Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wenz, Paul (1869–1939)

by Maurice Blackman

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

Paul Wenz (1869-1939), grazier and writer, was born on 18 August 1869 at Reims, France, third of five children of Emile Wenz, wool-merchant, and his wife Marie, née Dertinger, natives of Württemberg who had settled at Reims in 1858. Emile owned spinning-mills and later opened wool-buying agencies in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. Paul was educated in Paris in 1879-88 at the Ecole Alsacienne, an exclusive Protestant college; he became and remained a friend of fellow pupil André Gide. After military service in the artillery with another friend Joseph Krug of the champagne-producing family, Wenz was trained in the family firm and spent eight months in London. He disliked the European business world, however, and left in 1892 for a long tour of the family wool interests.

Over 6 ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall, energetic and loving the outdoors, Wenz felt immediately at home in Australia and spent two years jackarooing in Victoria, New South Wales and the Queensland Gulf country. He went briefly to New Zealand in 1896, visited the Pacific islands and worked in South America before arriving back in France in 1897. Wenz returned to New South Wales as a settler and in April 1898 purchased Nanima, a property on the Lachlan River between Forbes and Cowra. On 15 September he married Harriet Adela Annette (Hettie) Dunne (d.1959), daughter of a pastoralist. They were happily married, but childless. Wenz was a successful grazier who took a keen interest in innovative agricultural methods, particularly lucerne growing and irrigation; he invented a charcoal-burning tractor and believed in water-divining. He also oversaw his family's wool-buying agencies and travelled regularly to Sydney and Melbourne as a director of Wenz & Co.

In 1900 L'Illustration began publishing his short stories, written in French but set in Australia or the Pacific islands. Two volumes of such stories were later published: A l'Autre Bout du Monde (Paris, 1905) and Sous la Croix du Sud (Paris, 1910). These stories all bear traces of the Bulletin's influence. In 1908 Wenz published in Melbourne his only book written in English, a novella, Diary of a New Chum. Until 1910 he used the pseudonym 'Paul Warrego'. He also published several translations from English into French, notably of his friend Jack London's Love of Life (1914), and wrote other stories that were not set in Australia. His first novel, L'homme du Soleil Couchant ('The Sundowner', Paris, 1923) appeared in serial form in the Revue de Paris in 1915.

Stranded in Europe with his wife on the outbreak of war in 1914, Wenz was mobilized at once and served as a liaison officer with British and Australian troops in French military hospitals, while Hettie worked for the Red Cross. Posted to London in 1916, he accompanied an Australian mission to Morocco as liaison officer and interpreter in April 1919 before returning to Australia in November. Inspired by his war experiences, he published two small collections of stories and a novel, Le Pays de Leurs Pères (Paris, 1919). He published two more novels with Australian settings, Le Jardin des Coraux (Paris, 1929) and L'écharde (Paris, 1931), a book on his experiences as a grazier and a fanciful memoir of his childhood.

Wenz's concise style, vivid description and dry irony are shown to advantage in his short stories which achieved some success; his novels are less sure and attracted little attention. His early writings show him as an amused apologist for Australia to the French, but his post-war novels and stories express a more matter-of-fact Australian identity. He regularly visited Europe, but in the 1920s and 1930s became more actively involved in the Australian literary scene and made friends with Miles Franklin, Dorothea Mackellar, Nettie Palmer, G. B. Lancaster and Frank Clune. In 1931 Nettie described Wenz's overpowering presence: 'In he came with his Norman blue eyes from Rheims, his fresh colouring under white hair, his broad shoulders that made you wonder how the man had ever found a horse strong enough to carry him'. He endeavoured to get his novels and stories translated and published in Australia, and to have his works included in school and university curricula.

Survived by his wife, Wenz died of pneumonia on 23 August 1939 in a hospital at Forbes and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery. His estate was valued at £40,664; the Forbes library was left his portrait by Paul Laurens.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Palmer, Fourteen Years (Melb, 1948)
  • A. P. L. Stuer, The French in Australia (Canb, 1982)
  • J.-P. Delamotte, biographical sketch in P. Wenz, L'écharde (Paris, 1986)
  • M. J. Blackman, biographical sketch in P. Wenz, Diary of a New Chum and Other Lost Stories (Syd, 1990)
  • Tasmanian Journal of Education, 4, no 3, June 1970, p 93
  • Bulletin, 4 Apr 1934
  • Monde, 14 June 1985
  • E. Wolff, A French-Australian Writer: Paul Wenz (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1948)
  • Wenz and Co. archives (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Wenz papers and Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • A. Gide papers (Bibliothèque Jacques Doucet, Paris).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Maurice Blackman, 'Wenz, Paul (1869–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wenz-paul-9048/text15941, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 September 2017.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Warrego, Paul
Birth

18 August 1869
Reims, France

Death

23 August 1939
Forbes, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation