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Michael Cannon and Bob Flippen on the Vagabond

  • Date recorded: 15 Sep 2016

  • Duration: 42:17

Because he posed as an employee of various institutions, he was able to get inside them and experience life as a working man inside those institutions. This lent a particular sort of observation and real power to his writing. Very hard to duplicate.

– Michael Cannon

About this video

Enjoy this lively discussion with the world's leading Vagabond enthusiast, Melbourne historian Michael Cannon, and park ranger Bob Flippen from Virginia, USA.

Author Thorton McCamish introduces us to the legend of the Vagabond, the immersive journalist who went undercover to research firsthand the appalling living conditions in Victorian-era Melbourne in his articles for the Argus and Age newspapers.

This conversation was held to mark the publication of the new edition of Michael Cannon's The Vagabond papers, first published in 1969 by MUP. The revised book includes additional research by Bob Flippen and Willa McDonald that sheds new light on the Vagabond's time in Virginia and New Caledonia.

Bob talks about the serendipitous journey that brought him into contact with Michael Cannon from his home in Farmville, Virginia, where the wandering writer variously known as John Stanley James (1843–96), Julian Thomas and 'The Vagabond' resided for a short time in the 1870s.

Bob's research helped unearth the 'perfect storm of unfortunate events' that led to the writer's hurried removal from Virginia and arrival in Melbourne, where his journalistic depictions of the city's down and outs in the 1870s made him an instant celebrity author.

This event was held in the State Library's Cowen Gallery on 15 September 2016.


Michael Cannon

Historian Michael Cannon has worked as a journalist, editor, publisher and author. He is the author of more than 20 books, including The Land Boomers, The Vagabond papers and Melbourne after the gold rush.

Bob Flippen

US park ranger Bob Flippen lives in Farmville, Virginia, where the Vagabond resided in 1875.

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