Publication Date: Sep 2016
RRP: $34.95
ISBN: 9781922235985
Format: Paperback
Size: 153mm x 234mm
Pages: 282
Category: Australian History

The Vagabond Papers

Expanded Edition By John Stanley James

Michael Cannon, Robert G. Flippen and Willa McDonald


‘As informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, The Vagabond Papers is an inherently fascinating, consistently compelling, exceptionally well written read from beginning to end. Very highly recommended.’Midwest Book Review, January 2017


Australian life has never had a chronicler quite like the Vagabond. Renowned as journalist and ‘eminently unconventional character’, he suffered extremes of poverty and prosperity. These enabled him to record first-hand experiences revealing the degradation of life in the festering slums of the Victorian era. They also enabled him to write convincingly about the emergence of a well-off middle class in the fast-developing colonies.

The Vagabond repeatedly shocked newly respectable citizens with his lively reporting of scandalous situations – baby farming, harsh conditions in prisons and asylums, savage sporting events, the life of the demi-monde, and pathetic pauper funerals.

This selection of the Vagabond’s best work includes a lengthy introduction to the 1969 edition, which attempted to explain the mysteries of his origins and adventures, and the reasons he always used pseudonyms after fleeing from the USA to Australia. Additional material in this edition reveals for the first time the details of his earlier life in Virginia, USA. Here he married the widow of a rich planter, used her money to build a delightful Southern mansion, became a leading light in society, took control of the local bank, and absconded when things went wrong.

The rascal managed to redeem himself with his unique work for Australian newspapers, where no-one realised his true identity. A further addition to this volume is a scholarly examination of the Vagabond’s pioneering technique of ‘immersion journalism’, where the reporter becomes part of the story and gives his own observations and opinions.

Who was The Vagabond? Watch the book trailer …


Michael Cannon, Robert G. Flippen and Willa McDonald

Michael Cannon was born in Brisbane in 1929. He matriculated at Geelong College at the age of 16, and spent the following decades working on leading daily newspapers including the Melbourne Herald, the Argus, the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. In the 1960s he was founding editor of the Sunday Observer and Sunday Review. His best-selling historical works include The Land BoomersThe Exploration of Australia, and The Human Face of the Great Depression. He also edited the multi-volume State project Historical Records of Victoria from its original volumes throughout the 1980s.

Robert G. Flippen was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1959. He is a 1983 graduate of The George Washington University, and lives near the Vagabond’s old mansion in Virginia, USA. His interest in Virginia history has led to publication of six books and numerous newspaper features. ‘Bob’ is now Education Specialist for High Bridge Trail State Park, ranked as one of America’s Top 20 Destination Parks. He develops and implements educational programs for the Park’s nearly 200,000 annual visitors.

Dr Willa McDonald is Senior Lecturer in Media at Macquarie University where she teaches and researches creative non-fiction writing and literary journalism. A former journalist, she has worked in print, television and radio, including for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Times on Sunday, ABC TV and ABC Radio National. Willa’s books are Warrior for Peace: Dorothy Auchterlonie Green (2009) and The Writer’s Reader: Understanding Journalism and Non-fiction (with Susie Eisenhuth, 2007). She is currently researching the history of literary journalism in Australia.