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Amiet, William Albert (1890–1959)

by Denis Cryle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Albert Amiet (1890-1959), writer and barrister, was born on 3 June 1890 at Murgheboluc, near Geelong, Victoria, son of native-born parents Edward William Amiet, farmer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Begley. William was educated at the local state school and Ormond College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1911; M.A., 1913), where he excelled in modern and classical languages. Moving to Queensland, he organized Young Men's Christian Association concerts for railway workers at Dawson River valley in 1912, before taking up his appointment as a master at Maryborough Grammar School. Having studied law, he moved to Brisbane in 1915 and was called to the Bar in 1916. On 2 May he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and embarked for England in October with reinforcements for the 26th Battalion. In June 1917 he joined his unit in France and was commissioned on 1 August 1918. He was wounded in October at Bellicourt and mentioned in dispatches.

After briefly attending King's College, London, Amiet returned to Brisbane where his appointment terminated on 30 December 1919. Next year he entered into partnership with the solicitor Vincent Macrossan at Mackay. There, in the Catholic presbytery, on 17 December 1923 Amiet married Agnes May Hurley, a 22-year-old civil servant. In demand as a speaker, Amiet became a founding president of the Mackay Rotary Club and a patron of local business, sporting and social organizations. In November 1929 he unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Herbert as a Coalitionist candidate. He contributed reviews and a Saturday article to the Mackay Daily Mercury for more than thirty years and helped to establish its weekend issue as an intellectual forum. By the 1930s he had formed the 'Mercredian Munchers', a small circle which discussed matters literary and scientific. As its acknowledged luminary, he undertook an encyclopaedic survey of world literature in Literature by Languages: A Roll Call (Sydney, 1932). A popularizer of contemporary British scientific writing who combined Wellsian speculation with flashes of humour, Amiet was an assiduous star-gazer and regarded astronomy as the 'queen of sciences'. He republished some of his columns from the Daily Mercury in Starry Pages (Sydney, 1932) and Starry Ages (Sydney, 1937).

Most of his sources were drawn from his voluminous personal library. Amiet published A Shakespeare or Two (Sydney, 1935) which was followed by The Practice of Literary History (Sydney, 1936) and Courses in Literary History (Sydney, 1938). His cosmopolitanism did not preclude him from supporting Australian literature in criticism and reviews. He opposed restrictive racial and immigration policies in the 1930s, was active in local recruiting campaigns during World War II and became involved in the postwar activities of the air-training corps at Mackay. Metrical Diversions of a Sexagenarian (Brisbane, 1952) included poetry that he had written from World War I to the early 1950s and revealed his deep affection for friends and family; one of the poems was in memory of his eldest daughter Berenice who had been killed in a motorcar accident. Amiet's Scrambled Scrutinies (Brisbane, 1949) had proclaimed the vanity of scientific knowledge and embraced the 'here and now' of existence; in later life he adopted a calm agnosticism.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, Amiet died of cardiorenal failure on 13 April 1959 at the Mater Hospital, Mackay, and was cremated. An eclectic rather than a specialist, he has been described as a 'charming and witty writer of prose', though somewhat lacking in 'philosophical substance'. The Amiet Memorial Library at Mackay commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • Literature in North Queensland, 5, no 3, 1977, p 27
  • Amiet collection, including diaries, 1903-59, and correspondence, 1941-55 (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Denis Cryle, 'Amiet, William Albert (1890–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/amiet-william-albert-9347/text16411, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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