Category: Literary Legends

Steele Rudd

Steele Rudd

Steele Rudd2

“It’s twenty years ago now since we settled on the Creek. Twenty years! I remember well the day we came from Stanthorpe, on Jerome’s dray – eight of us, and all the things – beds, tubs, a bucket, the two cedar chairs with the pine bottoms and backs that Dad put in them, some pint-pots and old Crib. It was a scorching hot day, too – talk about thirst! At every creek we came to we drank till it stopped running.”

So begins the first-ever published story by Arthur Davis, better known as Steele Rudd.

Born in 1868, Arthur Davis was six years old when he and his brothers and sisters, walking beside a cart piled high with furniture and farm equipment, arrived at “Shingle Hut” on the Darling Downs, there to make their fortune. “Dad” had arrived a few weeks earlier and knocked up a rough slab hut. Before long, through drought, flood and very occasional plenty the family had swelled to thirteen children.

The young Arthur, was, according to a much later recollection by his son Eric; “six feet tall—active and athletic—his carriage was erect—also his seat on horseback. He had a ruddy complexion with twinkling brown eyes—keenly alert and observant, with wrinkles at his temples which lent a humorous outlook. Kindness was one of his virtues, and he was generous to the extreme.”

At the local school, Emu Creek, Arthur was quiet and hard working. There was one little girl who liked to sit with him in the playground, and talk about horses, dogs and books. Her name was Christina Brodie, always called “Tean” for short.

By the age of twelve Arthur had finished school and was earning a living ‘picking up’ at the woolshed on nearby Pilton Station, and honing his skills as a jockey at the local picnic races. After a stint as a drover “out west” his mother arranged for him to apply for the civil service. His application was successful and he soon found himself in the foreign world of turn-of-the-century Brisbane.

His first job was with the office of the Curator of Intestate Estates, and a later book called “The Miserable Clerk” gives a clue to what he thought of this particular job. A flatmate, however, got him into reading Charles Dickens, and his interest in rowing led to him writing a series of articles under the pen name “Steele Rudder,” later changed to “Steele Rudd.”

After a few years in the city he missed the bush life so much that he began to read everything he could about the outback. Eventually, he had a go at writing his own stories. His first sketch of life growing up in his boisterous family, “Starting the Selection,” was published in the Bulletin Magazine in 1895, championed by J.F. Archibald, the force behind so much great Australian literature.

That same year, Arthur headed back home and asked his childhood sweetheart, Christina, to marry him. She was full of fun and good sense, and had a keen editing pen. It was “Tean” who first read and helped hone Arthur’s early stories.

“On Our Selection” was published in full by the Bulletin Magazine in 1899, followed by “Our New Selection” in 1903. Both won popular and critical acclaim. Two of the main characters, Dad and Dave, became part of Australian folklore.

Partly because his bosses were jealous of his success, Arthur was retrenched from his public service job, and responded by moving to Sydney and starting his own magazine. Nothing could keep him down. As his son Eric later said of him: “He was always a man’s man, tough, testy, a good friend.”

All was not well with Tean. The lack of a steady family income tested her disposition. The magazine slowly dropped in sales, then was forced to close, making her state of mind worse. Believing that a big change might help, Arthur took the family back home to the Darling Downs, settling on a property called “The Firs,” where he bred polo ponies and entered local politics, becoming head of the Cambooya Shire Council.

During World War One their son Gower was badly injured at the Somme, and Tean’s “frailty” became full blown mental illness. The family were forced to sell up and move to Brisbane where she could receive special care. She was hospitalised permanently in 1919, remaining there until her death more than twenty years later.

“Steele Rudd” never stopped writing until his death in 1935, but made little money in his later years. A grateful nation endowed him with a “literary pension” to the tune of twenty-five shillings per week, for which he was apparently grateful.

Arthur published many other books and stories over his lifetime, including his ill-fated magazine, and but nothing ever approached the freshness and honesty of his first two works, On our Selection, and Our new Selection. They are true classics, and an insight into how life was, “back then.”

Written and Researched by Greg Barron.
Click here to view the sources for this story.

