Ion Idriess

 
 

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"The church has never come out this way before... if you combed the country for two hundred miles around you would not muster up a congregation." "We do not expect them to come... Our work is to go to them. Here I am."
- John Flynn, quoted by Ion Idriess, in Flynn of the Inland

Ion Llewellyn Idriess, better known as Jack "in the bush," was an Australian author. His writing drew on his own experiences as a prospector, bushman and soldier. He travelled extensively around Australia, including the Torres Strait Islands, and fought in World War I.

Ion Idriess

Idriess was born at Waverley, NSW, in 1889. He authored more than 50 books over 43 years from 1927 to 1969 - an average of one book every 10 months. These could be loosely described as "Australiana", but that one word can cover a multitude of topics. He wrote books of travel, recollection, biography, history, anthropology and futurology. None of these were fiction, but all were written in a narrative, "story" style. Many of the historical works interwove documented and oral history with cultural research and imagination. He also wrote political pamphlets and text books for miners and soldiers. His life has been documented in Ion Idriess, by Beverley Eley (ETT Imprint, Sydney, Australia, 1995). He was awarded an OBE in 1968 for his services to publishing.

Idriess wrote his last book at the age of 79. Challenge of the North is an amazing collection of ideas for developing the north of Australia - a tour around the coast north above the Tropic of Capricorn. In the poignant Foreword to this book, Jack passes on the baton - To the Younger Generation of Australians:

This may be my last book (though I'll keep going while I have a kick left in me) and I have written it above all for the younger generation of Australians ... there are unlimited possibilities and untold rewards and satisfactions for those who devote their brains and skills to Australia's development.

Our young people must become continent-minded fast; for there is plenty of high adventure awaiting them - adventure as fascinating as that being found by the wonder men who set the astronauts on voyages of discovery into space. For we are opening up the Last Continent and our vision shows breathless possibilities...

The next hundred years beckon with wonders to be discovered ... You, the younger generation, and your sons and your daughters, must adventure into new fields ... Good health and questing minds to you.

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Questions?

If you wish to contact me, I will try to answer your questions. However, here are some answers that may help:

Where can I buy Idriess books? All Idriess titles from 1931 were published by the publisher Angus and Robertson (split off from the bookseller of the same name in 1977, and merged into HarperCollins in 1989). Many are re-issued from time to time, so you can buy new copies - try any good bookshop, online or on the street. All good second-hand bookshops in Australia should have a separate Idriess section. (If you are in Victoria, I highly recommend the Lake Daylesford Book Barn.) I have found many of his books by shopping through abebooks.com. For the rarer titles, Burnet's Books of Uralla, NSW came to the rescue a few years ago, with excellent facsimile reprints of the hard-to-find titles under the Idriess Enterprises banner. This includes the Australian Guerilla series, Cyaniding for Gold and the original Madman's Island. Control of Idriess reprints has now reverted to the family.

What is my Idriess book worth? The more popular titles were reprinted many times. Fair to good hardback copies can be worth around $A20 - $A30 or more. First editions can be worth double that. Idriess was also a prolific autographer, so it is not hard to find signed copies. They will be worth more than unsigned, but the price shouldn't double. Here's a scan of a typical signature, thanks to Graeme McDonald:

"Good luck to you, Ion Idriess"

Some of the rarer titles (as above) can go for hundreds of dollars. There were also some issues that came out in series. Values for a full set are hard to estimate - see The National Edition for some examples. A good way to get an idea of worth is to check for your title at abebooks.com. Sort the catalogue by price, and see what condition the books are in.

Is my Idriess book a first edition? If your copy merely gives a publishing date with no further details, then I am afraid that it is not necessarily a first edition. Many of Angus & Robertson's Idriess editions only quoted the printing date for the edition, without any reference to previous printings. Some titles were printed many, many times. See the bibliography section below for links to all the original publishing dates. Even if you have a signed copy, it is not necessarily a first edition.

What pen-names did Idriess use? John Connell asked in Jul 2005 whether "Ion Idriess" was a pen-name. As above, this was actually his birth name. You can read more of his family background in Beverley Eley's book. He used the name of "Jack" when he was travelling to save the trouble of explaining the spelling of "Ion", but he always wrote his books as Ion Idriess. His early articles for The Bulletin were written under the pen-name of "Gouger" - this was when he was opal-mining. He apparently also wrote as "Up North" and "Emucrest".

Where were his books published other than in Australia? Idriess's work was obviously most popular in Australia, which in his earlier days was an oddity in itself. Most Australians then still saw themselves as a British people, and to write about Australia at all was viewed as "quaint". Eley notes in her timeline that Lasseter's Last Ride was published in England in 1936, and a Swedish translation of Men of the Jungle was presented to Prince Wilhelm in 1939. In her book, she notes that by 1935 Lasseter's Last Ride was published in Swedish, Dutch and French. I have heard of a German copy of Gold Dust and Ashes, and a French copy of Men of the Jungle. There were likely many Idriess titles published in other countries, and translated into a number of languages, but there doesn't seem to be any readily-available detailed information on this topic.

Where is Ion Idriess buried? Tania Wallace asked me this one in May 2003. Eley does not seem to mention it at all. Idriess died at the Mona Vale nursing home in Sydney on 6 June 1979, at the age of 90. Tanya reported back around the end of 2003 - Ion Idriess was cremated at North Sydney Crematorium. There is a tree there dedicated to him - tree 1169, R L Wall.

Where can I find out more about Idriess? Read more on this page, and see the bibliography notes below. There are a few other Web sites of interest. John Tipper and Barbara Cooper at "Collecting Books and Magazines" have some good general info on their Idriess page, and have been very helpful in providing some graphics from their site. Rob Coutts has now set up a very detailed site, with lots of extra information. The Wikipedia page is also worth a look - although quite a lot of it has been drawn from this site!

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Bibliography

There are 41 "story" titles - including one substantially re-written - two pamphlets, and two collections. There are also four text books for miners and prospectors, and six in the Australian Guerilla series for soldiers. This gives the total of 55 titles listed here. Most were printed over a large number of editions.

The bibliography here is over three pages. The first two are all the "regular" titles. This list of titles accords with the order published on the fly-leaf of every Idriess book. The third page lists the pamphlets, collections and texts. The mining and prospecting texts were always separately listed; the others did not appear on the fly-leaf lists. Go to them here:

  • Part 1: Books from 1927 to 1945 (20 titles)
  • Part 2: Books from 1946 to 1969 (21 titles)
  • Part 3: All the rest (14 titles)

In addition to the titles counted above, there was a re-issue of 12 titles as The National Edition set in 1941. Thanks to a question from Wayne Gierke, I have now looked into this set, and added it to the bibliography here.

This should be a complete list of all Idriess titles. The title by-lines are also included. A brief description is included for most, and pictures of the covers where available. Contact me if you would like to add comments or a review to any title.

The order and publishing dates used here agree with that given by Beverley Eley in the Idriess "time-line" included in Ion Idriess's Greatest Stories, the 1986 two-volume set of six of Idriess's most popular titles. It is assumed that Eley's information is based on the publishing records.

 
 

Updated: 11 Feb 2013

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