Pamela Burton

Pamela Burton is a Canberra lawyer and writer. She founded her own law firm in 1976 and later practised as a barrister at the Canberra Bar.

Persons of Interest »

An Intimate Account of Cecily and John Burton

Publication date: April 2022
A world in upheaval; two lives lived under stress … This story is set in the social and political landscape of pre– and post–World War II. It tells two vastly different tales of Cecily and John’s lives in Australia and overseas, as nations clashed, and governments and international organisations tried to remake the world. Cecily Nixon knew that marrying John Burton would be bad for her. But she loved him and, impressed with this handsome, sullen young man and his belief that he could change the world for the better, saw her role in life as to serve the world through John. Cecily’s story is a deeply personal and psychological one of love, duty and betrayal that explores the complexities of relationships. In a world that overwhelmed her, Cecily searched for ‘wholeness’ and delved deep into her psyche to find herself and emerge from John’s shadow. John has been known as an influential and controversial young head of Australia’s Department of External Affairs – and as a would-be politician. It is less known that he was also an innovative farmer, bookseller, entrepreneur, arts patron and writer. He received international acclaim for his later work in conflict analysis and resolution. These combined stories of courage and achievement unfold amid political intrigue and psychological trauma. ASIO surveillance, love triangles, loyalty, infidelity and tragedy all play their part in the Burtons’ lives. 'A remarkable memoir of a remarkable couple, exploring the fraught dynamic between the personal and political facets of their lives, the perspective lying at the core of modern feminism. Pamela Burton’s own insights are those of their youngest child, on whom the disruptions of the 1960s and 1970s had a heavy impact, but also that of her maturity, bringing her sharp forensic skills to the project. Assisted by Meredith Edwards, her eldest sister, Burton has given us an unflinchingly honest and utterly gripping record of our lives and times.' — Sara Dowse, author of West Block and Sapphires 'This is a brave book ... By putting Cecily at the centre of this important story and by giving their personal lives equal billing with their public lives Persons of Interest makes a notable contribution to Australian political history, gender history and the history of Canberra. It is much more than a family memoir; it is a fine work of history.' — Christopher Waters, Australian Policy and History 'While some readers will be interested in the discussion of Burton’s official and academic careers, and others in Cecily’s introspective soul-searching, others will be attracted by the interaction of the two stories. … By placing the intimately personal and psychological in the foreground and the public and political in the background, Persons of Interest casts fresh light on Australian public life and its often damaging interaction with Australians’ private lives.' — Peter Edwards, Australian Book Review 'If John’s journey — in public principle — is central to Persons of Interest’s account of the 1950s, Cecily takes up that place through the 1960s and beyond, seeking a path beyond the intractability of emotional invalidation and financial dependency within the most fundamental of relationships. As so often with this book, the power of the account lies not simply in raising the issues but in insisting they be seen in experience, as these bold partnerships, endurance, commitment and questioning, even as they finally narrow down to rooms in nursing homes and those implicit contracts of care where the most intractable burdens of love are weighed.' — Nicholas Brown, Inside Story
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