Barwon Booksellers - Secondhand and Collectibles


  • Ion Idriess – Archetypal Australian Adventurer

    6 October 2017 - Benita Bunting

    Ion Idriess’ special skills included nomadic living, surviving typhoid and almost malaria, fighting at Gallipoli, boxing, crocodile hunting, shearing, breaking horses and longevity –he lived to be almost 90. His work experience involved gold and opal mining, being marooned on a desert island with a madman, working cattle stations in the Gulf of Carpentaria, deep sea diving and writing an average of one book every ten months over a forty year period. That’s well over fifty titles!

    Idriess epitomized the true-blue Aussie adventurer, at home only when roaming his antipodean wild west. His books described the same kind of romantic adventures previously imagined by British armchair travelers equipped with an encyclopedia and have made their own contribution to the pantheon of Australian archetypes. Evoking an Australia that no longer exists, Idriess made efforts to record our vanishing indigenous culture and to share his wide and varied travels through peripheral Australia.

    Ion Llewellyn Idriess was born in 1889, in Waverly NSW, and made his writing debut in 1910 by submitting articles to the Bulletin under the pseudonym “Gouger”. After some opal and tin mining he enlisted in the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment and served at Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine before coming home on crutches in 1918. To regain fitness he spent a year training in stuntman Snowy Baker’s gym and then continued a colourful career lending his hand to everything from wharf worker to lighthouse attendant.

    In 1925 he met George Robertson, from Angus and Robertson who became responsible for the publication of Idriess’ entire body of work. Initially established as a secondhand bookshop by David Angus, at 110 ½ Market Street in Sydney, the company now bares little resemblance to what it once did.

    Through much of his experience Idriess kept diaries and it was from these that his various books were contrived. His first novel Madman’s Island was a failure, perhaps because of a romantic subplot recommended by George Robertson. It was remaindered in large quantities, only to be edited and re-issued as non-fiction eleven years later. He wrote little fiction, but most events in his books were embellished to become the popularist fireside stories that would bring him and his subjects fame. Some of these include Sydney Kidman, Rev. John Flynn and Henry Lasseter –whose diary Angus and Robertson purchased for Idriess to work from. Of particular interest to many, however, are his books describing gold mining and prospecting in Australia and his books inspired by the Australian Armed Forces called the Guerilla Series. These are considered the Holy Grail for Idriess Collectors.

    Before he died in 1979 Idriess was awarded an OBE for a lifetime of writing about the country and the people he loved. He immortalized his version of Australia and held strong opinions about its development as he expressed in his last book, Challenge of the North, which begins by addressing “the younger generation of Australians”. Like Frank Clune, he contributed to the development of our publishing history by making Australian stories by Australian authors popular and there are still plenty who are very passionate about his work assuring their steady increase in value. In fact, Idriess meets all the criteria to make him a very collectible author. There are plenty of easy to find titles to get you started and then many harder ones fun to pursue. Of course we are always on the lookout for Idriess treasures and often have some instore.