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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Briggs, Ernest (1905–1967)

by John P. Simpson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ernest Briggs (1905-1967), poet, broadcaster and critic, was born on 24 January 1905 in Sydney, son of Charles James Briggs, a bootmaker from Victoria, and his Queensland-born wife Jessie, née Waters. After his mother's death in 1908, Ernest was raised by his father. A small, frail child with a speech impediment (eventually cured through therapy), he spent much time on lonely bush ramblings; from his father, he gained a love of ballads and song, and of family and colonial history. Ernest was a fifth-generation Australian, descended from Thomas Rowley. Educated at Kogarah Public School, he became a radio broadcaster and moved to Queensland in 1931 to join station 4BK, Brisbane. He was subsequently a general announcer, continuity manager, programme director, feature writer and publicity officer. Mobilized in the Militia on 6 February 1942, Briggs served as a clerk at New Guinea Force headquarters before being discharged medically unfit on 14 December in Brisbane.

While he read William Blake and John Millington Synge, many of his ideas were inspired by W. B. Yeats and by the 'Celtic Twilight' movement. Briggs's discovery of the works of Yeats, with whom he had previously corresponded, and on whom he later lectured and wrote, transformed his life. He published his first volume of poetry, The Merciless Beauty, in 1943: in it, he reflected his early personal and mystical experiences which were to lead to his subsequent interest in theosophy, spiritualism and the religions of the East. His brief term in New Guinea resulted in the powerful, concentrated emotionalism of The Death of the Hare (1949); its title was derived from Yeats.

Briggs reverted to his childhood experiences when writing the meditative lyrics in The Secret Listener (1949) and published a third volume of poetry, The Timeless Flowers, in 1952. For his sequences on Yeats, The High Ascent and Other Poems (1953), he was admitted to the Poetry Society of America. In 1961 and again in 1962 he was awarded the literature diploma of the Leonardo da Vinci Academy, Rome, for his contributions to international culture and understanding.

As a music critic, Briggs wrote reviews for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, the Sunday Mail and the music journal, Canon. He made a notable collection of historical recordings, specializing in vocal art and poetry. Towards the end of his life, in his anxiety for recognition, he experimented unsuccessfully with writing novels and plays, and undertook editing, biography and autobiography. His corpus extends to over forty works in manuscript or limited private editions, some of which have been set to music. Represented in several anthologies, he also contributed to the literary journals, Meanjin and Aspect.

Of medium build, with small hands, a high forehead and frizzy, ginger hair, Briggs had a light baritone voice. Despite a shy, other-worldly outlook, he impressed many people and was known for his spontaneous generosity. Briggs remained a bachelor. He died of myocardial infarction on 21 June 1967 in Brisbane and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. Hadgraft, Queensland and Its Writers (Brisb, 1959)
  • Literary Review (New Jersey) Australia Number, Winter, 1963-64
  • Bulletin, 1 Mar 1944
  • Daily Mercury(Brisbane), 25 Mar 1944
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 June 1967
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 22 June 1967
  • E. Briggs, Blow Away the Morning Dew (autobiography, manuscript, State Library of Queensland)
  • Briggs papers (University of Queensland, and State Library of Queensland, and Syracuse University Library, New York
  • private information.

Citation details

John P. Simpson, 'Briggs, Ernest (1905–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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