By Andrea Morris, Head of Advancement, College of Arts and the Social Sciences
Richard Fidler, BA ’86
For many Australians, Richard Fidler is a familiar name and voice. His national radio show Conversations with Richard Fidler has been on ABC Radio for over ten years. The Conversations podcast is among the most popular in Australia. Increasingly, he is known around the world as an author of travel related nonfiction books. And through one of these books, Richard has shared with the public another role that he holds dear: that of being a father.
Richard recently participated in the Canberra Writers Festival, returning to his former home to share stories and sign copies of his latest book The Golden Maze: A Biography of Prague. It was a special treat for those who have been doing a lot of reading at home (due to COVID-19 lockdowns) to attend an in-person session with Richard, which included a Zoom interview by the legendary author Simon Winchester. The rapport between the two authors was clear despite the time and hemisphere differences: Southern/Eastern for Richard and Northern/Western for Simon.
The ANU alumni (and staff) in the audience could appreciate Richard’s fond remembrances about his days on campus. Richard, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1986, studied history, philosophy, political science, reported that he took a variety of classes; many of which just sounded interesting to him. He specifically mentioned his thoughts upon walking into the Chifley Library for the first time. He saw all the books there and realised he would never be bored for the rest of his life knowing that this much was still available to read.
Readers of Richard’s works will remember his first book, Ghost Empire, described as a travel memoir with a detailed history of Istanbul and the Byzantine Empire. A unique aspect of this sojourn was that it was with his then fourteen-year-old son Joe. Together they sought to discover the history of Constantinople, the lost capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Published around the world, Ghost Empire became a best-seller.
Spectacular stories were brought back from a distant past at the same time Richard, as a father, navigated the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son in the present. On his website he says: “The story of how Constantinople flourished into greatness and then expired in terrible violence is one of the strangest and most moving stories I know. I wanted my son to have that story too.”
Richard’s passion for history, evidenced by his ANU studies and all three of his books, cover some of the most incredible tales known to history in Turkey, Iceland (as in his second book Saga Land with co-author Kári Gíslason) and his latest in the Czech Republic.
Richard’s gift of armchair travel is desperately needed when all of us are stuck within a variety of borders. A father’s gift of a grand adventure with his teenage son is something we can all appreciate this 2020 Father’s Day more than ever.