Charmian Clift

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Charmian Clift (30 August 1923 – 8 July 1969) was an Australian writer and essayist during the mid 20th century. She was the second wife and literary collaborator of George Johnston.


Clift was born in Kiama, New South Wales in 1923. She married George Johnston in 1947. They had three children, the eldest of whom was the poet Martin Johnston. After Clift and Johnston's collaboration High Valley (1949) won them recognition as writers, they left Australia with their young family, working in London before relocating to the Greek island of Hydra to try living by the pen.

Johnston returned to Australia to receive the accolades of his Miles Franklin Award-winner My Brother Jack. Clift moved back to Sydney with their children in 1964, after which her novels Mermaid Singing, Peel Me a Lotus, and Honour's Mimic became successes.

She was also well known for her essays in Sydney and Melbourne newspapers, which included "Images in Aspic" and "The World of Charmian Clift". In the meantime, Clift and Johnston's marriage was disintegrating under the pressures of their drinking habits and the problems their children had settling into life in Sydney.

On 8 July 1969, the eve of the publication of Johnston's Clean Straw for Nothing, Clift committed suicide by taking an overdose[1] of barbiturates in Mosman, a Sydney suburb.[citation needed] In her posthumously-published article My Husband George in that month's edition of POL Magazine, she wrote:[2][3]

I do believe that novelists must be free to write what they like, in any way they liked to write it (and after all who but myself had urged and nagged him into it?), but the stuff of which Clean Straw for Nothing is made is largely experience in which I, too, have shared and ... have felt differently because I am a different person ...

Her ashes were later scattered in the rose garden of the Northern Suburbs Crematorium in Sydney.



  • High Valley, (with George Johnston) 1949
  • The Big Chariot, (with Johnston) 1953
  • The Sponge Divers, (with Johnston) 1955
  • Walk to the Paradise Gardens, 1960
  • Honour's Mimic, 1964

Short stories and collections

  • Strong Man from Piraeus and Other Stories, (with Johnston) 1983


  • Mermaid Singing, Indianapolis, 1956
  • Peel Me a Lotus, London, 1959


  • Images in Aspic, Selected Essays, Sydney, 1965
  • The World of Charmain Clift, Sydney, 1970
  • Trouble in Lotus Land, Sydney, 1990
  • Being Alone with Oneself, Sydney, 1991
  • Charmian Clift: Selected Essays, 2001


  1. "Annual bibliography of studies in Australian literature". Australian literary studies. University of Tasmania. 11: 443. 1983.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. McCooey, Dave. Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography. pp. 167–168, 216. Retrieved 4 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Tucker, Graeme Rochford, From novelist to essayist:the Charmian Clift phenomenon, p. 435, retrieved 4 January 2016<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wheatley, N. 2001, The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift, Flamingo (Harper Collins), Sydney.
  • Brown, M. 2004, Charmian and George, Rosenberg, Sydney.

External links