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Casey, Gavin Stodart (1907–1964)

by Anthony Ferguson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Gavin Stodart Casey (1907-1964), by Norman Aisbett, c1960

Gavin Stodart Casey (1907-1964), by Norman Aisbett, c1960

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2288423 [detail]

Gavin Stodart Casey (1907-1964), author and journalist, was born on 10 April 1907 at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, second son of Frederick Arthur Casey, a native-born surveyor, and his wife Jean Stodart, née Allan, from Scotland. Gavin admired and was influenced by his father and by Frederick's mates, and was to describe them as 'strong, vigorous, hot-tempered, easy-laughing men'. Both his parents died before he was l7. Following a 'pretty sketchy State school and School of Mines education', he began a cadetship with the Kalgoorlie Electric Light Station, but left to work in Perth as a motorcycle salesman. In 1931 the Depression forced him back to Kalgoorlie where he took jobs as a surface-labourer and underground electrician at the mines, raced motorcycles and became a representative for the Perth Mirror. On 8 February 1933 he married Dorothy Wulff at the Anglican Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Kalgoorlie. Poverty plagued them, long after their return to Perth next year.

With aspirations to be a writer, by 1936 Casey was publishing short stories in the Australian Journal and the Bulletin. In 1938 he was foundation secretary (president l941-42) of the West Australian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. His collections of short stories, It's Harder for Girls (Sydney, 1942), which won the S. H. Prior memorial prize in 1942, and Birds of a Feather (Perth, 1943), established his reputation. Realistic in their treatment of place and incident, his stories showed—beneath the jollity and assurance of his characters—inner tensions, loneliness, unfulfilled hopes, and the lack of communication between men and women.

Unpretentious and self-mocking, 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, with green eyes, an olive complexion, black hair and a moustache, in January 1941 Casey was employed as a reporter and feature writer by the Daily News. Having enlisted in the Militia in 1930, he was mobilized in February 1942 and posted to the Army Education Service in October. He was discharged in January 1943 to become a publicity censor and deputy-director of information in Western Australia. In February 1944 he joined the Commonwealth Department of Information, Canberra, as a journalist and served as a war correspondent in the South-West Pacific Area. From 1945 he headed the New York and then the London branch of the Australian News and Information Bureau; he returned to Canberra in 1947 as the bureau's chief publicity officer, a post which he held until 1950.

During his time in New York, Casey's unsteady marriage began to founder. Dorothy found it impossible to endure her husband's increasing alcoholism and they were divorced in 1947. She later wrote respectfully, but honestly, about their relationship in Casey's Wife (Perth, 1982). At the registrar's office, Canberra, on 31 December 1948 Gavin married his American secretary Jessie Lorraine, née Ladd, late Craigie (d.1964), a divorcee. He had already published a novel, Downhill is Easier (Sydney, 1945), depicting the fatal ease of a gradual slide into crime, and a novella, The Wits Are Out (Sydney, l947), a light-hearted, albeit critical, account of a suburban 'keg party'.

From 1950 Casey worked as a freelance journalist in Canberra and Sydney, and published City of Men (London, 1950), a saga set on the goldfields. Back in Perth in 1956, he was employed by the Daily News as its book-review editor. He wrote further novels: Snowball (Sydney, 1958) examined the interaction between Aborigines and Whites in a country town, Amid the Plenty (Sydney, l962) traced a family's struggle against adversity, and The Man whose Name was Mud (Melbourne, 1963) developed his study of character. With Ted Mayman, he produced a history of Kalgoorlie, The Mile That Midas Touched (Adelaide, 1964).

Although critics have observed that Casey's novels did not live up to the promise of his short stories, they have drawn comparisons between his earlier work and that of Henry Lawson's. Beneath 'the easy yarning style and gently melancholy tone, [there is] a consistent emphasis on hardship that is tempered, for the male at least, by the conviviality of mates'. In their perceptiveness and in their execution, both authors rank among the finest exponents of the genre.

Lovable, gregarious and popular, Casey found 'the commonplace interesting and touching'. In debt, he died of tuberculous pulmonary fibrosis on 25 June 1964 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, Perth, and was cremated with Anglican rites. The son of his first marriage, and two sons of his second, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Graham, Perth and the South-West (Perth, 1962)
  • B. Bennett (ed), The Literature of Western Australia (Perth, 1979)
  • University of Western Australia, Critic, 10 July 1964
  • Overland, no 30, Sept 1964
  • Meanjin Quarterly, 23, no 4, Dec 1964
  • Realist (Sydney), 16, 1964
  • Australian Quarterly, 38, no 3, 1966
  • Artlook, no 11, 1976
  • Australian Literary Studies, 9, no 2, Oct 1979
  • Weekend News, 27 June 1964
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 1 Oct 1976
  • manuscripts of Casey's unpublished works (National Library of Australia)
  • S. Murray-Smith papers, box 113 (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Anthony Ferguson, 'Casey, Gavin Stodart (1907–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/casey-gavin-stodart-9705/text17133, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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