Australian Literature History

Australia is fertile ground for independent and unique writers This has been the case throughout history.

Many talented writers hark from Australia cites and regional areas. Remembering the narrative art of Australian writers and their exploration of themes such as the working class, Aboriginality, fairness, participation, democracy, feminism, the wilderness and harshness of the outback, migration and Australia’s place in the world helps us to create our unique identity. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before. Mary River Press Services highlights writers who have pioneered the art in Australia, taking a deep dive into Australian literature history.

Robert Alexander Fairly (1853 –1899)

Robert Alexander Fairly (11.5.1853 – 28.10.1899) a.k.a R. A. Fairly or R.A.F. wrote about the worker in his poems. He was the eldest son of David Fairly – a brilliant surgeon and Agnes Wilson Fairly (née Harvey). After completing two years of arts study (1869 – 71) he emigrated to Australia.

He arrived in Melbourne in 1871, moved to Boulia and then Gladstone district to work in the mining industry. He made bricks at the Norton Gold Fields for the furnaces and chimneys. Robert married Elizabeth Jessie Cairncross in 1887 on the family property ‘Lily Vale’ near Calliope. They had five daughters.

‘Finis’ was his first published work in The Queenslander in 1888. Although his verse and short stories were published widely in the Bulletin, the Boomerang and the Queenslander, he did not publish a collection during his lifetime. In the 1970s his grand-daughter Dorothy Tutton had a small booklet published. ‘Boundary rider, Brick maker and Bard’ by Jan Koivunen is a book containing Australian poetry and short stories written by Fairly (RAF) including a short biography of his life.

Many anthologies contained his poetry. His love for his wife Jessie is touchingly recorded in the poem ‘To My Dear Wife’ written just a month before his death. Robert passed away on month day 1899, at age 46 from throat cancer. He was a master of the bush ballad and wrote humorous verse.

Image source: MyHeritage Family Trees
Source: AustLit

Charles Hardie Buzacott (1835 – 1918)

Charles Hardie Buzacott (3.8.1835 – 19.7.1918) began the publication of the Maryborough Chronicle and took over publication of the Gladstone Observer. He was a renowned Queensland publisher, journalist, newspaper proprietor and politician.

His parents were James Buzacott and Ann, née Hitchcock. In 1852, Buzacott and his brother migrated from England to Sydney, where he learnt the compositor trade at The Empire. After moving to Maryborough he began the publication of The Maryborough Chronicle on the 21st November, 1860.

Four years later he sold it and started The Peak Downs Telegram. Buzacott sold that also and moved to Gladstone where he took over the Observer from 1869 to 1972. In 1971 he took over his brother’s interests in The Rockhampton Bulletin. Other interests included The Brisbane Courier, The Queenslander, The Daily Observer and The Northern Argus (later called The Daily Record).

Buzacott was a member of the Legislative Assembly as member for Rockhampton in 1873. In 1874 and 1876, he brought in bills for eight-hour workday in Queensland. Although a visionary, he only got them to committee stage. He resigned in 1877, returned in 1879 and was postmaster general in Sir Thomas McIIwraith’s first ministry.

Up until his death in 1918 at Stanthorpe, he contributed to The Daily Record.

Image source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Source: AustLit

Emily Hemans Bulcock (1877– 1969)

Emily Hemans Bulcock OBE (28.7. 1877– 4.9.1969) was an Australian poet and journalist for over 65 years. She was born in Tinana and was the daughter of Mary Jane and Henry Burnett Palmer. At the age of 12 her work had been accepted for publication in The Queenslander. At 19 she became a teacher at Montville and ran literacy courses for the farmworkers.

She married her husband in 1903 and moved to Brisbane with him. He died in 1924. She worked as a freelance journalist in the 1920s. Anzac Day was the subject of her first poem, and it was published in The Bulletin. During her literary career many of the poems she published were about the events of her time. A wide variety of publications carried her work in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

She was a foundation member of the CWA, The Queensland Authors’ and Artists’ Association and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW). In 1964 she was awarded and OBE for services to literature and in 1965 made a lifetime member of FAW. She supported refugees from Nazi Germany.

