When Thomas Davis, a blacksmith from Abernant in South Wales took up his selection at Emu Creek in Queensland, after serving 5 years in the penal colony for petty theft, he had no way of knowing his experiences were to become part of Australian literature.
Arthur Hoey Davis aka Steele Rudd. Photo Annie May Moore, State Library of Victoria.
It was his fifth son, eighth child out of thirteen who would make this happen. Arthur Hoey Davis was born 14 November, 1868 at Drayton, near Toowoomba in Queensland. He was educated at Emu Creek local school where his family took up their selection of land.
After leaving school at 12, Arthur took up many odd jobs on a station and at 15 years old became a junior stock rider in the Darling Downs. At 18 he was appointed a junior clerk in the office of the curator of intestate estates in Brisbane.
By 1889 he had taken up rowing as a hobby and started up a column on this topic for a weekly newspaper. He wrote under the pseudonym of Steele Rudder. Steele came from the surname of English essayist Richard Steele and Rudder, as he wanted a piece of a boat in his name. As his writing career developed the name was shortened to Steele Rudd.
By the end of 1895, Davis had been working on a piece he called Starting The Selection. He sent it to The Bulletin and it was published in December that year. This would become the first chapter of On Our Selection when it was published in 1899. The editor of The Bulletin, JF Archibald encouraged him to continue the stories. Over the next four years 20,000 copies would be printed.
Davis continued to write and by 1903 Our New Selection had been written and it was at this time he was forced out of public service under Sir Arthur Morgan's Special Retrenchment Act. Davis had been working all this time in the sheriff's office, even giving the signal at the hanging of Patrick Kenniff in 1902, leaving him nervous and irritable for months after the event. He wrote about it in his story The Miserable Clerk in 1927.
In 1904 Davis published Rudd's Magazine, a monthly publication which was in circulation for four years. He continued publishing and wrote two books The Romance of Runnibede in 1927 and Green Grey Homestead in 1934. He never made a huge amount from his writings and struggled to make a living.
By the end of his life, Davis wrote twenty-four books and six plays and saw three silent and four sound-film adaptations of his work. His reputation for short stories on country life was established. His characters became Australian icons through his 1920 movie On Our Selection and the 1932-52 radio series Dad and Dave.
It is worth noting that Davis did not like how his family were made out to sound like comic yokels and distanced himself from the radio program. He respected the pioneering Australian woman and didn't like the use of 'Mum' when referring to Mrs Rudd. "It is 'Mother', 'Mother', 'Mother!', he would shout, flushed in the face.
Davis bought a farm near the town of Nobby in Queensland, where a replica shingle hut stands today. There is a statue of Steele Rudd at the Speakers' Corner in King George Square in Brisbane. A residential college named after Steele Rudd is at the University of Southern Queensland as well. There are copper statues of Dad, Dave, Mum and Mabel at Gundagai.
Final resting place for Arthur Hoey Davis aka Steele Rudd at Toowong Cemetery. Courtesy Findagrave
Davis was married twice and survived by three sons and a daughter from the first marriage after he died on 11 October, 1935. He is buried in Toowong Cemetery.
'Steele Rudd', Wikipedia, accessed online 7th June, 2021, Steele Rudd - Wikipedia
Van Ikin, 'Davis, Arthur Hoey (1868–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-arthur-hoey-5911/text10067, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 10 June 2021.
FitzHenry, W E (1954). Foreword to Steele Rudd: On Our Selection and Our New Selection. Angus and Robertson, Page xviii