Robert Adamson and the Powerful Owl. Photograph Juno Gemes 20015
When we learnt that Robert Adamson had been diagnosed with terminal cancer we decided to devote the next issue of Rochford Street Review to him in recognition of his life and work. In particular we wanted to publish the essays he had delivered as the first CAL Chair in Australian Poetry at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Bob had given us the essays to publish and we had intended to run them over coming issues, instead we published them one after each other so that he knew that the essays had been published and were available to a wider audience.
Early on the morning of 16 December Robert Adamson left us. His death was announced by his wife, Juno Gemes:
I am writing from Neringah Hospice in Wahroonga where only twenty hours ago Robert was listening to Devin Johnson and discussing his last book which will be released next year by Black Inc. His exhausted body began to shut down yesterday afternoon and he passed peacefully at 1am this morning. I have been here beside him all night in absolute peace in what felt like our sacred space. Our great Poet of The Hawkesbury, deep realms of the imagination, heart, mind, spirit has departed. He left without a struggle, in peace surrounded by love. Reaching Light. Fly free my Love . You will be with me always. – Juno Gemes.
Statement on death of Robert Adamson
My heart goes out to the family, friends and members of our literature community as we mourn the loss of one of Australia’s greatest poets and publishers, Robert Adamson, aged 79.
We remember Robert for his ability to create space for each person within his works.
While navigating hardships in his early life, he discovered poetry as solace during his years at Gosford Boys Home.
He went on to build a legacy based on connection and the natural environment.
In his later years, fishing, poetry and literature became his driving force leading him to great success in Australia and abroad, with books published in the UK and US.
Throughout his five-decade career, Robert received widespread recognition, including through the Premiers’ Literary Awards in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
He was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2016, was awarded the prestigious Christopher Brennan Prize for lifetime achievement at the Patrick White Awards, and The Age Book of the Year featured his works multiple times.
As the inaugural Chair in Poetry at the University of Technology Sydney, Robert played a vital role in shaping the voices of Australia’s emerging writers, inspiring many artists to pursue their creative journeys.
We spoke only a few weeks ago. He was frail, a shortness of breath, but generous. You could hear a smile in his voice. He described Winter, Hospital Bed modestly as one of the better works he wrote.
There were no fish or birds so I spun my lines
To the ones with heads spring-loaded with resentment
Their temper a red fleck twitching in an eye
While poems of the future waited in line to hear my number
My deepest condolences to his family, friends and particularly his partner, photographer Juno Gemes, during this difficult time.
We have lost Robert’s voice, but Australia can forever treasure his words. Words that evoke stories and pictures and emotions. Stories, pictures and emotions which inspire and electrify the next generation of creators.
– The Hon Tony Burke MP, Federal Minister for the Arts
Along with many other writers, readers and the wider arts community Rochford Street Review echoes these views.