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Sorenson, Edward Sylvester (Ed) (1869–1939)

by Peter Kirkpatrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Edward Sylvester Sorenson (1869-1939), by May Moore, 1927

Edward Sylvester Sorenson (1869-1939), by May Moore, 1927

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3085142

Edward Sylvester (Ed) Sorenson (1869-1939), writer, was born on 24 September 1869 at Dyraaba, New South Wales, third of eight children of Jacob Sorenson, a Norwegian labourer and miner, and his native-born wife Mary Ann, née Keleher. His early life was an education in itself: from the age of 9 he intermittently attended Casino South (Greenridge) Public School while working at anything from stock-riding, bullock-driving and droving to farming, fencing, dairying and gardening. At 14 he was apprenticed to a carpenter at Casino for two years; at 20 he was a pioneer selector at Myrtle Creek.

He then carried a swag throughout Queensland; he prospected for gold and worked on sheep-stations in north-western New South Wales where he added shearing, woolclassing, engine driving and book-keeping to his skills. By 1900 Sorenson was a teetotalling publican at Tibooburra and secretary of the local jockey club; next year he travelled throughout South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Deciding to make writing his profession, he settled in Sydney where he studied at a commercial college as an evening student. On 31 December 1910 he married a widow Alice Newlyn, née Gibbs, at the Congregational Church, Waterloo.

From 1885, as a lonely young farmer, he had contributed to the Bulletin, Lone Hand, Sydney Morning Herald and Catholic Press; he was encouraged by J. F. Archibald. Sorenson's Life in the Australian Backblocks (London, 1911) is a classic account of bush life by a man with first-hand knowledge. In his fiction he remained firmly in the nationalist tradition, although his early novel, The Squatter's Ward (London, 1908), displays incongruous Gothic elements. His collections, Quinton's Rouseabout and Other Stories (Melbourne, 1908), Chips and Splinters (1919) and Murty Brown (1925), suggest that his talents were more successfully employed in shorter, notably humorous forms. He also wrote accomplished and witty verse.

Expert descriptions of wildlife are a feature of Sorenson's work. His somewhat anthropomorphized sketches of the lives of native animals, first collected in Friends and Foes in the Australian Bush (London, 1914), distinguish him among his contemporaries. He was a member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union and the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales.

A member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Sorenson was both a popular and prolific writer. He led a quiet literary life and was no Bohemian. Norman Lindsay once ungenerously remarked that Sorenson resembled 'a native bear', an image used by David Low in a caricature. Photographs reveal the gentle, amiable personality behind Sorenson's writing, and something of his Scandinavian inheritance; he had a full moustache, a strong nose and a glint of humour in his eyes.

In the 1930s Sorenson experienced poor health and was granted a Commonwealth Literary Fund pension of £1 a week from 1 December 1934. Survived by a son and daughter, he died of coronary disease at his Marrickville home on 19 December 1939 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • The Bulletin Story Book, A. G. Stephens ed (Syd, 1901)
  • D. Low, Caricatures by Low (Syd, 1915)
  • N. Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin (Syd, 1965)
  • Catholic Press, 29 Dec 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Dec 1939
  • Commonwealth Literary Fund, Minutes of Meetings, 1920-1939, CRS A 3753, 72/2760, part 2 (National Archives of Australia)
  • A. G. Stephens papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Peter Kirkpatrick, 'Sorenson, Edward Sylvester (Ed) (1869–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sorenson-edward-sylvester-ed-8584/text14987, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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