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Hooton, Henry Arthur (Harry) (1908–1961)

by Sasha Soldatow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Harry Hooton, c.1955

Harry Hooton, c.1955

photograph privately sourced

Henry Arthur Hooton (1908-1961), poet and philosopher, was born on 9 October 1908 at Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, son of Levi Hooton, railway shunter, and his wife Margaret, née Lester Glaister. Sent to a socialist Sunday School, Harry also attended (1922-23) Christ's College, Finchley. He was brought to Australia by the Dreadnought Trust and reached Sydney in the Demosthenes on 28 October 1924 with fifty-nine other boys.

Harry left the Government Agricultural Training Farm, Scheyville, in June 1925 at the age of 17 to carry his swag, 'or rather my port', around Queensland and northern New South Wales. Convicted of unarmed robbery, he spent about eighteen months in Maitland gaol. He eventually settled at Newcastle where, on 3 November 1936 at St John's Anglican Church, he married a clerk Thora Zilma Isabel Hatch who bore him twins. They moved house frequently and were later to separate. Hooton started his serious writing, but finding and keeping work were recurring problems. He took relief work and labouring jobs, sold photographs door-to-door, and wrote of one factory in which he was employed, 'The Egg Board broke my heart'.

Initially a Trotskyist, Hooton participated in the unemployed people's strike at Newcastle in 1939. As a provocative commentator on local and international affairs, he voiced his anarchist opinions in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate. Consequently, he was one of thousands of suspects who were kept under surveillance and was raided by the security police in 1940.

These Poets, Hooton's first book of poetry, was published in 1941. It was widely praised by reviewers, among them P. R. Stephensen in the Publicist. Hooton loved correspondence. His earliest extant letters date from 1936 and were written to Marie Pitt, but his correspondents included Ian Mudie, Rex Ingamells, Max Harris, Oliver Somerville, Harold Stewart, Ted Turner, Clem Christesen and Miles Franklin. The English writer John Hargraves described Hooton's letters as 'crammed tight with single-spaced margin-crowded eye-swivelling sight-blinding a-to-z key bashing'.

Moving to Sydney in 1943, Hooton accepted a position with Brian Penton on the Daily Telegraph. He walked out during the journalists' strike of October 1944 and never returned, taking odd jobs and mainly surviving through the generosity of friends. Things You See When You Haven't Got a Gun was published in 1943, but his philosophical writings were ridiculed by local critics. Meanwhile, he produced what he hoped would be a far-sighted, alternative literary magazine. The first issue was roneoed, called simply No.1 (1943), and contained poems by A. D. Hope and Garry Lyle. A year later NUMBER TWO appeared and in 1948 Number Three. In 1950 and 1951 Hooton worked on three issues of MS.

Never a modernist in the accepted sense, he attacked James Joyce most vehemently. After conflicting with Professor John Anderson, Hooton wrote: 'If someone outside university has an original idea, he's a crank; if someone inside a university has an original idea, it'll be a miracle'. He was influenced by Oscar Wilde's essay, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and produced a four-page pamphlet, Anarcho-Technocracy (c.1951).

In 1952 Hooton met Margaret Elliott (later Fink) with whom he lived for seven years at Potts Point. They held regular Sunday soirées. Hooton loved fierce discussion, though often in a humorous and gentle way. There, and in many Sydney coffee shops, he continued to talk, write poetry and work on his unpublished philosophical treatise, 'Militant Materialism'. He contacted like-minded people in Japan, India, South Africa, England, France, New Zealand and the United States of America to aid the creation of what Hooton would call the best magazine in the world—21st Century, The Magazine of a Creative Civilization, which appeared in 1955 and 1957. He had another book published in San Francisco, Power Over Things (1955).

Moving to Melbourne in 1960, Hooton sorted mail at the General Post Office. Diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer, he was brought back to Sydney by his friends in time to see proof copies of his last book, It is Great to be Alive (1961). On his deathbed, he made eleven half-hour tape-recordings. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 27 June 1961 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Soldatow, Harry Hooton (Syd, 1990)
  • Quadrant, Mar 1993
  • National Times, 24 Aug-1 Sept 1979
  • Dreadnought Trust, minute books, and registers of boys and ships (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Hooton papers (State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia and Meanjin Archives, University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sasha Soldatow, 'Hooton, Henry Arthur (Harry) (1908–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hooton-henry-arthur-harry-10539/text18713, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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