Writer Vance Palmer is her younger brother. ‘Jacaranda Blooms and Other Poems’ and ‘From Quenchless Springs: New Poems’ are two of her anthologies.

Image source: State Library of Victoria
Source: AustLit

Ronald McKie (1909 – 1991) a.k.a Ronald Cecil Hamlyn McKie; R. C. H. McKie

Ronald McKie (11.12, 1909 – 8.5.1991) a.k.a Ronald Cecil Hamlyn McKie; R. C. H. McKie wrote 23 literary works. He was born in Toowoomba, went to Bundaberg State High School, Brisbane Grammar School and University of Queensland.

He was the second of three sons to Allan McKie, bank accountant, and his wife Nesta May, née Brown. The family spent most of the war years at Bundaberg, where Allan managed the local branch of the Bank of New South Wales. Ronald attended Bundaberg State High School for one year. McKie completed a cadetship with the Brisbane Daily Mail. He was then a journalist with the Sun News, the Age and the Sydney Telegraph.

During the war he was a correspondent after he served with the AIF for a short time (1942-1943). Between 1950 and 1980 he wrote many books on the war. He achieved success as a fiction writer with “The Mango Tree” (1974), a novel that drew on his Bundaberg boyhood. It won the 1974 Miles Franklin award. In 1977 it was made into a film. His second novel, The Crushing (1977) was also set in a Queensland sugar town. He died on 8 May 1991 at Canterbury, Victoria, six days after the death of his wife, and was cremated.

Image source: National Archives
Source: AustLit

Mary Hannay Foott (1846 – 1918)

Mary Hannay Foott (26.9.1846 – 12.10.1918) was Queensland’s first professional woman journalist and worked on the Bundaberg Mail. At seven she came to Australia from Glasgow, Scotland. Whilst studying to become a teacher she wrote poems and society notes for many papers. Once qualified she worked in Melbourne.

After marrying Thomas Wade Foott, she lived in Bourke and Dundoo Station on the Paroo River, SW Queensland and had two sons – Cecil and Arthur. This station was the inspiration for her poem “Where the Pelican Builds its Nest”. The poem is about two young explorers who lost their lives. She moved to Toowoomba after her husband’s death and then started a small school at Rocklea, where she lived with her journalist son, Arthur. She began writing for The Queenslander and was the first full-time paid female editor.

Under the pseudonym of La Quenouille she wrote ‘The Housekeeper’ column. She managed the ‘Women’s Page’ of The Queenslander from 1886 -1896 and wrote for The Brisbane Courier Mail. In 1895 she undertook two major interviews with women writers for The Queenslander. The first was with the famous novelist Rosa Praed who wrote of Gladstone. The was second was with Melbourne journalist Florence Blair.

In 1897 she fell ill and had to return to Victoria. Arthur began at the Bundaberg Mail in 1912. Foott moved again to live with him in Bundaberg and they were very close, often sitting up to four am talking. She was a journalist for the Bundaberg Mail. Arthur died in 1917 and she contracted pneumonia a year later and died suddenly. She is buried in the Bundaberg cemetery and her obituary appeared in the Bundaberg Mail honouring her editorship and high position in the literary world.

Image source: Fryer Collection, University of Queensland
Source: AustLit and Queensland Parliament; Clarke, P (2014) Qld’s 1st Professional Woman Journalist: Mary Hannay Foott.


Myra Emmeline Steer née Pickering (1888 – 1964)

Myra Emmeline Steer née Pickering (10.4.1888 – 10.3.1964) a.k.a the Gympie poetess, Uncle Gym and Debbie & Elizabeth was born in Tiaro, Queensland and was the daughter of Sergeant Johnathon and Martha Pickering (née Sivyer). She moved to Gympie with her husband Reverand John Howard Steer. They had six children. After working as a Governess and assistant clerk in the office of the Noosa Shire Council, she returned to Gympie in 1934.

