Good Reading : September 2004
writer’s house 18 goodreading knockabout noises, scratchy celluloid, awful Australian voices, bow legs, beards and clod-hoppers. Conventionally, when I was 10 or 12 years old, I suppose I knew what I didn’t like, even if I didn’t know much about it.Today, though, to square the ledger, I am fascinated whenever a Dad and Dave film clip turns up in a TV documentary, now that I’m aware of the heroic struggles Ken Hall and other Australian filmmakers endured to raise local projects amid the onslaught of American movies. But the unfor- tunate issue is that not only have those films and the radio serial always dissuaded me, and I suspect many others of my vintage, from wanting to read On Our Selection, they have almost com- pletely obscured the original literature. For years, the name Steele Rudd meant nothing to me except that he was apparently the author of a type of obscure 19th century bush farce, maybe in the mould of a poor man’s Henry Lawson. Recently, though, while researching some Australian news stories from a century ago, 1903–1904, I came across the startling bio- graphical detail that, in late 1903, the second volume of Selection stories, entitled Our New Selection, was published by the Bulletin on the same day their author, Arthur Hoey Davis, was sacked from his clerical job in the Queensland public service, a victim of State government cost-cutting! More extraordinarily (I discovered later), instead of looking for another billet befitting his qualifications, Davis, aching to be a freelance writer and a Bulletin bohemian after the success of On Our Selection, immediately forged ahead with a reckless plan of editing and publishing a new journal, which began life only a few weeks later, called Steele Rudd’s Magazine – to the horror of his wife, who some years later was committed to an insane asylum for the rest of her life. Well, I had to find out more! Lawson’s drunkenness is the archetypal stuff of literary and artistic legend, and a sad tale, but here was something else! I visited the local library. So far as I’m now aware there are only two published books on the life, career and death of Rudd/Davis, both of which prompted me to take a look at the Selection stories. First, I’ve found that it has been somewhat difficult to disen - tangle Arthur Davis from his alter ego Steele Rudd, and one, the other, or both of them from the content of the Selection books, the film spin-offs and that radio serial. Apparently it was also diffi- cult for those meeting Steele Rudd for the first time in the early 1900s, expecting a cheery, blustering bushman but being con- fronted instead with a quiet, youngish, dignified and well-dressed fellow called Arthur Davis! For ‘Steele Rudd’ is not only the named author of On Our Selection, but the first-person narrator, supposedly a younger son of Dad and Mother (never Mum) and brother of Dave Rudd and various other siblings, recalling in autobiographical form the Dave, drawn by Norman Lindsay for the 1903 edi- tion of On Our Selection. Reprinted with permission ofH,C&AGlad. Mother as drawn by Norman Lindsay for the 1903 edition of On Our Selection. Reprinted with permission of H,C&AGlad.