Steele Rudd 1868-1935

Steele Rudd

Steele Rudd

One of 13 children, Arthur Hoey Davis was a blacksmith’s son, born at Drayton, near Toowoomba, Queensland, on 14 November 1868.

In 1895 The Bulletin published his ‘Starting the Selection’, a short story in which Rudd introduces the characters in his legendary family, and sets the pattern for further adventures.


On his selection

‘Steele Rudd was not at all the large, exuberant humorist I expected,’ recalled Australian author Vance Palmer. ‘He was a modest, quiet-spoken fellow, with a way of fixing his brown reflective eyes on you as if what you were saying was quite new to him and very important. He was a little sardonic about the role of the funny man that had been forced on him. He hadn’t intended his Dad to be regarded as a comic figure in the beginning; he had merely set out to describe the experiences of a typical cockie family from the point of view of one of them. And he meant to rub it in to townspeople how hard life on the land was. “I don’t think comedy’s my line,” he said. “If I let myself go I’d be gloomier than Lawson at his worst.”’

Dad and Dave first faced the footlights on 4 May 1912, when the play On Our Selection premiered at the Palace Theatre in Sydney. How they got there and how they have stayed in our collective consciousness is a story of triumph and tragedy – triumph for Bert Bailey, who played the ubiquitous Dad on stage and screen and had written the play in collaboration with Edmund Duggan, and tragedy for Arthur Hoey Davis, the Queensland writer who had created the Rudd family and their legendary ‘selection’.

One of 13 children, Arthur Hoey Davis was a blacksmith’s son, born at Drayton, near Toowoomba, Queensland, on 14 November 1868. He grew up on his family’s selection at Emu Creek, left the local school before he was 12, and took odd jobs as a station hand and stockrider. At 18 he got a clerical job in Brisbane. There his interest in rowing led to a literary sideline: he contributed a column of rowing news to a Brisbane weekly paper. This necessitated a pseudonym. He chose ‘Steele’ as a tribute to the English essayist Sir Richard Steele, and ‘Rudd’ – as in ‘rudder’ – for its connection with boating.

In 1895 The Bulletin published his ‘Starting the Selection’, a short story in which Rudd introduces the characters in his legendary family, and sets the pattern for further adventures. In 1899 this and 25 later stories were published in book form as On Our Selection. By 1903 it had sold 20,000 copies. The follow-up, Our New Selection, was similarly successful. Retrenched from his job, Rudd determined to make a living as a writer, and he established the monthly Steele Rudd’s Magazine. He was also aware of his stories’ stage potential: in 1904 he started work on a dramatic version that he called In Australia. Alfred Dampier’s announced production of it never materialised.

Media Gallery

Photograph courtesy National Library of Australia an3084993-v

Biographical references

Richard Fotheringham: In Search of Steele Rudd, University of Queensland Press, 1995
Richard Fotheringham: ‘Steele Rudd’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995