Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest

An Intimate Account of Cecily and John Burton

Authored by: Pamela Burton, Meredith Edwards

Please read Conditions of use before downloading the formats.

Download/view free formats
PDF (18.7MB)PDF chaptersRead online (HTML)EPUB (11.0MB)MOBI (9.0MB)


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


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Apr 2022
ANU Press
Biography Series
Arts & Humanities: Biography & Autobiography, History

PDF Chapters

Persons of Interest »

Please read Conditions of use before downloading the formats.

If your web browser doesn't automatically open these files, please download a PDF reader application such as the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

To copy a chapter DOI link, right-click (on a PC) or control+click (on a Mac) and then select ‘Copy link location’.

  1. Courting controversy (PDF, 0.6MB) doi
  2. Cecily’s travels with Judith Wright (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  3. A shared heritage (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  4. John’s father: A radical, mission-driven Methodist (PDF, 0.6MB) doi
  5. Embracing opportunities (PDF, 0.4MB) doi
  6. Paradise lost (PDF, 0.5MB) doi
  7. Honeymoon in dangerous times (PDF, 0.4MB) doi
  8. The sinking of the Arandora Star (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  9. A remarkable rise in the public service (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  10. The Burton plot: Reconstruction and Nugget Coombs (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  11. Domesticity and babies (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  12. Australia on the world stage (PDF, 1.5MB) doi
  13. Farming with an ‘accommodating wife’ (PDF, 0.5MB) doi
  14. A controversial head of department (PDF, 0.4MB) doi
  15. Reshaping Australia’s foreign policy (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  16. The Gnomes of Melbourne (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  17. Political suicide (PDF, 0.7MB) doi
  18. John’s short stint as high commissioner in Ceylon (PDF, 2.9MB) doi
  19. The beginning of the end of a marriage (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  20. Cecily’s life-changing encounter (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  21. China: Neither ‘dead nor red’ (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  22. Paying the price for a mission of peace (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  23. An interlude: Farming the Burton way (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  24. Holding it together (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  25. The Petrov inquiry (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  26. Indonesia with ASIO in tow (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  27. A shift to the city: Enterprises and infidelity (PDF, 1.8MB) doi
  28. The Snowy Mountains bus, bubble cars and other ventures (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  29. A family in crisis (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  30. A love triangle (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  31. Staging musicals: ‘The Girl’ and ‘The Bloke’ (PDF, 1.4MB) doi
  32. Turmoil (PDF, 0.4MB) doi
  33. The breakup (PDF, 0.8MB) doi
  34. Tugs of war of love and divorce (PDF, 0.2MB) doi
  35. Looking to Jung (PDF, 0.1MB) doi
  36. Coming into her own: Counselling Cecily style (PDF, 0.4MB) doi
  37. Revisiting relationship difficulties (PDF, 0.7MB) doi
  38. John’s ‘real career’ (PDF, 0.3MB) doi
  39. Coming full circle: Cecily, Robert, John and all (PDF, 2.3MB) doi
  40. A family shattered: Loss of Clare (PDF, 1.0MB) doi
  41. Blue autumn: Cecily passes (PDF, 0.4MB) doi


'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

Other publications that may interest you