Gregory Bryan Shortis, poet and university teacher of German language and literature, died peacefully at Jindalee Nursing Home at Narrabundah on November 13 after 20 years of increasing incapacitation with Parkinson’s disease.
Better known to University of New England colleagues and students, and to readers and audiences of his poetry as Gregory B. Shortis, he was born on August 27, 1945 at King George the Fifth Hospital at Camperdown in Sydney, and was named after his uncle Gregory, who had been killed the previous year while fighting with ‘M’ Special Force in New Guinea; ‘Bryan’ was Shortis’s mother’s maiden name.
At the time of his birth, Shortis’s parents were living in Dulwich Hill, awaiting the completion of their house at Earlwood.
His father, John McCauley Shortis, was an industrial chemist.
He and his wife Mary Elizabeth (‘Betty’) Bryan, had three other children: John, Mark and Claire.
Shortis attended St Bernadette’s Catholic Infants School at Bexley North, and Our Lady of Fatima Primary School at Kingsgrove before proceeding to the De La Salle Brothers School at Kingsgrove, where he emerged Dux in 1962.
At school, he had no interest in sport but learnt piano, wrote a play, developed an interest in chemistry and joined the Club for Young Astronomers at Campsie, winning a NSW Science Award for recording the weather and barometric pressure.
He was a great walker, and a good debater, a noted parodist, and he taught himself German as a subject for the NSW Leaving Certificate.
He matriculated to Sydney University, and in 1963, commenced study in German, French, English and Psychology, graduating with an honours degree (2.1) in German and French in 1967.
Friendships with fellow students Udo Borget (subsequently Foundation President of the German Studies Association of Australia) and Richard Givney (subsequently teacher at Newtown Boys High School) began at the University.
In 1968, Shortis travelled with the intention of undertaking a Masters degree on the Swiss language writer Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.
With Borgert and Borgert’s wife Joy, Shortis went by way of South America, stopping at Curacao, Acapulco, Lisbon and London.
He attended lectures for a year in Munich, and a further ten months at Zurich University.
He visited a Spanish pen friend called Mercedes, who was studying English at Madrid, became engaged.
The couple went to London together, and Shortis travelled alone to Yugoslavia, where he was stopped by a television crew and asked to sing the Australian National Anthem.
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