Bernard Cronin, president of the Society of Australian Authors, is one of those stalwart "professional" writers whose books command a world sale; but unlike some of the other Australian authors of this class, he has not gone abroad to live and work in exile, away from the source of his inspiration.
He accepts the challenge which the Australian bush offers to writers of major fiction.
"The writer in the Old Country," he has stated, "finds his scenery, as it were, ready made for him. In this country it is definitely not to be found upon the surface of things. One has to dig deeply to become aware of the very great natural beauties of the Australian landscape. Real treasure is mostly of the buried variety. To my mind there is more character in an old Aussie gum tree than in any other tree I ever heard of. Incidentally, I should say that that much abused genius, D. H. Lawrence, came closer to an understanding of the spirit of the Australian landscape than any other writer, local, or imported, has yet done. He is the first scribe definitely to sight the real genii of the bush."
We may take this to mean that Bernard Cronin is intrigued by Australia as a literary theme, but he does not "sentimentalise" his subject.
"Our trouble is that we lack real breeding, and crudeness is a poor scaffold for the Arts. Further, the indifference of our rulers to the absolute need to develop a national soul has not made matters any better. Hansard will never make this country aware of the sublimities of human destiny. We need to see Australia from her own standpoint, and with her own individuality. The Arts are our only hope of salvation."
By this last phrase our fierce realist is revealed as an idealist, after all. The title of his new book, "The Sow's Ear," which will be published this year in Australia, shows that the author is concerned with making something fine from our "crude" material. The story is set in the Tasmanian timber country, in the days before the war. It is a ruthless exposure of the tragic life of young girls enslaved by the system of marrying without love, at the command of domineering parents. The heroine longs for something better, but must accept her fate. In her passionate desire to escape from the bondage of the bush, she works to win for her two little daughters the chance in life which was so bitterly denied to herself.
Bernard Cronin's novels all have this "fierce'" quality. He has aimed at exposing what he considers to be wrong, stupid or uneconomic. In this sense he is the strongest of the Australian writers who wish to make us aware of our short comings, so that we may eliminate them, and become a truly civilised nation.
He is fully equipped for the literary task which he has set himself. He came to Australia forty years ago, at the age of six years, in charge of the captain of the old Orient steamer Austral. On the way out he nearly killed an able seaman, who was painting the ship's side, holding to the deck with one hand. Young Cronin jumped with both feet on the sailor's hand, "just to see what would happen." The sailor let go, but was providentially rescued.
Perhaps it was this impish spirit of curiosity that eventually led Cronin to become a writer, and to jump, figuratively, upon the fingers of his Australian readers. "I am not really pugnacious," he says, "but I resent with violence anything that strikes me as being cheap." He tells us that he began to write as soon as he learned that a pencil may be sharpened by biting it.
He decided to become a farmer, and entered the Dookie Agricultural College. In 1901 he was dux of the college and gold medallist. He then had jackeroo experience on Kewita Station, South Gippsland, and Ulupna Station, in the north-east of Victoria, before taking up cattle farming on the north-west coast of Tasmania, where he remained for ten years. His experience there has provided him with material for nearly a dozen novels and serials, and innumerable short stories.
He has published the following novels: "The Coastlanders," 1918; "Timber Wolves," 1920; "Bluff Stakes," 1922; "Salvage," 1923; "Red Dawson," 1927; "White Gold," 1927; "The Treasure of the Tropics," 1928; "Dragonfly," 1928; "Toad," 1929; "Bracken," 1931; and, in conjunction with Arthur Russell, "Bushranging Silhouettes," 1932. Six of these novels have been issued by London publishers in cheap editions -- a sure proof of their popularity.
Now living in Melbourne, Bernard Cro nin has revealed the humanitarian impulse which lies below his "fierceness" by his work for the Derelict Society, which he founded in conjunction with Gertrude Hart. He is also the founder of the Society of Australian Authors, and has shown a very great zeal in striving to remove the handicaps under which our writers have to work. "There is much to discourage the Australian writer," he says. "Nevertheless, he holds steadily to his job. He hopes that the pioneering work which he is doing will prove an invaluable foundation for the generation of writers to come. Give him the support of his own Government and public, and he will win to wider distinction inside a decade. But he'll win through, anyway."
When Australian authors have finally won recognition from their own people, the name of Bernard Cronin will stand high in the roll of honour of those who have fought for this objective.
First published in The West Australian, 15 April 1933
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
Note: interesting last paragraph. I'd tend to say that Bernard Cronin has been largely foregotten.