She began writing under the several pseudonyms and was published in the Courier Mail, Telegraph and Gympie Times. Regular columns in the latter included Debbie’s Doings and the Children’s Corner under the name of Uncle Gym. ‘My Pin Up Man and Other Poems’ was published in 1945 and the subject of the poem, Winston Churchill, sent a letter to Myra thanking her.

She was a member of the Gympie and District Historical Society and oversaw compiling the official history of the city for its centenary in October 1967. A children’s novel she authored ‘Bandai’ was published posthumously by the Steer family in 1980. She died suddenly at the age of 75.

Image source: John Howard Steer public family tree ancestry.com
Source: AustLit


Rosa Praed (1851 -1935)

This is an image of Rose Praed.

Rosa Praed (1851 -1935) a novelist, generally known as Mrs. Campbell Praed, daughter of Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior. She was born at Bungroopin Station on the Logan River, Queensland, on 27 March 1851. In 1872, she married Arthur Campbell Mackworth Praed, and lived for a short time on Curtis Island, off Gladstone, Queensland.

The sojourn was turned to literary account in her first book, ‘An Australian Heroine’ (1880) as well as in ‘The Romance of a Station’ (1889) and her last novel ‘Sister Sorrow’ (1916). Her ability to make use of her experiences in the setting or action of her novels is a noticeable feature of her writing. Her private life was one of sadness.

She was early estranged from her husband, one son died in an automobile accident, another killed while big-game hunting in South Africa, and the third shot himself, her only daughter was a deaf mute.

She herself was an exile who yearned for her native country. She died at Torquay, England, 11 April 1935. (Information taken from: Australian Encyclopaedia v. 7, 1988).


Image and Information source: State Library of Queensland and AustLit.


Percy Reginald Stephensen (1901 – 1965)

This is an image of Percy Reginald Stephensen.

Percy Reginald Stephensen (20.11.1901 – 28.5.1965) was an Australian writer, publisher and political activist. Stephensen was born in Maryborough, Queensland. His Russian-born swiss mother Marie Louise Aimée was the daughter of journalist and horticulturist Tardent . His father, Christian Julius Stephensen, had lived in Queensland ever since the arrival of his father from Denmark in the 1870s. He attended Maryborough Boys Grammar School and then University of Queensland where Norman Lindsay’s son, Jack, helped introduce him to radicals and intellectuals. The nickname Inky was earnt and originated from the popular wartime song Mademoiselle from Armentières . A life of publishing began when Stephensen and Jack Lindsay managed the Fanfrolico Press in Bloomsbury, London. They produced about 20 titles in 1927-29 including The Antichrist of Nietzsche.

The second publishing company Stephensen established was the Endeavour Press in Sydney with Norman Lindsay. They successfully produced over 12 titles by Banjo Paterson and Miles Franklin amongst others. His final publishing company was P.R. Stephensen & Co which produced another 12 books by Franklin, Henry Handel Richardson and Eleanor Dark .

Stephensen ghost wrote around seventy books for Frank Clune. ‘The Foundations of Culture’ in Australia, 1936 was a thought-provoking series he contributed to and published. It influenced the Jindyworabak poetry movement. He published Abo Call and helped to organise the Day of Mourning and Protest to mark the sesquicentenary on 26 January, 1938. One of the mysteries about Stephensen was the change from the left to publishing an overtly fascist paper ‘The Publicist’ in 1938. He is most remembered for being polemicist and a brilliant editor and publisher. His legacy is the improved quality of publications that Australia produced.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography. Image Source: State Library of New South Wales – http://ow.ly/HgeT50BcH3


Valentine Thomas Vallis Val Vallis (1916 – 2009)

This is an image of Valentine Thomas Vallis.

Valentine Thomas Vallis or Val Vallis ( 1.8.1916 – 14.1.2009) was born in Gladstone, Queensland. He worked as a counter clerk with Gladstone Town Council. His parents, mother Daisy and father, wharfie and fisherman Paddy ( nickname Mick) were the subject of many of his poems.

