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Interview

Peter Pinney p3

Peter Pinney’s life story is as interesting as his books. He always craved adventure. Born in 1922, he was raised in Sydney mainly, although he had some early schooling in Port Moresby, New Guinea. As a teenager he had been known for dangerous escapades, including hanging upside down on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He liked hiking in the Blue Mountains. He hitched ride in trains and trucks, to Grafton and Albury and north to Cairns.

He enlisted in the Australian army in July, 1941, for WW2. He served in the Middle East for a few months. Then he was a signaller in New Guinea. He took part in the Wau-Salamaua Campaign in 1943. In Australia, in September 1944, he was court-martialled for striking an officer. From November, 1944, he served on Bougainville as a commando.

He had always kept diaries, and did so during the war, in secret. These were used for his three-volume series of books featuring his autobiographical character, Signaller Johnston: The Barbarians (1988), The Glass Cannon (1990), and The Devils’ Garden (1992).

He returned to Australia in October 1945, and was discharged from the AIF in 1946. His second wife, Estelle Pinney once told me that when he returned to his family home in the Southern Highlands, New South Wales, his mother asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He said travel. She, in effect, said go for it. He worked on ships, as a night editor and broadcaster. He wrote Dust on my shoes, which was published in 1952. See also his subsequent travel books like Who Travels Alone, in which he travels from Trieste to Zanzibar. And in Anywhere but here he journeys across Africa from Tanganyika (modern Tanzania) to the Sahara. The books have a lot of humorous moments and beautiful writing about travelling to fascinating places long ago. He has clear political leanings and attitudes toward religion, but I hope there isn’t an agenda in his work. I hope his books are simply about a cunning character who doesn’t mind bending the rules to get past border officials.

He was always writing about his travels, including trips with his second wife, author Estelle Pinney across Europe. Later in life he wrote the war scenes for The Sullivans, and for The Flying Doctors, which were Australian tv series. He died in 1992 in Brisbane.