Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Schlunke, Eric Otto (1906–1960)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Eric Otto Schlunke (1906-1960), farmer and author, was born on 5 May 1906 at Duck Creek (Trungley Hall), a German community near Temora, New South Wales, fourth child of Albert Hermann Schlunke (d.1927), farmer, and his wife Hilda Amelia, née Stockman, both South Australian born and of German descent. Eric was educated at the local Lutheran school and (in 1922-23) at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, Summer Hill, Sydney. He then joined his father and brothers on Hope Vale, a 2300-acre (931 ha) wheat and sheep property at Reefton.

The 1920s were boom years, but Eric and his brother Herbert had a hard struggle during the Depression. Eric began to write humorous stories for the Bulletin. He was so excited by his first cheque in 1933 that he crashed the car on the way home from town. More stories followed, first for the Bulletin and later Meanjin, and from 1944 he was regularly represented in the anthologies Coast to Coast. At the Lutheran Trinity Church, Albury, on 15 April 1939 he had married Olga Ottilie Huf with the forms of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

All this time Schlunke (pronounced 'Slunky') was a hard-working and enterprising farmer. Carrying out extensive pasture improvement and soil conservation at Hope Vale, he pioneered the use of contour ploughing (with a chisel plough), flumes (grassed waterways) and holding dams—to maximize rainfall effectiveness and check erosion. He wrote about his work and spoke on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's radio series the 'Land and its People'.

Schlunke's life, like his range as a writer, was virtually confined to the wheat and sheep country of the Riverina, its towns and its people. He described the taciturn farmers and farm labourers (especially those of the sober-minded German community), the pastors, schoolteachers, bank managers, stock-and-station agents and the womenfolk with a gentle, dry and mildly satirical humour. A number of his stories were about Italian prisoners of war who worked as farm hands during World War II. He published two collections of stories, The Man in the Silo (Sydney, 1955) and The Village Hampden (Sydney, 1958). Some of his stories were translated and published in Germany, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

Schlunke also wrote five novels, though none appeared in book form. Two of them, 'Rosenthal' and 'Foray on Freeling', were serialized in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1939, and 'Feather Your Nest' in the Bulletin in 1954. His best work, 'Rosenthal', told the story of three generations of German-Australian farmers: Adolph Weismann who established Rosenthal, his son Karl, and grandson Otto (Schlunke himself) on whom the story centred. An impressive chronicle of the effects of fundamental Lutheranism on its adherents, and a compelling study of a rural childhood, it 'glows', according to one critic, 'as does all Schlunke's writing, with affection for the landscape and the rural life'. As a regional writer, Schlunke has been favourably compared with F. D. Davison and Peter Cowan. Schlunke's unpublished diaries are very georgic; they provide a valuable record of his literary progress and of the practicalities of farming in mid-twentieth century New South Wales.

Recognition largely eluded Schlunke during his lifetime. The tyranny of the farmer's routine meant that he rarely left Hope Vale. Ill health dogged him for much of his life, and he suffered from depression. On 18 November 1960 he shot himself in the head at his Reefton property while 'his mind was unbalanced'. He was buried with Anglican rites in Temora cemetery. His wife (who contributed poems to the Bulletin), and their daughter and two sons survived him. A selection from Schlunke's first two collections, with seven additional tales, was published posthumously as Stories of the Riverina (Sydney, 1965).

Select Bibliography

  • C. Semmler, For the Uncanny Man (Melb, 1963)
  • J. B. Koch, The German Pioneers in the Temora District, 1880-1914 (Temora, 1968)
  • Meanjin Quarterly, Dec 1961, p 407
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr, 16 Aug 1939, 29 Mar 1958, 19 Mar 1966
  • Bulletin, 15 Aug 1951, 8 Dec 1954, 10 Aug 1956, 11 Jan 1961
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 15 May 1955
  • Temora Independent, 18 Jan 1971
  • Australian, 2-3 Apr 1988
  • Schlunke papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Schlunke, Eric Otto (1906–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/schlunke-eric-otto-11628/text20769, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014