Ion L Idriess (aka Jack) was born at Waverley, Sydney on 20th Sep 1889 and died 6 June 1979 at Mona Vale, Sydney. He was one of Australia's most prolific and collectible authors. This guide offers some information about his life, reasons for his popularity and a bibliography of his major published books with a short synopsis of each title.
Who was Idriess and what did he write about?
Idriess led a life most could only dream about. The quintessential Australian, he inspired many and was instrumental in popularising Australian writing before it was considered viable. Even today his book on gold prospecting is sought after for its invaluable information. Reference to his Guerilla Series is made on US military sites. Idriess led an amazing life probably due to his passionate, enquiring nature and disarming ingenuity. He survived typhoid, mined for gold and opals, was one of the legendary 'blooded' ANZAC's having fought and been seriously injured at Gallipoli, was marooned on a deserted island with a mate that went mad and tried to kill him, trained with Snowy Baker, a 1908 Olympic Games silver medallist for boxing, after being told he would never walk again without crutches and went on to fight in a boxing exhibition at Grafton, wrote text books for the Australian Army in WW II, travelled extensively throughout Cape York Peninsula often with Aboriginals beginning his life-long interest in their customs, and then on to the cattle stations of the Guld of Carpentaria, hunted crocodiles, knew poverty, broke in horses, chronicled the rites and history of some indigenous races, saving their culture from anonymity, just to name a few of his experiences. Jack was awarded an OBE for his services to publishing and died a few months short of his 90th birthday.
Why Do People Buy His Books?
Because he is immensely readable! Actually his first published book in 1927 was a failure (possibly because he followed his publishers advice and embellished the truth with a fictional romantic twist rather than what really happened). The book ended up remaindered with rows and rows of 'Madman's Island' for sale sixpence a copy at Anthony Hordens. It was later published as a factual book in 1938. With his second book 'Prospecting for Gold' he rapidly gained popularity. Because his stories transcend time, record history in a romantic, journalistic style, typify the old-fashioned Australian spirit and are the product of a noble and authentic soul (very human with many failings nonetheless) he will always be popular and his books can only increase in value with time.
What are Idriess Books Worth?
First editions in dust jackets always attract higher prices. Signed editions are good however Idriess signed many of his books and it doesn't always mean it is a first edition. Angus & Robertson published his books from 1931 with many being reprinted, some in the same year as the first edition. Prices fluctuate but scarcer editions are always highly bid upon. Search now for Idriess Books
Bibliography of Major Books
1927 - Madman's Island Howick Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef Parkland and the island that Idriess was stranded on with a mate who tried to kill him. The book was rewritten and published as a factual account in 1938.
1931 - Prospecting for Gold A fossicker's guide and the 'bible of gold prospectors'. In the grip of the Depression Jack penned a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald which appeared on 31st January 1930 proposing a Gold Search Association. He claimed over 235 people responded to him and this convinced the publishers to give him the go-ahead to write the book Published in February 1931 it sold 2000 copies within the first 10 minutes.
1931 - Lasseter's Last Ride Lasseter's diary was purchased by Angus & Robertson for Jack and he also had access to many official records and correspondence and interviewed those who had been on the expedition. He didn't appear to doubt the claims that the gold reef existed though many did.
1932 - Flynn of the Inland Released in March, the month the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened, this outsold all his other works. The story of the first man to inaugurate an aerial medical service for a civilian population.
1932 - The Desert Column Possibly Jack's greatest work but not his best-selling, from the diary of his war service with the Australian Light Horse Brigade.
1932 - Men of the Jungle Released in September, by December 6,000 copies had sold. A story of Jack's own experiences with his mates tin-mining and prospecting in the Australian north. Three years in the lives of the author and two companions with incidents from pioneer life, odd bits of bush lore, nature studies, side lights on Aboriginal life and the search for gold.
1933 - Drums of Mer First of Jack's books on the Torres Straight Islanders. This book was regarded by the Murray Islanders as the bible of Mer. The secret sites and rituals he details would otherwise have been lost forever. Idriess was ordered by his publishers to remove any mention of 'flying men with supernatural powers' from the book, something he regretted for the rest of his life as these beliefs were an integral part of Murray Islanders culture.
1933 - Gold Dust and Ashes The story of the opening up of the New Guinea goldfields.
1934 - The Yellow Joss Idriess' collection of short stories which include adventures of bushmen and natives of Cape York Peninsula, The Coral Sea and The Great Barrier Reef. The Yellow Joss became the first collection of short stories to sell consistently for many years in Australia.
1935 - Man Tracks Mounted police book and the tracking skills of indigenous Australians.
1936 - The Cattle King A biography of the life of Sir Sydney Kidman who started out with five shillings and eventually controlled over 100 cattle stations covering an area greater than that of Victoria and Tasmania combined.
1937 - Over the Range Sunshine and Shadows in the Kimberleys Concerns indigenous Australian outlaws. The Kimberley patrol is one of the wildest areas left in the nation, that north of the King Leopold Range.
1938 - How Must Australia Fight Also published as 'Must Australia Fight'.
1939 - Forty Fathoms Deep About the pearl diving community in Broome, one of Jack's favourite places. He planned a sequel to this book however it was never published.
1939 - Cyaniding for Gold Specialist book on gold prospecting techniques. RARE
1940 - Lightning Ridge The pioneering days of Lightning Ridge, based on Jack's experiences.
