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Have you heard of John Bolton? Remember ‘The Dish’?


Radio Astronomer: John Bolton and a New Window on the Universe

Peter Robertson

Published by New South
RRP $59.99 in hardback  *  ISBN 9781742235455

With this book, it proved too much temptation to flip straight to the chapter on the role of the Parkes radio telescope in the first moon walk (Apollo 11) and the drama of that day, so charmingly – and as it turns out accurately – captured in the film ‘The Dish’.

In the chapter ‘One Small Step’, Robertson details the space race that developed in the late 1950s and the role large tracking dishes would play in the ambitious space missions of the 1960s.

It was down to Director John Bolton’s meticulous planning that, when the designated receiving station – Goldstone in the US – could not provide the quality pictures NASA and the world’s TV audience expected, Parkes was able to step in.

John Bolton (1922-93) was the leading Australian astronomer of his generation, although he was born in Sheffield and educated at Cambridge.

After wartime service in the Royal Navy, he joined the CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory. His early work led to the birth of a new field – extragalactic radio astronomy.

This is a well-researched biography of a man of significant achievement but whose name is largely unknown outside astronomy circles.

But it is much more than a biography – it charts the development of a field of scientific enquiry from its infancy and the contribution made by one outstanding individual.


The Shipwreck Hunter – an extraordinary life story


The Shipwreck Hunter

A lifetime of extraordinary discovery in the deep seas

By David L Mearns

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback  ISBN 9781760295219

David Mearns is a US-born marine scientist, researcher and deep-sea shipwreck hunter who has solved many deep sea mysteries involving shipwrecks. Australian readers may be familiar with his earlier book, The Search for the Sydney.

In this latest book, he details his life’s work in discovering some of the world’s most fascinating and elusive shipwrecks. Not only have his deep-water searches solved the enduring mystery of the fate of HMAS Sydney sunk off the Western Australian coast in 1941, but he has also discovered the final resting place of the mighty battlecruiser HMS Hood.

He writes too about his discovery of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, sunk on 14 May 1943. Public interest in the discovery of Centaur’s final resting place had been sparked by his work in discovering the Sydney and the remains of the disguised German raider the Kormoran,  which was responsible for the loss of the Sydney.

He writes too about his role in locating commercial vessels that have unexpectedly sunk at sea, including the MV Lucona, which sank as a result of a criminal conspiracy. Udo Proksch, the mastermind, ended his days in prison, serving a life sentence.

The Shipwreck Hunter is a truly compelling story of his life and work on the high seas, focusing on some of his most intriguing discoveries. It details the extraordinary techniques used, the research, the painstaking historical detective work and the mid-ocean stamina and courage needed to find a wreck kilometres beneath the sea, as well as the moving human stories that lie behind each of these oceanic tragedies.

I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with maritime interests.

To find out more about David Mearns, read this interview on the blog of the Australian National Maritime Museum – AT THIS LINK


The Hero Maker: Biography of the Dambusters writer


The Hero Maker: A biography of Paul Brickhill
The Australian behind the legendary stories The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky

By Stephen Dando-Collins

Published by Vintage Books
RRP $34.99 in paperback * ISBN 978085798812

I think it is fair to say that Paul Brickhill’s name is not as well known as the stories he penned, among them The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky: The story of Douglas Bader.

Yet this remarkable Australian writer should be better known when you consider the movies that emerged from his books have endured across the generations.

Who knew that he was the highest-earning author in the UK of the period?

Yet life for the enigmatic Brickhill was complicated. He was beset with mental-health issues and his marriage to model Margot Slater was tempestuous. He struggled with alcohol and writer’s block too, as his success – and all that accompanied it – threatened to overwhelm him.

In The Hero Maker, award-winning historical author and biographer Stephen Dando-Collins exposes the contradictions of one of Australia’s most successful, but troubled, writers.

Brickhill’s extraordinary story – from the youth with a debilitating stutter to Sydney Sun journalist to Spitfire pilot and POW to feted author – explodes vividly to life on the centenary of his birth.

In fact the story of his life seems the equal in many ways of the blockbusters he created.

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