Reprint: "Rolf Boldrewood" in New Zealand: An Interview

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Says the Christchurch Press: -- Mr. T. A. Browne, to give "Rolf Boldrewood" his proper title, occupied for a number of years various positions in the civil service of' New South Wales. He recently retired, and is now engaged in the pleasant occupation of "seeing New Zealand." While in Christchurch he was the guest of Mr. Justice Denniston, and a member of our staff had an interview with the notable author.


Mr. Browne said that he became a squatter away back in the fifties, but relinquished this pursuit after the severe droughts of 1866 and '68, which caused him heavy losses. In April, 1871, he was appointed police magistrate and goldfields commissioner at Gulgong, near Mudgee (N.S.W.), and during his first five years in that position the diggers of Gulgong turned out 16 tons of gold from the great alluvial field, and he had to settle all the disputes arising out of the winning of that quantity of the precious metal. He held the appointment for ten years, and then had charge of Dubbo, a circuit town of New South Wales, and in the centre of a large agricultural and pastoral district. There were some goldfields near and around Dubbo, and the Tomingley gold field arose while he was there. Though it was not a large field there were several very rich claims, and it was a curious coincidence that he made the acquaintance again on the Manapouri between Sydney and Auckland lately of a Mr. Sullivan, whom he met in 1882 as a miner on that field, who had made his fortune, sold out his shares, and was off to America and Ireland to see his friends. After serving at Dubbo for three years Mr. Browne was appointed to Armidale, New England, New South Wales. He was there not quite a year when he went to Albury as chairman of the Albury Crown Land Board, which office he retained for two and a half years. He was shortly afterwards appointed police magistrate and goldfields warden at Albury, where he remained until June, 1895, when he retired from the civil service of New South Wales, and went to reside in Melbourne.


In answer to a question as to the time when he began his literary work, Mr. Browne said that it was in 1866 when he was by himself on his station on the Murrumbidgee, and was laid up for some time in consequence of a kick he had received from a horse. He sent his first contribution to the Cornhill Magazine. It was entitled "A Kangaroo Drive," and was published in that magazine. A short time afterwards another tale was published called "Shearing in the Riverina." When he accepted the appointment of police magistrate he commenced to write tales descriptive of the various phases of Australian country life for the Australian weekly papers. His first tales were published in the Town and Country Journal and the Australasian. "Robbery Under Arms" was written at Dubbo. It was published in the Sydney Mail in 1881, and attracted a good deal of attention. So much interest, indeed, was taken in it that the proprietors subsequently republished it in the Echo, and it was considered, said Mr. Browne with pardonable pride, a good and true picture of certain phases of Australian life, such as could only have been written by an author who had lived all his life in the country. The story was published in book form by Macmillan and Co., who have altogether issued ten books from Mr. Browne's pen, all of which have met with marked success. Only one story was completed before its publication was commenced. He generally sent along weekly chapters, which he wrote leisurely, either while travelling or when at home, in the evenings or before breakfast.


Touching upon some of the phases of Australian life, depicted so graphically in the books referred to, Mr. Browne remarked that bushranging was very much a thing of the past in Australia. The larger areas of pastoral territory were now fenced with wire, and rendered it difficult for people to cross the country. The police organisation of New South Wales and Victoria was very complete, and there was thus a smaller chance of criminals escaping or carrying on their business as portrayed in "Robbery Under Arms." Besides, the police were largely recruited from natives of the colony, who were more efficient in the way of riding and tracking than the Australian police of British birth; in fact, they were quite as good riders and trackers as the outlaws themselves. "Rolf Boldrewood" considered that the New South Wales police were the most efficient body of men of their kind in the world. They were under an admirable system of supervision.


Mr. Browne had next a few words to say concerning Australian literature and art, the present state of which he thought was very promising. New writers had sprung up of considerable merit, and they now had A. B. Paterson, who had written ballads of a high order of excellence. No doubt Henry Lawson's ballads deserved praise, though they appeared to be too much on the sundowners' side, and he was too fond of attributing the men's woes to the attitude of the wicked squatter. Mr. Browne, however, thought that "The Man from Snowy River," &c., were quite the best since the time of Gordon, and in some respects were nearer to Australian color than Gordon's works. In art they had Frank Mahony, who illustrated Australian tales and poems as none but a born Australian could do. He was very happy in his subjects, and in figures and animals his work was quite artistic. There were several literary aspirants, both male and female, of considerable excellence, who showed signs of becoming successful, and altogether Australian art and literature appeared to have a bright future before them.


Our visitor observed that he had visited the South Island of New Zealand some years ago, and from what he had seen upon this present visit his impressions were extremely favorable in every way. He considered the colony, in the matter of climate, soil for pastoral and agricultural purposes, superior to a very large portion of either Victoria or New South Wales. It was far better watered, and there was a better average rainfall, and it would sustain a larger population on a smaller area. He had, he said, just come from Akaroa, which was a most lovely spot, and he bad not seen finer pasture in all his life. He was quite surprised at the growth of the cocksfoot. He regarded this old French settlement as a most suitable place for people of means who wished to lead a quiet life, for they would have the advantages of beautiful scenery and a fine soil. In concluding the interview Mr. Browne remarked that he anticipated publishing several more books on Australian and colonial subjects, and it was very probable that he would write something about New Zealand.

Published in The Inquirer and Commercial News, 5 June 1896

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

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