Thursday, 20 November 2014


“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

I am re-reading a novel that I first read when I was in High School and had pushed out of my mind until last week when I picked it up after rummaging around my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It is “The Sundowners” by Australian author, Jon Cleary. It has given me immense pleasure and I have appreciated much more than on first reading.

Jon StephenCleary was born in 1917 in Sydney, New South Wales, into a working class family as the eldest of seven children. He joined the army in 1940 and served in the Middle East and New Guinea where he started writing seriously publishing several short stories and a radio play, “Safe Horizons” which won awards. He worked as a journalist in London (1948-49) and in New York from (1949 to 1951). His most famous novel, “The Sundowners”, was published in 1951, and sold more than three million copies.

The book was based on stories Cleary had been told by his father, who ran away to Queensland when he was a teenager. Additional research was provided by C.E.W. Bean's “On the Wool Track”. Cleary wrote the novel in long-hand during the evenings after work while he was living in New York working as a journalist, with the manuscript typed out by his wife Joy. The novel was a large success, eventually selling over three million copies, and was well reviewed overseas. It was his second book to be published in the USA.

The story is set in the 1920s, and tells of a drover, Paddy Carmody. He travels from job to job in a horse-drawn wagon with his wife, Ida, and son, Sean. Paddy refuses to settle down and does not want to give up drifting in the Australian bush, which creates conflicts with his wife. In 1960 Fred Zinnemann directed a first-ratefilm based on the book, staring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. It was shot on location by Jack Hildyard.

Jon Cleary’s last novel was “Four-Cornered Circle” (2007). He won numerous awards and some of his other works have been made into TV series or films. During his lifetime, Cleary was one of the most popular Australian authors of all time. According to Murray Waldren, “his own assessment was that he lacked a poetic eye but had an eye for colour and composition and was strong on narrative and dialogue. And he took pride in the research underpinning his works”. Cleary died on 19 July 2010, aged 92.

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