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Vickers, Frederick Bert (1903–1985)

by Trisha Kotai-Ewers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Frederick Bert Vickers (1903–1985), author, was born on 25 March 1903 at Rood End, Oldbury, Worcestershire, England, elder son of Thomas Vickers, engine-fitter, and his wife Elizabeth Alice Amelia, née Jukes. Aged 12, Bert left Rood End Council School to work as an apprentice fitter and turner. Unable to find employment after the factory closed, he took an assisted passage to Western Australia, landing in Fremantle in February 1925. Sent first to a farm at Calingiri, he later travelled north, working on stations as a rouseabout and shearer. In 1938 he gained a woolclassing diploma. By then he was a poultry farmer at Bayswater. On 9 February 1938 at St Albans Church of England, Highgate Hill, Perth, he married a 44-year-old widow, Louie Rachael Moyle, née Horner (d.1967), also a poultry farmer.

On 20 August 1940 Vickers enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, joining the 1st Railway Construction Company, which was sent to the Middle East the following month. He served there until July 1942, when his company returned to Western Australia. Transferred to engineering workshops, in June 1943 he was promoted to sergeant. While convalescing in hospital after a serious accident in which he fractured his right leg, he enrolled in an army education course in freelance journalism, run by Alan Marshall, who encouraged him to write short stories and a novel. His first short story, published in the Western Mail in 1944, was followed by several others. Discharged from the army in August 1946, he returned to poultry farming.

Vickers wrote articles, short stories, plays and novels, and gave talks on radio, drawing extensively on his own life experiences. In 1946 his first novel manuscript, ‘Stained Pieces’, was one of thirteen commended works in the Sydney Morning Herald’s first novel competition; rejected by publishers and rewritten many times, it was eventually published by the Australasian Book Society as The Mirage (1955). It explored the problems of Aborigines in North-West Australia and was translated into several European languages. He had brought his parents to live in Australia and his next manuscript novel, ‘The Stuff of Dreams’, based on the family’s life as migrants, shared third prize in the 1948 Sydney Morning Herald novel competition. It was published as First Place to the Stranger (1956).

Although never a member of a political party, Vickers was ‘a political person’, becoming chairman of the Australian Peace Council (WA) division in the 1950s. A member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Vickers was president (1953-55, 1965-66) of the WA section and was made an honorary life member in 1971. He was an associate of Katharine Susannah Prichard and experienced the vilification of writers and artists during the Cold War. His novel, Though Poppies Grow (1958), was a protest against this climate of suspicion. Nevertheless, he was awarded a one-year Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship in 1960.

In No Man is Himself (1970) Vickers returned to the theme of outcast Aborigines. He and Alan Marshall toured Western Australia in the early 1970s, lecturing for the CLF. His last novels, Without Map or Compass (1974), which shared the 1975 National Book Council Award, and A Stranger No Longer (1977), drew on his life in England and Australia. In addition to his writing, he painted, played the violin and enjoyed acting and attending concerts. He was tall and slim, unpretentious, simple and straightforward, and addicted to his pipe. On 7 January 1970 in the district registrar’s office, Perth, he had married Elsie Mavys (Sue) Johnson, a retired nurse. Survived by his wife, he died on 18 July 1985 at Subiaco and was cremated. In 1993 the FAWWA library in Tom Collins House, Perth, was named the Bert Vickers Library.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Dec 1946, p 7, 8 May 1948, p 6, 24 Oct 1959, p 9
  • Overland, Sept 1957, p 15, Sept 1985, p 32
  • West Australian, 20 July 1985, p 36
  • Australian Book Review, Sept 1985, p 11
  • Vickers papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Trisha Kotai-Ewers, 'Vickers, Frederick Bert (1903–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vickers-frederick-bert-15891/text27092, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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