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Ingamells, Reginald Charles (Rex) (1913–1955)

by John Dally

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

Reginald Charles Ingamells (1913-1955), by Hammer and Co.

Reginald Charles Ingamells (1913-1955), by Hammer and Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6795

Reginald Charles (Rex) Ingamells (1913-1955), poet and editor, was born on 19 January 1913 at Orroroo, South Australia, eldest of four children of native-born parents Eric Marfleet Ingamells, Methodist minister, and his wife Mabel Gwendolen, née Fraser. Due to his father's postings, 'Rex' was educated at schools in country towns, among them Meadows, Burra and Port Lincoln. He then studied at Prince Alfred College (1927-30), Adelaide, and at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1934). His M.A. thesis was rejected on the grounds that his topic, 'Australian History as a background to Australian Literature', had not been approved. Rather short and slimly built, with fairish hair and a small, military-style moustache, he was friendly and persuasive in manner, but could become intense and dogged in literary argument. On 9 July 1938 at the Methodist Church, Port Broughton, he married Eileen Eva Spensley.

While unsuccessfully applying for a number of academic positions, in 1936-39 Ingamells worked as a public examinations coach, a temporary teacher at Adelaide Technical High School and a part-time lecturer with the Workers' Educational Association; he also taught at Prince Alfred College (1939-42) and Unley High School (1943-45). In 1945 he moved to Melbourne to take a job with George Jaboor, a publishers' representative. Next year he was employed as a commercial traveller with Georgian House Pty Ltd. By 1955 he was working for Longmans, Green & Co. and about to join United Service Publicity Pty Ltd.

Ingamells had written two volumes of verse, Gumtops (Adelaide, 1935) and Forgotten People (Adelaide, 1936), before he postulated his 'Jindyworobak' point of view. He claimed to be influenced by L. F. Giblin, T. G. H. Strehlow, James Devaney, and finally by P. R. Stephensen whose The Foundations of Culture in Australia (Sydney, 1936) gave him a historical view of the impact of 'overseas' influences on Australian culture. With Ian Tilbrook, Ingamells published Conditional Culture (Adelaide, 1938) as a manifesto. The word Jindyworobak—which they took to be an Aboriginal term meaning 'to annex' or 'to join'—was proposed as a symbol 'to free Australian art' from 'alien influences' and 'bring it into proper contact with its material'. Their pamphlet advocated a 'clear recognition of environmental values', a 'fundamental break . . . with the spirit of English culture', and the use of 'only such imagery as is truly Australian', and claimed that 'our writers and painters must become hard-working students of Aboriginal culture'.

This pamphlet, with Ingamells' Sun-freedom and the first Jindyworobak Anthology, both of which were published in Adelaide in 1938, occasioned substantial debate. The South Australian poet Flexmore Hudson was an early supporter, but drifted away when Ingamells' editorial rigidity (particularly of the anthology) became evident. Ingamells conceded that some people 'will say that . . . I am determined to reject poetically better non-Australian verse in favour of mediocre Australian'. Another Adelaide poet Ian Mudie drifted closer. Like Mudie, Ingamells joined Stephensen's Australia-First Movement (founded 1941), whose political aims were to some extent complementary to the literary ambitions of the Jindyworobaks. Ingamells' politics found expression in his next book, At a Boundary (co-authored with his brother John, Adelaide, 1941), and particularly in one of the poems therein, 'The Gangrened People'.

In 1941-42 critics derided Ingamells and the 'Jindys' partly for their political ideology and largely for the pedestrian 'Australian' and 'Aboriginal' verse that the movement was producing. A. D. Hope called the Jindyworobaks the 'Boy Scout School of Poetry'. From this point, the effect of Ingamells and his followers declined and their role in initiating an important discussion tended to be forgotten, despite the fact that the anthology appeared annually until 1953 and Ingamells continued to write prolifically. His verse saga, The Great South Land (Melbourne, 1951), a history of Australia from primordial times, which he unwisely advertised as being as long as Paradise Lost, won the Grace Leven prize and the Australian Literature Society's gold medal for 1951.

Ingamells died in a motorcar accident on 30 December 1955 near Dimboola, Victoria, and was buried in Payneham cemetery, Adelaide. His wife and three sons survived him. As a lyrical poet, he had a modest talent. As a pamphleteer, although he overstated his case, his arguments on the appropriate language and subject matter for Australian poets deserved attention and got it, as did his views on Aboriginal culture. As an editor and publisher, through his Jindyworobak movement, he was responsible for at least forty-four volumes of poetry and literary comment (apart from periodicals) between 1938 and 1953. His output was achieved through considerable personal and financial sacrifice. Ingamells' self-portrait is held by his son Graeme at Birregurra, Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Elliott, The Jindyworobaks (Brisb, 1979)
  • H. McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass (Syd, 1979)
  • C. Munro, Wild Man of Letters (Melb, 1984)
  • Southerly, 2, no 3, 1941
  • ABC Weekly, 26 May 1956
  • Herald (Melbourne), 31 Dec 1955
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Jan 1956
  • J. Dally, The Jindyworobak Movement 1935-45 (Ph.D. thesis, Flinders University, 1979)
  • Ingamells papers (State Library of South Australia and State Library of Victoria and Flinders University, Adelaide)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Dally, 'Ingamells, Reginald Charles (Rex) (1913–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ingamells-reginald-charles-rex-10588/text18809, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 October 2014.

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

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