Ion Llewellyn Idriess OBE (20 September 1889 – 6 June 1979) was a prolific and influential Australian author. He wrote more than 50 books over 43 years between 1927 and 1969. His first book was Madman’s Island, published in 1927 at the age of 38, and his last was written at the age of 79. Called Challenge of the North, it told of Idriess’s ideas for developing the north of Australia. Two of his works, The Cattle King (1936) and Flynn of the Inland (1932) had more than forty reprintings.
Idriess was born in Sydney, to Juliette Windeyer and Walter Owen Idriess. At birth Ion Idriess’s name was registered as “Ion Windeyer”, although he never seems to have used this name.
From his late teens, he worked in rural New South Wales. He travelled extensively around the state, working in a variety of itinerant jobs including employment as a rabbit poisoner, boundary rider, drover, prospecting for gold as well as harvesting sandalwood. He also worked as a shearer and dingo shooter. While working as an opal miner at Lightning Ridge in about 1910, he wrote short pieces for The Bulletin about life on the opal fields.
With the outbreak of war, in 1914 he enlisted in the 5th Light Horse Regiment, AIF as a trooper. He saw action in Palestine, Sinai and Turkey, being wounded at Beersheba and Gallipoli– where he acted as spotter for noted sniper Billy Sing.
In 1928 Idriess settled in Sydney where he wrote as a freelance writer. His writing style drew on his experiences as a soldier, prospector, and bushman. He wrote on a multitude of topics, including travel, recollection, biography, history, anthropology and his own ideas on possible future events. His books were generally non-fiction, but written in a narrative, story style. Most of his books were published by Angus & Robertson. He wrote from real life experiences using knowledge he had personally gained by travelling extensively and working at a variety of occupations. Idriess was no stylist, but his writing was immediate, colourful, well-paced and, despite the speed at which it was written, always well structured.
Although he generally wrote under his name, some early articles were written under the pseudonym of Gouger. When travelling, Idriess was known as Jack. In 1968 he was appointed an OBE for his services to literature. Idriess died at a nursing home in Sydney on 6 June 1979, at the age of 89.
His work slipped from favour after his death, but has experienced a renewal of interest. In 2017, Nicolas Rothwell said: As so often in Australian letters, an initial fall into obscurity and the harsh judgments of the literary establishment serve as good indicators of a writer’s pre-eminence.
His work was never adapted for the screen although several books were optioned by producers.