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Laurence Frederic (Laurie) Fitzhardinge (1908–1993)

from Canberra Times

Laurie Fitzhardinge, by Alec Bolton, 1981

Laurie Fitzhardinge, by Alec Bolton, 1981

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an14465757-1

Laurence Frederic (Laurie) Fitzhardinge. the author of a monumental two-volume biography of Prime Minister William Morris (Billy) Hughes, and a much admired teacher and bibliophile, died on Sunday in Queanbeyan Hospital of heart failure, aged 85.

Mr Fitzhardinge was born on July 6, 1908, at Chatswood, and was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, the University of Sydney (BA with Honours in Greek and Latin) and New College, Oxford (BA with Honours in Classics 1932, B. Litt 1933. MA 1937).

When he returned to Australia from Oxford in 1934, he was appointed research officer in charge of the Australian collections at the National Library, then still part of the Parliamentary Library, where he educated himself in Australian history and librarianship.

Mr Fitzhardinge began working on the Hughes biography in 1951. Soon after he was appointed Reader in the Sources of Australian History (later changed to Reader in Australian History) at the Australian National University. He finished the biography in 1972, and retired from the ANU at the end of 1973. In 1980 he also published a book on ancient Sparta, The Spartans.

In 1983 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and in 1987 a Fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

He held a modest view of his own considerable talents, once admitting. "I've never been able to put a proper importance on my own work." But he defended staunchly the two decades of hard work that went into producing the Hughes biography, telling an interviewer in 1988, "I'm sure that I could not have done it in less time and produced a worthwhile book ... I'm always suspicious of people who set out to do a major life in three or four years."

In his book Confessions of a New Boy, author Donald Home remembered being a student of Mr Fitzhardinge when he was director of the School of Diplomatic Studies at the Canberra University College, in 1944.

In addition to his teaching, reading and writing, Laurie Fitzhardinge also had many practical interests.

For many years he helped his wife Verity (Hewitt) – a well-known Canberra bookseller who died in 1986 – in Verity Hewitt's Bookshop, and together they ran an orchard, Gran-Del (named for Granny Smith and Delicious apples), where they lived with their family during much of the 1950s, on the site now occupied by Narrabundah College.

Mr Fitzhardinge is survived by two sons – Geoff, of Sydney, and Charles, of Adelaide – and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

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Citation details

'Fitzhardinge, Laurence Frederic (Laurie) (1908–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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