Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead

Thornton McCamish

Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead
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Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead

Thornton McCamish

A world-famous Australian writer, an inspiration to Robert Hughes and Clive James, a legendary war correspondent who also wrote bestselling histories of exploration and conservation … and yet forgotten?

In this dazzling book, Thornton McCamish delves into the past to reclaim a remarkable figure, Alan Moorehead.

As a reporter, Moorehead witnessed many of the great historical events of the mid-20th century- the Spanish Civil War and both world wars, Cold War espionage, and decolonisation in Africa. He debated strategy with Churchill and Gandhi, fished with Hemingway, and drank with Graham Greene, Ava Gardner and Truman Capote. As well as being a regular contributor to the New Yorker, in 1956 Moorehead wrote the first significant book about the Gallipoli campaign.

With its countless adventures, its touch of jet-set glamour and its tragic arc, Moorehead’s story is a beguiling one. Thornton McCamish tells it as a quest - intimate, perceptive and superbly entertaining. His funny, ardent book reveals an extraordinary Australian and takes its place in a fresh tradition of contemporary biography.


A famed war correspondent, a bestselling author of popular histories who inspired Clive James and Robert Hughes, an early conservationist who earned praise from David Attenborough – Alan Moorehead was once one of the best-known expatriate Australians in the Western world. Yet, his presence has now mostly diminished in the national consciousness. With Our Man Elsewhere, journalist (and ardent fan) Thornton McCamish seeks to render Moorehead visible once again.

Our Man Elsewhere is part adventure story, part history, and part literary pilgrimage. It’s exactly the kind of biography I enjoy best: deeply compelling, self-aware, and elegantly crafted with layers of context and a host of fascinating questions at its heart. Why did Moorehead desire to escape his country of birth? How do his works compare to books published today? What is it about Moorehead’s writing that so captivated readers, in particular, McCamish?

The snippets that McCamish shares of Moorehead’s work attest to its merit, and depict what McCamish calls the ‘time-machine’ quality of the former’s writing. McCamish writes that in Moorehead’s work, ‘the past feels like an irresistibly vast, half-explored space that brings out a kind of wanderlust of feeling, more vigorous than nostalgia, more bewildered.’ It’s easy to see why McCamish admires the writing so much. It’s thrilling stuff, rich in details and with a plainness of language that feels particularly contemporary. McCamish’s quest for Moorehead is no less compelling, and any reader who has obsessed over a writer themselves will no doubt feel for the younger man as he attempts to understand his own infatuation.

Moorehead is less easy to sympathise with. McCamish doesn’t shy away from the former’s failings, professionally and personally, and there are moments where his current invisibility is understandable. But these failings only serve to make Moorehead more present to a reader, and McCamish’s search for his ghost all the more interesting.

Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator. She is also the prize manager of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.

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