After serving with AIF from 1941 – 1947 he wrote ‘War Poems’ based on this time in New Guinea. The poem ‘The Ballad of Changi Chimes’ is about his detail to Changi to bring home ex-prisoners after the war. Many children discovered his poems in the secondary school readers ‘New Land, New Language’. These contained poems from the collections ‘Songs of the East Coast’ (A&R, 1947) and ‘Dark Wind Blowing’ (Jacaranda Press, 1961).

Val was remembered as a warm and charismatic lecturer who specialised in romantic poets (especially Yeats), aesthetics and Australian poetry. He wrote lyrically of his bustling harbour town and family: “In our town all men are brothers. No man has marked a little plot of ocean. As his domain and jealously enclosed it; Each fisherman rules a kingdom without end”.

He captured the life of Gladstone, the expanse of the world and the human experience in his lyrical yet unadorned stanzas. Vallis was also involved with opera and music. He was peers with Judith Wright and selected works for a collection of her unpublished poems. He lectured at University of Queensland and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. A poetry award, The Queensland Arts Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry is offered each year. He was honoured with a footpath plaque in Albert Street, Brisbane, on the Queensland Literary Trail in 1996.

Source: AustLit and Woodhouse, Val Vallis a memoir. Image Source: University of Queensland Fryer Library.


Agatha Magdalen Le Breton (1886 – 1970)

Agatha Magdalen Le Breton (29.6.1886 – 7.5.1970) (aka Miriam Agatha, Mickie Daley and Henry Somerville.) Le Breton was born and educated in Maryborough and then moved Townsville. Her great grandfather was Sir Thomas Le Breton, Governor of Jersey. Le Breton was the youngest of 12 children. She became a teacher and from 1906 taught in Catholic schools. She loved to teach the little ones and included their thoughts and sayings in her stories.

She sent her first story to the Messenger in 1902 while living in Maryborough and wrote more than 60 works over her lifetime. In 1914 a children’s novel, ‘Nellie Doran‘, was published.

In 1917 she worked in NSW public schools and retired in 1934 to pursue writing fulltime. She wrote and published many short stories for various Catholic publications including Messenger of the Sacred Heart, the Far East and Annals. Textbooks such as the reader ‘Billy and His Dog’ (1921) were also authored by Le Breton. She received the Cross of the Pope for writing. She loved to teach the little ones and included their thoughts and sayings in her stories.

Image Source: The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW: 1895 – 1942)
Source: AustLit;The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW: 1895 – 1942)

David Denholm (8.4.1924 – 19.6.1997)

David Denholm (8.4.1924 – 19.6.1997) (aka David Forrest). Denholm was born in Maryborough, Queensland. He was the eldest of four children. He received a scholarship to study at Brisbane Church of England Grammar School. His parents married in Maryborough in 1923 and had four children in ten years. His mother Louisa Emilia Denholm (nee Polzin) was widowed after his father Andrew Hamilton Denholm died in 1934 at the age of 36.

He was a teacher at Cattle Creek, Moran Group (via Kin Kin and Kingaroy) where he passed away suddenly. She could not afford to keep David at school, so he did not complete his senior certificate. He worked for the public service and in 1942 he started war service. After serving in the army – 59th Battalion- in New Guinea during World War II, he worked at the Commonwealth Bank in 1964. He attended University of Queensland and the Australian National University and was awarded a PH. D in history. He lectured at the University of New England Riverina College of Advanced Education.

Denholm wrote 23 works including The ‘Last Blue Sea’ (1959), ‘That Barambah Mob’ (1959) and the satire ‘The Hollow Woodheap’ (1962). His satire made him a voice for youth and irony. ‘The Last Blue Sea’ highlighted the hideous combat experience the Anzacs went through in New Guinea’s heat and rain and won the Mary Gilmore Prize. His book on Australian History ‘The Colonial Australians’ (1979), is one of the finest history books about Australia and was a best seller.

