Brian Matthews was born and grew up in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. He attended the University of Melbourne and later taught in Victorian country technical schools before moving to Adelaide in 1967 to teach English and Australian literature at Flinders University.
He has taught in many European universities, including the Urbino Summer School in Literatures in English where he inaugurated the Australian literature course; and has held many international posts, including Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Oregon (1986) and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Trento (1989). Matthews was granted an Australia Council for the Arts Writer's Fellowship in 1989 and was Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council from 1990 to 1992. He was Professor of Australian Studies and Director of the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at the University of London from 1993 to 1996.
In 1994 Matthews was appointed to a Personal Chair in English - the first ever to be awarded at Flinders University - and in 1995 he was elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 1997 he became the Foundation Director of the Europe-Australia Institute at Victoria University, Melbourne.
Brian Matthews has been Australia's foremost scholar on Henry Lawson and his mother, Louisa. His critical study of Lawson, The Receding Wave, was published in 1972 and has been used as a standard text. Louisa, the biography of Lawson's mother, appeared in 1987, and has won numerous literary prizes.
Well known for his 'hilarious comic gift', Brian Matthews has presented many broadcasts, informal addresses and keynote speeches. He is the author of books, articles, reviews, essays and radio scripts on modern British literature and on Australian literature, culture, popular culture and sport. His column for the Australian Weekend Magazine 1997-2001 achieved cult status, and he has since written a column for the on-line magazine Eureka Street.
'Manning Clark was one of the most influential Australian intellectuals of the last half century. His political pronouncements were often highly provocative and his sweeping judgements, dire denunciations and oracular prophecies infuriated conservatives and made him a controversial figure.
'His most enduring legacy, however, was his magisterial six-volume History of Australia. In it he reshaped the now familiar story of our nation's modern evolution; from the First Fleet's arrival, the convicts, the rum rebellion, gold, the sheep's back, Federation, and the glorious defeat at Gallipoli, up to the nation emerging from the Great Depression and on the threshold of a new world war. Within the dramatic narrative, which he envisaged as an epic, are highly original and insightful portraits of its great men with their tragic flaws: Phillip, Macquarie, Burke and Wills, Bligh, Wentworth, and above all Henry Lawson.
'But behind this ambitious work - with its more than a million words and twenty-five, long slogging years of research and scholarship - was a man as flawed as the historical figures he was presenting, figures in whose personalities and life events he often saw himself dauntingly mirrored. He was wracked with self-doubt, and dogged by fears of failure and personal weakness, he craved forgiveness for the betrayals that stalked and threatened his marriage to Dymphna, and wrestled with an elusive Christ in whom he longed to have a secure faith. Behind the signature broad hat and the stern unsmiling visage was a tortured man.
'That is the complex, enigmatic and thoroughly enthralling Clark who emerges in this remarkable biography by Brian Matthews, whose previous acclaimed memoir of Louise [sic] Lawson was judged to be both ground breaking and revolutionary. Manning Clark: A Life draws a compelling portrait of the great historian, who attracted both critics and acolytes alike in equal number. Both sides can expect to be astounded and captivated.' (Publisher's blurb)
' Account of a working-class upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks in Melbourne's St Kilda. Recounts many of the author's deepest passions and insistent memories of wartime and post-war St Kilda. ' (Publication summary)