Reprint: Australian Authors V: Aidan de Brune

(Related in an interview.)

Fifty-four years is a long way to look back upon, to a little village some few miles outside Montreal where, I am informed, I was born. I have little knowledge of the event, and but little more of the long trek to Zululand, where my father escorted his family when I reached the age of four years. More distinctly, I remember my Zulu playfellows, and the long, long trek to Cape Town, where I was sent to school, at the age of nine.

A family council, when I reached my fourteenth birthday, decided that I would be an ornament to the priesthood, and I departed for London, en route for Maynooth. At that time England, and the United States of America, were awakening to the new jouralism, under the respective guidances of Harmsworth and Hearst. I was attracted, and a great longing to tread the inky way possessed me. In consequence, I stayed in London, completing a sketchy education at night schools, and haunting the newspaper offices of the city by day. To my gratification -- and the surprise of many of the major journalists of that period -- I found within a few months that I could earn bread at it, with, an occasional flavouring of cheese and jam.

Short story writing had long attracted me -- my first fiction story had appeared in a Cape Town newspaper before I reached eleven. In London I found corners in magazines and journals open to my efforts, and this editorial encouragement had disastrous effects on my future; I determined to be an author. I started a magnum opus and -- to buy paper and ink -- cultivated sensational love-story writing in periodicals of the Family Herald Supplement type.

On the outbreak of the Boer War I found I had sufficient money in the bank to pay my fare home -- to South Africa. A fight has always attracted me, and amid the wide-spread battleground of South Africa I found adventure sufficient for an ordinary lifetime. I returned to London with a 100,000 words novel on the war, but publishers are always unkind, ever those of the present century.

My arrival in London was only the jumping-off place. The United States of America was an alluring vision on the horizon -- and I strode for the foot of the rainbow. I landed in New York with exactly nineteen shillings and three-pence in my pocket; a great belief in my own powers; and a store of imagination that won me past the very lax immigration laws of that period.

Followed a period of wandering up and down a country then in the making, and almost as big as Australia. I worked at anything that came to hand, and when work failed to materialise, I was the perfect hobo. Even to-day I remember what particularly hard boot-leather was provided for the train-guards.

And all this time I was writing stories and articles -- and all the time editors and publishers were filling the U.S. mails with my returns. By the time I had reached twenty-five I claimed to have the largest and most varied collection of 'The Editor regrets . ..." in the known world.

Still, I would write. Chance gave me the opportunity to practice journalism, and for a time I walked the streets of big cities, a full-blown reporter. Again the wide spaces called -- I think it was a minor revolution in Panama. Anyway, I went south, to see Spanish America. Some hundreds of days of wild adventures -- the night spent in scribbling; and I awoke to the fact that some thousands of dollars had accumulated in New York to my credit.

I was a capitalist!  Naturally, my first thought was to see the world -- up to then I had only partially surveyed Canada, South Africa, England and the United States. The Orient called, but I had no intention of wasting money on fares. In Frisco a friendly master-mariner offered to ship me before the mast of a befouled, much-wandered cargo boat -- and I jumped his offer before he had time to get sober. Then I learned something of the Pacific, as a sailing-pond, and a good deal of the many and varied nationalities it contains. While at Singapore I said good-bye to the vessel, but forgot to take farewell of the captain. He didn't trouble to find me -- I suppose because I had forgotten to collect wages owing me.

Deciding to explore China, by good luck I came into the graces of a high official of the Empire. With him I visited large tracts of that country then unknown to white men. Back to the United States, my head filled with facts and fictions, determined to settle down and become a respectable member of society.

By the time I reached New York again I had less than a dollar in my pocket. Two days spent in examining and approv- ing the alterations made in the city during my absence, and I bethought myself of the treasury -- and the hotel bill that was steadily mounting. Full of thought, I wandered down to the doors of a well-known publishing house -- and hesitated. What had I for sale?  It took more than two hours, pacing the block, to frame a satisfactory plot for a serial. Then I chose an editor -- and bearded him in his lair. How I put it over, I don't know; but I do know that I came out of that building with a commission to write a fiction serial then only existing in my mind -- and what was more to the point, with half-payment for the story in my pocket. That story was written in thirteen days -- I'm always fond of 'unlucky thirteen' -- and I was up 250 dollars. Then and there, on a busy side walk, during the busiest hour of the day, I elected myself a serial writer for the great United States of America -- and up to a certain point I made good on my self election.

Through all the earlier days of my life I had been fascinated by crooks -- although at that time I was not using them as material for stories. Opportunity offering, I obtained a place on a newspaper, developing a flair for crime investigation (of the newspaper kind). Now followed some years of peace, my days being devoted to journalism and my nights to fiction writing. Just about the time my banker recognised my entry to his establishment with a welcoming smile, I broke down in health.

Eighteen months of neurasthenia -- more than half that time helpless on a bed. American doctors sent me to England. There the fraternity declared me a hopeless case. Perhaps to get me off their hands with the least trouble, they decided that my only hope was a voyage to Australia. Hospital attendants carried me on board ship, but at Port Said I walked ashore to see the sights. By the time I reached Fremantle, I had decided there was still room in this world for me. I looked at the western capital, and decided that the country was good; also that doctors were bad guessers.

The wander lust urged again, and for quite a time I travelled most of the southern parts of the continent. Then came the war, and I joined in the Great Adventure.  Again back to Australia, with an earnest desire to see those parts of it I had previously missed. At that time certain gentlemen were forming the Sydney 'Daily Mail.' One day I wandered into Mr. Gay's offices, and announced that I proposed to walk around Australia, and would he pay for articles on the trip? Mr. Gay was blunt. First he told me exactly how many kinds of fool I was to think of such a trip; then came to an agreement with business-like promptitude. Within a few hours I had gathered together what I thought necessary for an 11,000 miles trip, and had left Sydney. Two and a half years later I came to Sydney again, having in the mean time visited nearly every port on the extensive coastliue. More to the point, I had proved possible a trip quite a number of Sydney wise-heads had declared to be sheer suicide.

First published in The West Australian, 29 April 1933

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 5, 2010 8:25 AM.

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