Zita Denholm published ‘Corresponding Voices: The Letters of Bill Scott and David Denholm’ (2000), which anthologised the many letters exchanged between Scott and Zita Denholm’s husband David. In retirement he worked on Riverina Archives and worked on arranging 12 000 maps.

Image Source: National Library of Australia
Source: AustLit, Nambour Chronicle and Charles Sturt University.

Vance (Edward Vivian) Palmer (1885 to 1959) (aka Rann Daly).

Vance (Edward Vivian) Palmer (28.8.1885 to 15.7. 1959) (aka Rann Daly). Palmer was born in Bundaberg. He was the seventh child of Henry Burnet Palmer and Jessie née Carson. He left school at 16 and worked as a clerk.

A.G. Stephens (from Maryborough) influenced him, and he began to write for Steele Rudd’s magazine. He travelled abroad to gain writing experience and returned to work at Brisbane Grammar school for a year. In 1909 he moved to Melbourne and joined socialist activities. Following this he became a teacher and bookkeeper on Abbieglassie cattle-station, north-west Queensland, bettering his horsemanship.

He was associated with Katherine Mansfield, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Frank Harris, Herbert Read and Will Dyson. To make a living he wrote hack stories and novels for the Aussie and Catholic Advocate, under the nom de plume Rann Daly. In 1914 he married Janet (Nettie) Higgins, a brilliant scholar and linguist. They had two daughters. Higgins’ increased earnings enabled Vance to concentrate on serious writing. He wrote 828 works. The decade from 1925, which included five novels and two collections of stories, was a prolific period of writing. ‘The Passage’ and ‘Daybreak’ were novels from this period.

He died on the 15th July, in Melbourne, days before a special issue of Meanjin was published in his and Higgins’ honour. With Higgins he had, he claimed, kept ‘some sort of fire alive for over fifty years’.

Image Source: National Library of Australia
Source: AustLit and Queensland Parliament

Bill Scott a.k.a William Neville Scott (1923 – 2005)

This is an image of Bill Scott.

Bill Scott (4.10.1923 – 22.12.2005) a.k.a William Neville Scott, W.N. Scott was born in Bundaberg, Queensland. After attending Brisbane State High School, he enlisted in the navy and served four years in New Guinea. His love of north Queensland developed after the war when he went there to cut cane, prospect and drive steam trains. He also worked as a seaman.

He got a job at McLeod’s Bookshop and then in 1957 he joined Jacaranda Press to pack, sell and promote books. He is was a well-known member of the Australian folkloric community. After publishing his first poem in 1944 he became a prolific poet and writer of over fifty books, turning professional in 1974. His peers were Colin Thiele and Max Fatchen. They were known as portly (Fatchen), pathos (Scott) and tin legs (Thiele).

The publication ‘Letters of Bill Scott and David Denholm’ (2000) anthologised the many letters exchanged between the two authors. He won many awards: 2001 winner Australian Bush Laureate Awards – Judith Hosier Heritage Award,1992 – Order of Australia, Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his work as a folklorist-1964 winner Mary Gilmore Award – are just some. Penny Davies and Roger Ilott recorded albums of Bill Scott’s songs called the Opal Miner 1 and 2. “Hey Rain” is one of the most beautiful.

Source: AustLit


John Denis Fryer (Jack Fryer) (1895 – 1923)

Image Source: Fryer Collection, University of Queensland
Source: AustLit and Queensland Parliament
Source: Fryer Collection, University of Queensland.

John Denis Fryer (Jack Fryer) (11.9.1895 – 7.2.1923) was born in Springsure Hospital, Queensland. The family were Anglo-Irish Australians who settled in Springsure in the 1880s. Charles George Fryer was born in Ireland, 1854. Rosina Fryer (née Richards) was born in Rockhampton, 1865. They were wardsman and matron at the Springsure Hospital. Together they raised seven children.

