of two dogged individuals of great talent and vision and their fight against the stultifying forces of bureaucracy and mediocrity. It is the story of the birth of Canberra, one that tells us as much about the Griffins as it does about ourselves and the troubled birth of the Australian national identity. It is the story of a pioneering woman who achieved extraordinary things but was rarely credited with that achievement. And it is an examination of the nature of fame in a small, young country uncertain of its position in the world.

The Griffins’ story resonates through the years, and their fight to see their idealistic vision realised is one that goes on in Australia today.

  • 30 March 2010. Grand Obsessions won the Barbara Ramsden Award for excellence in editorial collaboration. (Details to come.) This prestigious prize is awarded  annually, and is presented jointly to the author and their editor - in this case the wonderful Nicola Young, senior editor at Penguin.
  • 16 May 2011. The big news for Grand Obsessions is that it won the 2011 National Biography Award, announced at a Sydney Writers Festival event at the State Library of New South Wales.

Benefactor Geoffrey Cains presents Alasdair McGregor with the
2011 National Biography Award, 16 May 2011.

  • Out in Penguin paperback in October 2009 was the second edition of my previous book, Frank Hurley: A photographer's life.

2nd edition cover.

New publications
  • I have recently published a new book, this time going back to a much-loved area of interest - Antarctica.  Antarctica: that sweep of savage splendour surveys the literature of the mysterious south, from the eventful first encounters, through to the present day. Part anthology and part history, the book examines our evolving attitudes to Antarctica through first-hand and published accounts, fiction and poetry.  Antarctica's literary canon is surprisingly rich and endlessly fascinating. Antarctica: that sweep of savage splendour was published in late June 2011 by Penguin/Viking - in plenty of time for the 100th anniversary of the first completed journey to the South Geographic Pole in December 2011.
  • November 2011 saw the publication of Making a Nation: Australia at the Dawn of the Modern Era, a photographic book featuring the work of the prominent late 19th century Sydney studios of Charles Kerry and Henry King. Published by Australian Geographic in collaboration with Woodslane.

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