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Harold Frederick Neville (Hal) Gye (1887–1967)

by Ian F. McLaren

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Harold Frederick Neville (Hal) Gye (1887-1967), artist and writer, was born on 22 May 1887 at Ryde, Sydney, son of Walter Neville Gye from London, and his second wife Priscilla Theodosia, née Warr. A descendant of the Devonshire branch of the French Huguenot family of De Rohan-Gyé, Walter Gye worked as a builder in Sydney before moving with his family to Black Range (Lavington) near Albury, where he took up land and prospected optimistically for gold. Hal completed his education at the local bush school.

When he was 12 the family moved to Melbourne. Hal worked in a city architect's office for about two years before becoming a law clerk, during which time the Sydney Bulletin published his first verse, 'Mrs. Melba's motor car'. He was an omnivorous reader of books on drawing and joined the art class of Alek Sass. Gye was one of the Melbourne Bohemian group which met at the Mitre Hotel and Fasoli's.

When he found he could make a living out of drawing, Gye left the law firm. He contributed political cartoons, illustrated jokes, caricatures and paragraphs to the Bulletin, and in 1910 inherited the theatrical cartoons when his friend Will Dyson went to London. He provided cartoons for the Melbourne Herald, Weekly Times, Weekly Times Annual, Sporting Globe, Punch and Table Talk, the Sydney Arrow and Referee and Smith's Weekly, as well as decorative pieces for the Lone Hand. He produced, with T. M. Hogan, The Tight Little Island (c.1912), and is also represented in Melba's Gift Book (1915) and Art in Australia.

C. J. Dennis, as editor of the Adelaide Gadfly, had accepted contributions from Gye during 1906-07. They met later in Melbourne and when Dennis requested 'decorations' for The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915), a most successful collaboration followed. Gye stayed with Dennis at Toolangi, producing the whimsical 'bloke cupids'; he was to provide the illustrations for most of Dennis's works until the author's objection to a direct arrangement between Angus and Robertson and Gye for Rose of Spadgers (1924) terminated the partnership. Angus and Robertson commissioned book illustrations from Gye for works by Henry Lawson, Will Ogilvie and Banjo Paterson. The originals, and drawings published in the Bulletin, are held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

During the war years Gye shared a studio in Collins Street, Melbourne, with David Low, who later recalled his association with both Gye and Dennis: 'Here were a couple of characters in whose company I found rest and understanding. We could laugh, shout, sing, exult, mourn, curse the wrongdoer in the open, as we wrestled with our work … Even on the blackest days I found relief in that pool of goodwill'. At Flemington on 15 November 1916 Gye married with Methodist forms Alice Clara Gifford, one of the famous J. C. Williamson front-row chorus girls.

In the 1920s Gye sold 'hundreds of oils', exhibited paintings and held a one-man show of monotypes. A painter of delicate water-colours and a talented black-and-white artist, he is represented in several State galleries, and by mounted oils of 'The Glugs of Gosh' in the State Library of South Australia. He designed the costumes for a ballet based on the 'Sentimental Bloke' in 1952. In 1963 he unveiled the Dennis memorial plaque at the Southern Cross Hotel, Melbourne.

After a serious motor accident in the early 1930s, Gye concentrated on writing and in 1937 began his humorous 'Father' and 'Jules' short stories in the Bulletin under the pseudonym of 'James Hackston'. His stories were included four times in Coast to Coast and were later collected, and illustrated by 'Hal Gye', in Father Clears Out (1966) and the posthumous The Hole in the Bedroom Floor (1969). In the 1940s and 1950s he published verse in the Bulletin under the pseudonym 'Hacko'. His facility for writing vernacular verse in the Dennis style is evidenced in The Sentimental Bloke and the Burnie Mill (1959), which he also illustrated.

Gye was described by John Hetherington in 1966 as a 'small, slim, quick-moving man, pink-faced and ageless, a birdlike man with delicate hands and light step, who might have stepped, alive, from the pages of his own sketchbook'. John Moir of the Bread and Cheese Club, said of him: 'He's rare. Men like to knock a bottle off with him; women love him; and artists admire his work'. He had a high sense of fun, and humour was an important ingredient in his work.

Hal Gye worked at his home at Armadale in his latter years. He died, survived by his son, at Beaumaris on 25 November 1967, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Low, Autobiography (Lond, 1956)
  • D. Stewart, foreword in J. Hackston, Father Clears Out (Syd, 1966)
  • People (Sydney), 28 July 1954
  • Bulletin, 6 Oct 1954
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 3 Nov 1956
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Sept 1966
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25 Nov 1967
  • Hal Gye's association with C. J. Dennis (manuscript, McLaren collection, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Ian F. McLaren, 'Gye, Harold Frederick Neville (Hal) (1887–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hackston, James

22 May, 1887
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


25 November, 1967 (aged 80)
Beaumaris, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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