John Streeter Manifold grew up in the Western District of Victoria on two family stations: 'Purrumbete' and 'Milangil'. He was educated at Geelong Grammar School where, at the age of seventeen, he wrote a translation of a lyric by Catullus that his Classics master, Chauncy Masterman, considered the finest he had read. While still at school Manifold's first poems were collected in a small pamphlet edition, Verses 1930-1933 (printed in Geelong by G. Mercer and Company). Later, while at Jesus College, Cambridge University, his poems were included in Thirty-One Poems, published by the Spenser Society of the university in 1936. Manifold met another Australian poet, David Campbell, at Cambridge and they became friends. After graduating with a degree in modern languages (French and German), he worked as an editor-translator for a German publisher. Manifold also studied for a time at the Institut Britannique, Paris.
When the Second World War began Manifold returned to England, joined the British army and was posted to Nigeria. Later in the war he joined Intelligence, reaching the rank of Captain, and was in action in France, where he wrote without revision his best-known poem, 'The Tomb of Lieutenant John Learmonth, A.I.F.'.
Manifold had joined the Communist Party while at Cambridge. He returned to Australia with his English wife Katharine (née Hopwood) in 1949. After a brief stay in Victoria, he settled in Wynnum, Queensland, and became active in the cultural and political life of the Party. He helped found the Brisbane Realist Writers' Group in 1950. The members were mainly unionists writing for a hobby but it became a productive writers' group, partly because it had the advantage of connections with Overland, thus making publication a possibility. According to Stephen Murray-Smith, editor of Overland, Manifold 'cut off relations for many years' after the journal 'went "revisionist"'. Manifold was later closely associated with the Communist Arts Group and was a President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Queensland Branch.
Manifold also wrote and broadcast for the A.B.C. and worked extensively in the teaching and performance of music, the manufacture of instruments and the collection and publication of Australian ballads and folk music. He published several books in this area (particularly editions of 17th century English and French instrumental chamber music) as well as political articles, and volumes of verse and verse translations in a wide variety of journals and magazines. Manifold declared himself 'proud of my collaboration with distinguished composers of music, Alexander Jemnitz and Sandor Veress in Budapest; Daniel Gregory Mason in U.S.A.; Alan Bush and others in London; they seem to think my verse worth setting to music.'
Manifold spent the last years of his life in a nursing home and died two days short of his seventieth birthday.
(Source of quotation: biographical notes sent to H. M. Green; copy held in the Dorothy Green Collection, Special Collections, UNSW@ADFA, Canberra. See also 'Vale John Manifold' by Stephen Murray-Smith, Australian Book Review no.71, June 1985.)