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Ian Mayelston Mudie (1911–1976)

by Philip Butterss

This article was published:

Ian Mayelston Mudie (1911-1976), by unknown photographer

Ian Mayelston Mudie (1911-1976), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia

Ian Mayelston Mudie (1911-1976), poet, was born on 1 March 1911 at Hawthorn, Adelaide, younger child of South Australian-born parents Henry Mayelston Mudie, bank accountant, and his second wife Gertrude Mary, née Wurm. Ian was educated (1920-26) at Scotch College, Adelaide, but showed more interest in extra-curricular reading than in study and left without gaining his Leaving certificate. At the office of the registrar-general, Adelaide, on 30 October 1934 he married Renee Dunford Doble. From his early twenties writing was Mudie's chief activity, although the difficulties in providing for his family as a freelancer forced him to try his hand as a wool-scourer, furniture-dealer, grape-picker, and as a salesman of insurance and real estate.

Mudie published his first poem in 1931, but it was not until P. R. Stephensen included his work in the Publicist in October 1937 that his career as a poet began to flourish. Attracted by Stephensen's nationalism, he moved to Sydney where he was elected to the executive-committee of the Australia-First Movement at its inaugural meeting in October 1941. He was committed to the organization's second aim—'To encourage the development of a distinctively-Australian National Culture in Australia'—and there is no evidence that he showed sympathy for the German or Japanese governments. Stephensen and fifteen other A.F.M. members were arrested on 10 March 1942 on suspicion of collaborating with the Japanese. Mudie, by chance, had returned to Adelaide before the arrests.

Encouraged by Stephensen's interest in him, by a close friendship with Miles Franklin and by praise from literary figures such as Xavier Herbert, Mudie rapidly produced Corroboree to the Sun (Melbourne, 1940), This Is Australia (1941), Their Seven Stars Unseen (1943), The Australian Dream (1943)—winner of the W. J. Miles prize—and Poems (Melbourne, 1945). He was almost six feet (183 cm) tall and of wiry build, and was once described as looking like a shearer. Gregarious and fiercely egalitarian, Mudie embodied much of the traditional version of Australian identity that he celebrated in his best-known poem, 'They'll Tell You About Me'. A deep love of the land and its inhabitants are recurrent themes in his poetry; so, too, are harsh criticisms of the Europeans for the way they treated the indigenous people and desecrated the environment.

At this time Mudie's nationalism and concern for Aborigines found an outlet in a loose association with Rex Ingamells and the Jindyworobak poets. He contributed (from 1939) to their anthologies, joined (1941) their club and edited the Jindyworobak Anthology (1946). Having been called up for full-time duty in the Militia in 1942, he served in anti-aircraft units and ordnance depots in Australia. He edited the anthology, Poets at War (Melbourne, 1944), and, on being discharged in 1945, took up a Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship to carry out research into paddle-steamers on the Murray and Darling rivers. His gift for establishing rapport allowed him to collect many stories from old-timers and eventually to publish Riverboats (1961). His other writing included two histories, Wreck of the Admella (1966) and The Heroic Journey of John McDouall Stuart (Sydney, 1968), numerous newspaper articles and short stories, productions such as Glenelg Sketchbook (1974), a children's story, The Christmas Kangaroo (1946), and several edited books, including Australian Poets Speak (1961) on which he collaborated with his friend Colin Thiele.

After a decade in which the riverboats were sometimes an obsessive preoccupation, Mudie again turned to poetry, publishing The Blue Crane (Sydney, 1959), The North-Bound Rider (1963)—winner of the Grace Leven prize—Look, the Kingfisher! (Melbourne, 1970) and Selected Poems 1934-1974 (Melbourne, 1976). While the poems from this period retain his earlier commitments and often colloquial style, they are less strident, and place more emphasis on personal reflection and city life.

Mudie was a keen evangelist for Australian literature. He was active in the Australian Society of Authors, national president (1959-60) of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, editor-in-chief (1960-65) of Rigby Ltd, publishers, and an organizer of Writers' Week at the Adelaide Festival of Arts from its inception in 1960 until 1972. A great communicator, he lectured to adult education classes at the University of Adelaide, taught at the South Australian School of Arts and conducted speaking tours for the Commonwealth Literary Fund. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 23 October 1976 in London and was cremated; his ashes were scattered on the Murray River.

Select Bibliography

  • B. W. Muirden, The Puzzled Patriots (Melb, 1968)
  • J. Tonkin, Ian Mudie (Adel, 1970)
  • B. Elliott (ed), The Jindyworobaks (Brisb, 1979)
  • C. Munro, Wild Man of Letters (Melb, 1984)
  • Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • P. R. Stephensen papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Mudie papers (State Library of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Philip Butterss, 'Mudie, Ian Mayelston (1911–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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