1940 - Headhunters of the Coral Sea A story of shipwrecked children taken in by headhunters believing them to be the spirits of deceased ancestors.
1940 - The Great Trek The story of 6 whites, 4 aboriginals, 42 horses and a mob of cattle who set out on an expedition from Rockhampton to reach Somerset at the top of Cape Peninsula. Ten months later, after travelling 1800 miles, the last half over appalling unexplored country, the men minus the stock and equipment reached Somerset in rather poor condition.
1941 - Fortunes in Minerals Including Uranium. Includes simple tests and how to make them.
1941 - Nemarluk: King of the Wilds Written after Jack heard of Nemarluk's death in Fanny Bay Gaol, Nemarluk was one of the most feared and respected Aboriginal 'renegades' of the north who vowed to rid Australia of whites and yellows. Jack knew Nemarluk and had his respect.
1942 - The Guerrilla Series: Series of 6 written for the Australian Army during WWII
Shoot to Kill - Practical details on accurate shooting. RARE
Sniping - Tactics for concealment and stalking, how to identify an enemies position by drawing fire
Guerrilla Tactics - Making bombs, booby traps and mines
Trapping the Jap - Aimed at the expected Japanese military invasion of Australia
Lurking Death - True stories of snipers in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine.
Scouting - One of the best field guides on combat scouting
1943 - The Great Boomerang Always filled with patriotism and hope for Australia this book looks at schemes for developing the Australian outback.
1944 - The Silent Service Action stories of the ANZAC Navy. Written with T.M. Jones.
1945 - Horrie the Wog Dog Some editions were titled 'Dog of the Desert' . The story of a mascot of the Australian forces during the desert war. In the end after such faithful service the dog was put down due to strict quarantine laws.
1946 - In Crocodile Land Story of Idriess' own travels accross Queensland and the Northern Territory, fishing, hunting and trading.
1947 - Isles of Despair An historical account of the shipwrecked English woman Barbara Thomson who spent 5 years living as the wife of a Prince of Wales Island chief.
1948 - Stone of Destiny Diamond mining and exploration later edition titled 'The Diamond - Stone of Destiny'. Jack stated of over 40 books he's written this one proved to be the "headache" due to difficulty in obtaining authentic material for his research.
1949 - One Wet Season The story of how the tiny port of Derby is converged upon by station men, cattlemen, dingo shooters, "poddy-dodgers", oil seekers and more to spin yarns and tell stories during the three month wet season.
1950 - The Wild White Man of Badu Amazing story of a convict who escaped from Norfolk Island after a desperate voyage where he killed and ate his companions. He went on to become a chief of Badu, creating a small empire over which he ruled ruthlessly.
1951 - Across the Nullarbor Jack drove across the Nullarbor, this is his story.
1952 - Outlaws of the Leopolds The Story of Sandamara, or Pigeon as the white man called him. An outlaw who planned and attempted to carry out a scheme to drive the white people from his country, and for a time had a sporting chance of succeeding. As a black tracker he was induced to join the outlaws he was sent to find. Thrilling running fights in narrow gorges and twisting caves in which he evaded his pursuers, until at last tracked down by the trail of his own blood and cornered, he fired his last shot ...
1953 - The Red Chief One of the few books written at the time from a sympathetic perspective when few white writers had the experience or understanding to tackle stories about Aborigines. This is a fast-moving story about heroism and also an important document recording the social and ethical relationships between black and white Australians.
1954 - The Nor'Westers In this book Jack takes the liberty of writing whatever comes into his head. He says, "I have been moved by the mirrored beauty of a lonely Cape York Peninsula river and the sighing breath in some far-away Kimberley gorge. I have written of animals and birds, reptiles and fish that once tickled memory as they crossed my rambling path. I've enjoyed writing this book."
1955 - The Vanished People Idriess, the anthropologist, fearing the end was inevitable for indigenous Australians he sought to chronicle their customs and beliefs before time ran out.
1956 - The Silver City The Broken Hill story where Jack tells of his early life and the only place he ever spoke harshly of. The place where he lost his mother and a town he never returned to for many years.
1957 - Coral Sea Calling A 19th century historical adventure of the beautiful and treacherous Coral Sea and the search for pearls and beche-de-mer.
1958 - Back O' Cairns Gold prospecting in the far north.
1959 - The Tin Scratchers Northern Queensland tin miners.
1960 - The Wild North Jack's second book of short stories in which appears "The Blood Hole", one of his best short essays inspired by the meatworks a mile out of Wyndham. The blood trickled from the meatworks and left 'brickish red scum' floating on the surface.
1961 - Tracks of Destiny Northern Australia. The infamous Aboriginal massacre at Mistake Creek is given detailed account in this book.
1962 - My Mate Dick Prospecting for gold in Cape York Peninsula before WW I. Meeting with native warriors and colourful characters such as Crusoe Butcher who, dressed in goatskins, brewed his own potent grog from over-ripe bananas, lizards gall bladders and sulphur.
1963 - Our Living Stone Age A personal account of North Australian Aboriginal life from birth to marriage.
1964 - Our Stone Age Mystery The sequel to Our Living Stone Age and deals with life from marriage to death and beyond.
1968 - Challenge of the North This was Jack's last book and fittingly he explores unusual ideas for Australia's survival, He always believed in Australia, its benefits and potential. He wrote "This may be my last book 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".