Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Arthur Hales (1860–1936)

by Donald Grant

This article was published:

Alfred Arthur Greenwood Hales (1860-1936), author, war correspondent, miner and adventurer, was born on 21 July 1860 at Kent Town, Adelaide, son of Frederick Greenwood Hales, gold-digger and wood-turner, and his wife Sarah Leigh, née Veal, 'staid, respectable God-fearing folk'. Not so Hales, who recalled his mother's hope that he would get a 'call' and 'let light into the heathen. I've done it too [he wrote]—with a rifle'. He attended Burgoyne and Hosking's and R. C. Mitton's grammar schools in Adelaide and was briefly apprenticed to a carpenter, but he left home and school at 13. At 16 his first published story appeared in Frearson's Weekly. He read compulsively and widely and worked at fossicking, timber-splitting, droving, dingo-trapping and storekeeping. He studied assaying at the Ballarat School of Mines, Victoria, became athletics editor for the Sydney Referee, then was a mining reporter for the Barrier Miner and the Silver Age at Broken Hill, New South Wales, in 1886-89 where he exposed fraudulent sales of 'salted' mines and worthless shares. He also went to the United States of America as manager for the Australian boxer F. P. Slavin. In London when news of the Western Australian gold discoveries arrived, he 'went homewards like a homing bird'.

'The man with the chronic smile' arrived at Coolgardie in 1894 and, during the next five years, became one of the most colourful of those eastern goldfields literati who divided their time between the pick and the pen. His first newspaper job there was with the Coolgardie Miner. Billy Clare, the owner, recalled this 'dashing, picturesque looking chap', whom 'so many on the field had mentioned in connection with journalistic exploits and coups in Broken Hill, Adelaide, Sydney … He was dynamic … His ready pen and readier imagination suited the goldfields readers … to a degree which probably no other newspaper man in Australia could have attained'. Hales founded his own weekly, the Coolgardie Mining Review, and later the daily Boulder Miner's Right. He also managed a hotel, organized fortnightly boxing bouts and stood unsuccessfully for parliament in 1897 when president of the Coolgardie branch of the Amalgamated Workers' Association of Western Australia.

In 1899 Hales went to the South African war as a correspondent. His dispatches to the London Daily News and John Bull won him a reputation as a critical and daring front-line reporter which was enhanced after his wounding and capture by the Boers at Rensburg. He was commissioned by the Daily News in 1903 to report the Macedonian rebellion against Turkish control; two years later he was at some of the major Russo-Japanese battles. He spent about four years in South America. In World War I Hales enlisted in the Serbian Army and acted as a freelance journalist for London papers; he claimed that the first report ever made of an air fight was written by him for the Evening News.

He travelled the world, lectured, crossed the Gobi desert on horseback, did 'some gun-running and [was] mixed up in a couple of revolutions'; he explored most of the world's great mineral fields, owned several mines and wrote over fifty books. His first, a best-seller and the only one published in Australia, was The Wanderings of a Simple Child (1890), a highly coloured mixture of reportage and fiction informed by 'an almost ferocious patriotism'; Campaign Pictures of the War in South Africa appeared in 1900. Then came the first of the many McGlusky novels written between 1902 and 1935, which made their author a popular writer of light fiction in Britain, North America and Australia. McGlusky was a tough, adventurous Scot who roamed the world 'with a Bible in one hand and a brick in the other'. His creator wrote of himself in Broken Trails (1937): 'A man cannot write … fifty novels and at the same time leave his foot-trails over four-fifths of the globe, and be blown aside like last year's leaves'. He also wrote historical novels, exotic stories set in Africa, Arabia, Japan and South America, books of poems and ballads, plays, and a string of loosely organized autobiographies: a mixture of recollection, fantasy and prophecy.

Despite his nickname, 'Smiler' Hales was a heavily jowled man whose sagging pouches underlined a rather belligerent gaze and a jutting jaw. He died on 29 December 1936 at Herne Bay, Kent and was buried there. He was survived by the daughter and four sons of his first marriage on 15 May 1886 to Emmeline Pritchard (d.1911), and by his second wife Jean Reid, a Scotswoman whom he had married in 1920.

Select Bibliography

  • L. W. Matters, Australasians who Count in London and Who Counts in Western Australia (Lond, 1913)
  • P. Depasquale, A Critical History of South Australian Literature, 1836-1930 with Subjectively Annotated Bibliographies (Adel, 1978)
  • British Australasian, 23 Aug, 18 Oct, 15 Nov 1900
  • Tocsin, 26 Sept 1901
  • Golden West (Perth), 1917, 1921
  • All About Books, 1 Dec 1931
  • To-Day (Melbourne), 1 Aug 1933
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 12 Jan 1897
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 16, 20 Jan 1897
  • Western Argus, 15 Jan 1901
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 21 July 1907
  • Observer (Adelaide), 29 Nov 1924
  • Times (London), 30 Dec 1936
  • West Australian, 31 Dec 1936
  • D5390 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Donald Grant, 'Hales, Alfred Arthur (1860–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 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

Alfred Hales, by Spy

Alfred Hales, by Spy

State Library of South Australia, b20382601

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1860
Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


29 December, 1936 (aged 76)
Herne Bay, Kent, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.