Due to Jack’s gift with language he won a scholarship to the University of Queensland in 1915. In 1916 after volunteering for service with the Australian Imperial Force, he went to France and was gassed in 1917. He was treated and returned to fight for Amiens where he was wounded by a stick bomb. Although he tried to complete his studies towards a Classic Honours degree when he returned in 1920, he had contracted tuberculosis, and he could not sit his exams in 1922.

Soon after at the age of 27, he died. An enthusiasm for learning and literature led him to edit the student magazine Galmahra and become Vice-President of the Dramatic Society. He is buried in the Springsure Cemetery. The J.D Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature was established in 1927 in his honour. It was set up to collect works in Australian Literature and was started with a 10-pound donation from the Society. It moved from the English Department in the 1950s to the University of Queensland Library. The Queensland Museum organised an exhibition of the four Fryer brothers (William, Charles, Henry and Jack) at the Springsure Hospital Museum on Anzac Day (25 April) 2016. ‘Give My Love to Everybody: The Fryer Brothers of Springsure’ by Dr Melanie Piddocke was a commemoration of this family.

Image Source: Fryer Collection, University of Queensland
Source: AustLit and Queensland Parliament


Francis Kenna (1865 – 1932)

Francis Kenna (21.9.1865 – 23.6.1932) was born in Maryborough to Irish parents Joseph Kenna and Ellen Fleming. He went to Maryborough Boys Grammar School and on graduation studied to become a teacher and a telegraph operator with the Lands Department. He edited a variety of papers including the Queensland Worker and those from Bowen, Charters Towers, the Gold Coast and Bangalow. He was a prolific poet, and many were published in The Bulletin, The Boomerang and later as a weekly column in the Brisbane Courier under the name of Txon. Kenna founded the Queensland Authors and Artists Association and edited their magazine.

From 1902 to 1909 he served as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Bowen. Although he served for various parties – Labor (1902-1907), Kidstonites (1907-1908) and then as an Independent Opposition (1908-1909), he advocated for the blue collar workers. His concern for the working class was also shown in his poetry. An example is his parody of Clancy, of the Overflow- Banjo, of the Overflow. Sick of city folk romanticising the labour intensive and often isolating work of the country, he portrays the bush from a working person’s point of view:
‘I am tired of reading prattle of the sweetly lowing cattle. Stringing out across the open with the bushmen riding free; I am sick at heart of roving up and down the country droving and of alternating damper with the salt-junk and the tea.’

He married Edith Stamp in 1907 in Gympie and they had two sons. Kenna died in Brisbane and is buried in Lutwyche Cemetery.

Image Source: State Library of Queensland
Source: AustLit and Queensland Parliament


Jessica Anderson (a.k.a. Jessica Margaret Queale Anderson) (1916 – 2010)

Source: AustLit
Image Source: National Library of Australia

Jessica Anderson (25.9.1916 – 9.7.2010) (a.k.a. Jessica Margaret Queale Anderson) was born in Gayndah, Queensland, in 1916. After leaving school at 16 she did some training in Brisbane Technical College Art School. She then moved to Sydney, New South Wales and began writing commercially mainly under evasive pseudonyms. She also began to write radio plays in her thirties. Three original radio dramas were written under her own name for the ABC during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Anderson’s first novel was published under her own name in England. She did this to avoid censorship in Australia. An ‘Ordinary Lunacy’ (1963) is a tale of sexual obsession. Her next three novels received little mainstream success. Her fourth and fifth novels ‘Tirra Lirra by the River’ and ‘The Impersonators’ (1980) won various awards including the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Anderson produced 36 works including eight critically acclaimed novels.

Her work appeared in university syllabi and she examined women’s identity in relation to family and place. Anderson is the mother of screen writer Laura Jones, who wrote a screenplay for ‘Tirra Lirra by the River’. Anderson died in July 2010, at the age of ninety-three. A plaque commemorating Anderson’s writing is included in the Sydney Writers’ Walk.

Source: AustLit
Image Source: National Library of Australia

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