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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Herb and Flan

2018
Julian Meagher

oil on linen (183.2 cm x 152.4 cm depth 3.0 cm)

Richard Flanagan (b. 1961) was born in Longford in northern Tasmania, the second youngest of the six children of Archie Flanagan, a primary school principal, and his wife Helen. Growing up in Rosebery, a mining town on the west coast, Flanagan was into the outdoors from a young age and with his mates was venturing unsupervised into the wilderness by the time he was thirteen. At sixteen he left school and worked as a labourer. By age twenty, however, he was at the University of Tasmania, from which he graduated – with first class honours – in 1982. The following year he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship which enabled him to undertake a Master of Letters in history at Worcester College, Oxford.

Returning to Tasmania, he undertook what he has called his apprenticeship as a writer by producing four works of non-fiction. Among them was Codename Iago, an 'autobiography' of the German-born Australian conman John Friedrich which Flanagan ghost wrote in six weeks because he needed the money to finish work on his first novel, Death of a River Guide (1994). Drawn from Flanagan's own experiences kayaking and guiding on the Franklin River – including an instance where, like the novel's protagonist, he was trapped underwater in a capsized kayak – Death of a River Guide won the Victorian Premier's Prize for Best First Fiction in 1995 and the National Fiction Award in 1996, and was hailed by the TLS as 'one of the most auspicious debuts in Australian writing'. His next novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997) was partly inspired by his wife Majda, the daughter of Slovenian migrants. It won the Victorian Premier's Prize for Best Novel in 1998 and was adapted for a film of the same name which Flanagan wrote and directed and which was in contention for the Golden Bear at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival. Gould's Book of Fish (2001), a wicked, magical-realist reimagining of the life of convict artist William Buelow Gould, won Flanagan another Victorian Premier's Award as well as the Commonwealth Writers Prize for 2002. Flanagan published another two novels – The Unknown Terrorist (2006) and Wanting (2008) – before the appearance of The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013). Drawn in part from Flanagan's father's experiences as a prisoner of war, the novel was also inspired by the extraordinary exploits of Australian Army doctor Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and his work with POWs on the infamous Burma Railway. The Narrow Road to the Deep North won a swag of honours and made Flanagan the third Australian writer (after Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey) to win the Man Booker Prize, awarded annually to 'the best novel written in English.' Significantly, Flanagan won the Booker in the first year that it was opened to writers from outside the Commonwealth. Flanagan revisited the idea of the ghost-written autobiography with his seventh novel, First Person (2017); and in 2020 he published his eighth novel, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams.

In addition, Flanagan has written long-form journalism and essays for publications such as The Monthly, The New Yorker and Le Monde, and produced and co-edited a total of seven works of non-fiction including A Terrible Beauty: a history of the Gordon River Country (1985) and Toxic: the Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry (2021). Flanagan has formerly cited his father Archie – who was the only member his family to attain a basic education – as the impetus for his career as writer. 'He had a very strong sense of the beauty and magic of written words', Flanagan said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald in 2017, '[and] he saw how oppressive it was when you didn't have access to the written word, and how liberating and transcendent if you did. ... People who come from generations of literacy might have lost that sense of its transcendent and liberating power, but I got it from my father. Words have been like a magic carpet for me that have taken me far away from this island.'

Gift of the artist 2022
© Julian Meagher

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Julian Meagher (age 40 in 2018)

Richard Flanagan (age 57 in 2018)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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