You can get this beautiful new edition including On our Selection and Our new Selection by Steele Rudd here:


Where the Dead Men Lie

Where the Dead Men Lie

Barcroft Boake
Barcroft Boake in 1892. State Library of Victoria

There have always been two schools of thought on the Australian bush: epitomised in the romantic writings of Banjo Patterson, and the harder, more brutal outback of Henry Lawson.

The poet who presented the bush in the harshest light of all was stockman and poet Barcroft Boake. That doesn’t, of course, mean that he loved it any less. Born in Balmain, in 1866, Barcroft was the son of a very early professional photographer. Having lost three of his siblings in their infancy, he was prone to bouts of melancholy, even as a child, but he loved sport and outdoor activities. He dreamed of living and working in the outback.

At the age of seventeen Barcroft applied for training as a surveyor. He spent years in the back blocks of New South Wales, connecting with the Western landscape. Before long he had quit the Survey Department and was off droving in Queensland. At the same time he devoured the poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and developed the urge to express the tough love he felt for the bush. He started writing, and by 1890 his poems were appearing regularly in the Bulletin magazine.

His career as a poet was short-lived. When he was just twenty-four years of age he was called back to Sydney where his family was facing bankruptcy. Barcroft helped with what he could, but fruitlessly searched for work, battling depression and anxiety. His body was found under a tree on the shores of Sydney Harbour in May 1892, hanging from his own stockwhip.


Where the Dead Men Lie
By Barcroft Boake

Out on the wastes of the Never Never -
That's where the dead men lie!
There where the heat-waves dance forever -
That's where the dead men lie!
That's where the Earth's loved sons are keeping
Endless tryst: not the west wind sweeping
Feverish pinions can wake their sleeping -
Out where the dead men lie!

Where brown Summer and Death have mated -
That's where the dead men lie!
Loving with fiery lust unsated -
That's where the dead men lie!
Out where the grinning skulls bleach whitely
Under the saltbush sparkling brightly;
Out where the wild dogs chorus nightly -
That's where the dead men lie!

Deep in the yellow, flowing river -
That's where the dead men lie!
Under the banks where the shadows quiver -
That's where the dead men he!
Where the platypus twists and doubles,
Leaving a train of tiny bubbles.
Rid at last of their earthly troubles -
That's where the dead men lie!

East and backward pale faces turning -
That's how the dead men lie!
Gaunt arms stretched with a voiceless yearning -
That's how the dead men lie!
Oft in the fragrant hush of nooning
Hearing again their mother's crooning,
Wrapt for aye in a dreamful swooning -
That's how the dead men lie!

Only the hand of Night can free them -
That's when the dead men fly!
Only the frightened cattle see them -
See the dead men go by!
Cloven hoofs beating out one measure,
Bidding the stockmen know no leisure -
That's when the dead men take their pleasure!
That's when the dead men fly!

Ask, too, the never-sleeping drover:
He sees the dead pass by;
Hearing them call to their friends - the plover,
Hearing the dead men cry;
Seeing their faces stealing, stealing,
Hearing their laughter, pealing, pealing,
Watching their grey forms wheeling, wheeling
Round where the cattle lie!

Strangled by thirst and fierce privation -
That's how the dead men die!
Out on Moneygrub's farthest station -
That's how the dead men die!
Hard-faced greybeards, youngsters callow;
Some mounds cared for, some left fallow;
Some deep down, yet others shallow.
Some having but the sky.

Moneygrub, as he sips his claret,
Looks with complacent eye
Down at his watch-chain, eighteen carat -
There, in his club, hard by:
Recks not that every link is stamped with
Names of the men whose limbs are cramped with
Too long lying in grave-mould, cramped with
Death where the dead men lie.


RIP Barcroft Boake


Edward Dickens

Edward Dickens

Ed Dickens

Not many people know that the youngest son of one of the great English novelists, Charles Dickens, lies at rest in the cemetery of an Australian outback town.

Edward Dickens was encouraged by his father to migrate to Australia, where he took to farm and station life as if he was born to it. He became manager of Momba Station near Wilcannia and married a local girl. In and out of financial trouble for much of his life, he had an interest in several “runs”, and became an alderman on the Bourke Shire Council, a booming region in the day.

Stints as a land and rabbit inspector led to a long period of ill-health and unemployment. He died in Moree in 1902, aged just fifty. His gravestone still stands in the cemetery there.

Written and researched by Greg Barron




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