Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Shaw, Charles Herbert (1900–1955)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Charles Herbert Shaw (1900-1955), journalist and author, was born on 10 August 1900 in South Melbourne, third child of Frederick Francis Shaw, a Tasmanian-born horse-trainer, and his wife Mary, née Murphy (d.1915), who came from South Australia. From about 1904 the family eked out a precarious living on a small wheat-farm near Beulah in the Mallee district. When they moved to St Arnaud, Charlie briefly attended the high school, but after his father died in 1914 he had to fend for himself. He struggled to make a living by 'driving horse lorries, pruning, ploughing, harvesting, clearing and fencing, dairying . . . and lumping goods in a railway yard'. During the Depression he humped his swag for more than 2000 miles (3219 km) around south-eastern Australia. Wherever he got the chance, he played Australian Rules football.

While working on a sheep station in New South Wales, Shaw helped to found an Australian Rules team at Forbes in 1931. One of its members, the co-proprietor of the Forbes Advocate, encouraged him to write, then gave him a job. On 18 January 1932 at the Presbyterian Church, Auburn, Sydney, Shaw married Phoebe Matilda ('Maxie') McLachlan, a schoolteacher. Back at Forbes, he gained experience in most kinds of newspaper work, and sent stories to Smith's Weekly and the Bulletin. In 1936 he bought a Singer Bantam motorcar.

Shaw moved to Sydney in 1939 to work on the Farmer and Settler, but soon joined the staff of the Bulletin. As its rural editor, he wrote on various subjects under different pen-names—on wheat as 'Ben Cubbin', on cattle as 'Cowpuncher' and on motorcars as 'B.S.' (after his own vehicle). He also wrote sketches and verse based on his outback experiences. During World War II he published two collections of short stories, Outback Occupations (1943)—illustrated by Ted Scorfield—and A Sheaf of Shorts (1944), a volume of verse, The Warrumbungle Mare (1943), a detective story, Who Could Hate Purcey? (1944), and two adventure stories for his sons, The Green Token (1943) and The Treasure of the Hills (1944).

The Bulletin staff had low rates of pay, but less pressure of work than those in daily journalism. After publishers rejected several of his manuscripts, Shaw decided that the outback was 'too parochial to hold much interest for people outside Australia'. His next book, Heaven Knows, Mister Allison (London, 1952), was a novel about an American marine and a nun, stranded on a Pacific island during World War II, who formed an improbable alliance against the Japanese. It became an international best seller and he reportedly sold the film rights to Eastern Film Enterprises Inc. for $US25,000. Meanwhile, as 'Bant Singer', he published an action-packed detective story, typed for him by Nancy Keesing: You're Wrong, Delaney (London, 1953) was set in an Australian country town and centred on Dennis Delaney, Shaw's strong-arm investigator, 'a two-fisted, fast-living Australian'. Written in 'terse, laconic prose', the book was an immediate success and his publisher, Collins, hailed him as a successor to the late Peter Cheyney. It was followed by Don't Slip, Delaney and Have Patience, Delaney! (both published in London in 1954).

An unobtrusive, 'studious-looking, gentle little man', with 'greying hair and spectacles', Shaw liked to bet, to go fishing occasionally and to play golf. He was a committee-member of Eastlake Golf Club. All he wanted from his royalties was 'to buy his own home', and 'perhaps a new car' to replace the Singer. The pace proved too great. He died of cerebral haemorrhage on 1 August 1955 in Sydney Hospital and was cremated. His wife and their two sons survived him. One more 'whodunit' appeared posthumously, Your Move, Delaney (London, 1956). Heaven Knows, Mr Allison was released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in 1957, starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Keesing, Riding the Elephant (Syd, 1988)
  • People (Sydney), 25 Aug 1954, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 27 Sept, 31 Oct 1953, 8 Jan, 2 Aug 1955, 21, 22 July 1957.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Shaw, Charles Herbert (1900–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shaw-charles-herbert-11665/text20841, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Singer, Bant
  • Mat's Mate
  • Timer
  • Cubbin, Ben
  • Cowpuncher
  • B.S.
Birth

10 August 1900
South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

1 August 1955
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Occupation