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Herbert Leslie Greener (1900–1974)

by Margaret Giordano

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Herbert Leslie Greener (1900-1974), journalist, author and Egyptologist, was born on 13 February 1900 at Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa, only son of Herbert Greener, a captain in the British Army, and his wife Helen Olive, née Bennett. Leslie was educated in England, at Matfield Grange, Kent, and Felsted School, Essex. He attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, graduated in 1918 and served for five years as an officer in the Indian Army. On 21 December 1925 at the registrar's office, Waihi, New Zealand, he married Alice Gwendoline Rhona McKenzie, née Haszard (d.1931), a divorcee and an artist. Greener worked as a journalist in New Zealand and Australia, then studied art at the Académie Julian, Paris, in 1927-28. While teaching art and French at Victoria College, Alexandria, Egypt, he completed a year of external study with University College, London. From 1931 he was employed as an epigraphist at Luxor, Egypt, by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. At the British consulate general, Cairo, on 5 May 1934 he married 24-year-old Margaret Lillian Edmunds (d.1958). They came to Sydney in 1936 where for several years he was again employed as a journalist.

On 15 April 1940 Greener enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; commissioned in November, he was sent to Malaya with the 8th Division in February 1941. He was a captain and divisional intelligence officer when captured by the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Returning to Australia late in 1945, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 24 November. During his time as a prisoner of war in Changi camp, Singapore, he had illustrated a children's book written by a fellow prisoner David Griffin, The Happiness Box (Sydney, 1947; Singapore 1991); intended as a Christmas present for the children in the camp, it was buried until Greener's release. He went back to journalism in Sydney and wrote two books based on his war experiences, He Lived in My Shoes (1948) and No Time to Look Back (New York, 1950). Two children's books followed: Moon Ahead (New York, 1951; London, 1957) and Wizard Boatman of the Nile (London, 1957). Foundation director (1949-54) of Adult Education in Tasmania, Greener resigned to work as a freelance writer and broadcaster. He was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fellowship in 1957 and taught creative-writing classes on behalf of adult education. Greener asserted that he was 'pagan' in religion and an independent thinker in politics, willing to encourage international understanding.

Following the death of his second wife, he returned to Egypt in 1958. Until his retirement in 1967 he worked with the epigraphic survey department, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, during its annual expeditions to Luxor. His experiences were the catalyst for High Dam over Nubia (London, 1962) and The Discovery of Egypt (London, 1966). In 1967 he lost most of his possessions, including precious manuscripts and photographs, when bushfires swept through south-eastern Tasmania, destroying his home at Longley. At that time he was absent in Egypt, a place to which he continued to return each year, working for the University of Pennsylvania on the Ikhnaton Temple project. On 30 July 1968 at the registrar's office, Hobart, he married Dorothy Chung, née Henry, a 43-year-old divorcee with whom he had been living for the previous ten years. Chairman (1968) of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Greener collaborated with the photographer Norman Laird in writing Ross Bridge and the Sculpture of Daniel Herbert (1971). He then used his research to write a novel, Tea for a Stranger, which was published posthumously in 1975.

Survived by his wife, and by the son of his second marriage, Greener died on 8 December 1974 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart, and was cremated. His last project, Discovering Egypt with Leslie Greener (1976), was issued as a kit for senior school students. A portrait of Greener by Jack Carington Smith won the Helena Rubinstein award in 1966 and is in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Giordano and D. Norman, Tasmanian Literary Landmarks (Hob, 1984)
  • National Geographic, 138, no 5, Nov 1970, p 634
  • Contemporary Authors (Detroit, US), 2, 1978
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 Dec 1968, 1 July 1970, 30 Aug, 9 Dec 1974, 28 Feb 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Giordano, 'Greener, Herbert Leslie (1900–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 February, 1900
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa


8 December, 1974 (aged 74)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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