Ion Idriess OBE was one of Australia's finest authors, known for his narrative, story style of writing. His contribution to Australian publishing and literature was profound. He established a form of writing which continued to flourish in the work of such authors as Frank Clune and Colin Simpson.
Born Ion Windeyer Idriess on 20th September 1889 at Waverley, on Sydney's southern seaboard, New South Wales, Australia, Ion was the only son and eldest of four children of Walter Owen Idriess, sheriff's officer from Wales, and his Australian-born wife, Julia Windeyer Edmonds. At some point very early in life he altered his middle name from Windeyer to Llewellyn. He also preferred to go by the name 'Jack'. His family travelled much as he was growing up: from Sydney to Tenterfield to Lismore and Grafton to Tamworth and to Broken Hill. Ion lost his mother to typhoid at Broken Hill when he was just fifteen years old.
Sent to his step-grandparents in Sydney, Jack soon found work on a paddle-steamer on the Sydney to Newcastle run. The ocean may have been wide, but he soon yearned for the wide spaces of Australia's "outback". Escaping his step-grandmother a second time, Jack worked in the western districts of New South Wales as a rabbit poisoner, boundary rider and drover. He also worked as a shearer and dingo shooter. The opal mining at Lightning Ridge drew the young man; before heading to North Queensland to search for gold and tin, and harvesting sandalwood. He travelled extensively throughout Cape York Peninsula, often with Aboriginals, beginning his lifelong interest in their customs, and then on to the cattle stations of the Gulf of Carpentaria. His interest in journalism was whetted at this time, writing short pieces for The Bulletin about life on the opal fields.
Back in Egypt, the 2nd Light Horse Brigade became part of the ANZAC Mounted Division and in February 1916 joined the forces defending the Suez Canal from a Turkish advance across the Sinai Desert. The 5th Regiment's main activity in the Sinai was long-range patrolling. The ANZAC Mounted Division advanced into Palestine in late December 1916. The regiment participated in all three battles aimed at capturing Gaza, most notably the first abortive attempt on 27th March 1917. On this occasion the 5th attacked Gaza from the rear and was fighting its way through streets and gardens when ordered to withdraw. Jack was wounded again in the fighting after the final battle of Gaza. This time his wound was sufficient to be invalided home. He began the long voyage to Australia on 15th February 1918.
After convalescence, Jack Idriess surveyed and explored parts of Cape York, travelled with pearlers and missionaries in Torres Strait and then turned to gold in New Guinea, buffalo shooting in the Northern Territory, and exploration in Central and Western Australia. The restlessness continued for some ten years before, approaching 40 years of age, Jack settled in Sydney, where he began to write as a freelance writer.
Idriess' writing style drew on his real-life experiences as a soldier, prospector, and bushman. He wrote on a multitude of topics, including travel, recollection, biography, history, anthropology and his own ideas on possible future events. His books were generally non-fiction, but written in a narrative, story style. Julian Croft noted, "Together with a belief in the heroic went a belief in the social and economic development of Australia". Idriess was a prolific writer, completing over 45 works at a rate of more than one per year, many of which have been categorised amongst Australia's classic writings; just to mention a few:
|Ion Idriess' Greatest Stories (1986)|
|Guerilla Tactics handbooks|
A specialist set of handbooks was written for the Australian Army during the years of the New Guinea and Islands campaign:
Jack also wrote two very popular propaganda pamphletts. The first, Must Australia Fight? was distributed at the commencement of the Second World War and dealt in brief with the issues he had raised in his book of the same title. The second, Onward Australia, was distributed at the end of the war, covering post-war development, and Australia taking its role in the region and the world.
Aged 70 years, Jack was widowered in 1959. Jack appears to have stopped writing in 1969, probably as a result of the heartache upon the loss of Eta.
Jack was often approached for comment on contemporary affairs. His instaible interest in history also continued unabated.
In 1968, Ion Idriess was recognised for his services to literature when he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Three months short of his 90th birthday, Ion Idriess passed away on 6th June 1979 in the nursing home at Mona Vale, on Sydney's northern seaboard, New South Wales. On 13th September 1979, his ashes were placed and a Banksia tree (tree 1169) planted in his memory in the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, North Ryde, New South Wales. He was survived by his two daughters and grandchildren who, it is certain, grew up on Jack's yarns.
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Categories: AIF, 5th Light Horse Regiment | Gallipoli 1915 | Australia, Authors | Officers of the Order of the British Empire | Famous Authors of the 20th Century | Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, North Ryde, New South Wales | Notables | Australia, Notables | Anzacs, World War I | Wounded in Action, Australia, World War I