ION IDRIESS - 'JACK' TO HIS MATES
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site based in
Most of the following first appeared in GOLDEN YEARS 1 and 2 (new series) ISSN 1036-3688, 1992. I've revised it slightly.
One of Australia's most widely read authors, certainly the most popular before Frank Clune came along, Jack was also one of our more colourful characters - the 'true-blue' about whom songs and stories are written around camp fires late at night.
According to John
Hetherington in his fascinating book, FORTY-TWO FACES,
each morning when he wasn't travelling around the
countryside, Jack would catch a bus from Kingsford and
arrive at A&R's Castlereagh Street bookshop at around
10am, make his way to the first floor and seat himself in
front of his old, wooden table. Pencil in hand, he would
soon be writing furiously on quarto sheets of unlined
white paper, 30 words or so to the page. This he would do
until lunchtime and then knock off for the day, usually
spending the afternoons with any friends who may have
dropped in earlier in the day.
Jack came into this world at
Waverley, NSW, in 1889, the son of a mines inspector. The
family moved to Tenterfield, south of the NSW-Queensland
border, and remained there until 1893 when they moved
east to Lismore, on the NSW north coast. Two months
before his sixth birthday Jack was enrolled at Boorerie
Creek school, but due to his father's job another move
ensured - south- west to Tamworth in 1897. Broken Hill
was the family's next destination and it was here that
Jack qualified as an assayer at the School of Mines,
collapsing after his final examination - the effect of
typhoid fever which killed his mother a year later. In
1908 Jack moved with his three younger sisters to their
grandmother's house in Sydney.
A year later he struck opal and submitted articles to THE BULLETIN (a weekly journal) using the pseudonym 'Gouger'. 1911 saw Jack up north at Cairns, Queensland, tin-mining. Two years later he and friend Jack Welsh spent several months with a tribe of Aborigines on Cape York Peninsula. Like many other young men of the time, Jack was fired with enthusiasm when he heard about the beginning of hostilities across the world in 1914. He enlisted with the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment at Townsville, and served at Gallipoli, the Sinai and Palestine, collecting a number of shrapnel pieces along the way before being invalided home on crutches in 1918.
Another year on, after having 'worked off' his injuries in stunt man Snowy Baker's gym, Jack returned north to Cooktown and Cape York. During his time in the middle-east he'd kept a diary, from which THE DESERT COLUMN was formulated in 1932. He did the same in 1924 while marooned on Howick Island with another repat, who tried to kill him. (From this diary he wrote MADMAN'S ISLAND, in 1927.) 1925 proved to be an important year in Jack's life. He met George Robertson of Angus and Robertson, the publishers through which all of his books would eventually appear. For the next two years he worked on the Brisbane and Thursday Island wharves, on the un-manned lighthouse at Restoration Rock and travelled with Reverend McFarlane, 'The Wandering Missionary'. His first book, MADMAN'S ISLAND, appeared. After two years looking for gold and pearls in New Guinea and surrounding islands Jack came south, firstly to his sister's in Grafton in the north of NSW and finally to 5 West Street, Paddington. By 1931 he'd started work on THE DESERT COLUMN but raced off PROSPECTING FOR GOLD in record time. It went on sale only 5 weeks after he'd started on it (!) and sold 2000 copies within hours of its release. In the same year he met his wife-to-be, Eta, and wrote LASSETER'S LAST RIDE. Over the following two years FLYNN OF THE INLAND, THE DESERT COLUMN, MEN OF THE JUNGLE, DRUMS OF MER and GOLD DUST AND ASHES rolled off the presses. He also tried short fiction, among which was THE YELLOW JOSS.
With the arrival of the Second World War, Jack decided it was time once again to offer his services to the army. He'd spent most of his recent life in the top end of Queensland so the obvious job, so far as he saw it, was a coast-watcher somewhere off the northern coastline in the region of the Torres Strait Islands. His proposal was taken up by the Eastern Command of Army Intelligence in 1941. The next year he was made president of the Defence Auxiliary, an organisation formed by private citizens to defend Australia against any threatened invasion by the Japanese forces which were then over-running the Pacific islands to Australia's north. A year earlier the 12-volume 'National Edition' of his most popular titles had been published. Also out were NEMARLUK:KING OF THE WILDS, THE GREAT BOOMERANG and FORTUNES IN MINERALS. Jack had also lent 10 large photos of Aborigines to the State Library of NSW. These were used by sculptors working on the design of the new bronze entrance doors which now face the Botanical Gardens. For army recruits Jack produced the first two books in his THE AUSTRALIAN GUERRILLA series. The remaining four appeared in 1943. He also came up with a controversial plan to reverse the flow of the northern rivers - into the central desert regions. This wasn't the first time this idea had been thought up - and it wouldn't be the last.
Jack, together with torpedoman T Jones, wrote THE SILENT SERVICE which was published in 1944. HORRIE THE WOG DOG and ONWARD AUSTRALIA came out in 1945. With the war over, Jack got back into his stride, IN CROCODILE LAND appearing in 1946, ISLES OF DESPAIR and THE OPIUM SMUGGLERS in 1947, STONE OF DESTINY in 1948 and ONE WET SEASON in 1949. GEMS FROM IDRIESS, a selection of his stories for schools, also came out. He crossed Australia with one of Angus and Robertson's salesmen in 1950, stopping for a rest at Broken Hill where he signed 1200 of his books! That same year THE WILD MAN OF BADU was published. With 1951 came ACROSS THE NULLARBOR. The following year, OUTLAWS OF THE LEOPOLDS, THE RED CHIEF in 1953, THE NOR'WESTERS in 1954, THE VANISHED PEOPLE in 1955, THE SILVER CITY in 1956 and CORAL SEA CALLING in 1957.
Malaria caught up with Jack soon after and he would never again be free of it. Even so, he still managed to keep up his output of one book per year. BACK O'CAIRNS in 1958, THE TIN SCRATCHERS in 1959, THE WILD NORTH in 1960, TRACKS OF DESTINY in 1961, MY MATE DICK in 1962, OUR LIVING STONE AGE in 1963 and OUR STONE AGE MYSTERY in 1964. He suffered a stroke during 1964, ending up in Concord, Sydney, Repat hospital. Two years later he was still making an effort to visit A&R bookshops for book-signing. And still the words flowed from his mind - OPALS AND SAPPHIRES in 1967 and his final title, CHALLENGE OF THE NORTH in 1969.
Jack was awarded an OBE in 1968 for his services to publishing: a fitting tribute. This Australian Son passed away on June 6, 1979 at the age of 90. With many of his titles still in print, Jack Idriess continues to live on, both in our hearts and our minds.
Date: 30/10/08 11:56:58
AUS Eastern Daylight Time
IDRIESS, Ion: HORRIE THE WOG-DOG (1945) Compiled from AIF despatch rider Private Moody's diary, Jack's book about Horrie, the little white dog, captured the imagination of a nation when it was first released. To this day it remains his most popular book. This was my first-read Idriess title so I expected to be either disappointed or impressed. After reading the first few chapters, I able to understand why Idriess remains one of Australia's most popular authors. His easy to digest style is both friendly and informative. You are there with Moody, Horrie and mates as they battle across the desert and eventually, aboard a boat to Australia. No reader of this book will ever be disappointed. I laughed, cried and cheered as I read this book, sometimes all in the space of a couple of minutes! Highly recommended. (JT 11.10)