Upfield Commentary – Jessica Hawke’s ‘Follow My Dust’ (Part 1)

Posted on Mon 09/27/2010 by



This book by Jessica Hawke was so interesting, because it gave such wonderful insight into Upfield himself. Because it did offer such a wealth of information, the observations I made at the time were quite copious, and because of that, I’ll have to break it all into shorter and more manageable posts. While some information from this book is mentioned in a relatively short manner within the text of the book, I found myself wanting to expand upon what was written to try and better explain some of those matters.

As you might imagine, commentaries on Upfield are in the main personal observations and the opinion of the person making those observations, but the detail that comes in this book is really first hand information from someone who lived with Arthur for most of the latter part of his life, and that is what makes this book such a wonderful aid in understanding Upfield.

At the time I first read this book, I came to the distinct impression that it was in fact written by Arthur himself, because so much of the early information is so detailed. Now, almost 15 years after first reading this book, it is almost certain that this was indeed the case, and there is almost widespread acceptance that this was in fact the case.

The book itself intricately details Upfield’s early life, and this takes up the vast bulk of the book. This alone was the idea behind that original hunch that Upfield himself did write most of it.

It was a really fascinating read, and the relationship between Upfield and some of the situations, and also the people he met during those extensive travels have been used on so many occasions in his Bony books.

One of the points that led me to believe at the time that Upfield himself may have written the vast early bulk of this book was the mention of Upfield’s early mentors, Angus and Mary, especially Mary, in my opinion. During his constant trips out into ‘the bush’ in those early days, Arthur met and stayed with Angus and Mary on two occasions for quite long periods of time.

Mary seems to have been the major factor in influencing Upfield to write, and how she did this was by mentioning to Upfield that he should write down his experiences since  first arriving in Australia from his Country of Birth, England, in 1910, at the age of 20. It would seem in my opinion that Upfield started to do this in some detail after his time with Mary, in the form of a biography, without the specific intent of publishing it as a Biography, and this was then shelved after his novels started to appear. Then at a later date after he had become established as a successful author, what he had written earlier was revived, polished, added to, and then finished. Then, in my opinion, in a form of not wishing to give a false perception of his own, these writings were added to by Jessica Hawke and then published in her name as the author. This in no way is meant to detract from Jessica Hawke, because, no matter whose name is on the cover, that information offers insight that could never be gained from any other source than from Upfield himself.

There was a later meeting with Leon Wood, and this would have provided the inspiration for the character. Wood was a tracker attached to the Queensland Police, and as official as that might sound, the job at the time would have been of a relatively sporadic nature, so at times when he was not working, Wood also travelled throughout Australia, and in those travels met with Upfield. As was the nature of men out in the bush like this, there was always stories to tell, and this almost certainly provided the original germ of the idea that gave us Bony.

All the things Upfield did during his travels supplied the background for both further characters and settings.

However, harking back to what Mary first said is what leads me to believe that this book by Jessica Hawke was itself mostly written by Upfield himself. When Mary said that Upfield should write of his experiences since arriving in Australia, it could have provided the genesis of his writing career, and this is probably where he started, and I come to that conclusion from the highly intricate detail of his early life which is set down in this book. That intricate detail then seems to cease at around the time that the first few of his books started to be published. The rest of this Biography then seems to just fly over the rest of his life up until the date of publishing for this book in 1957. There is virtually no mention of the vast bulk of his books, and his life during that later time. It seriously looks like Upfield used this detailing of his early experiences as a forerunner to other writing, and once that career took off, then this attempt at an autobiography went by the wayside, only to be revived and revised after his passing, this later work being carried out by Jessica Hawke.

In no way does any of this detract from the general substance of this book, as any book of this nature can only be of interest.

After reading this book, so many things fell into place that it tended only to add to the character of the Bony books, and in later posts I will only mention some of the points that were in the book, and then expand on those comments with some commentary of my own to better explain those points of interest.

Incidentally, while this book was being polished for publishing purposes, it had a working title. That original title was ‘That Bastard From The Bush’. As you may imagine, and especially in the late 50’s when this book was in that process of going to the Publisher, a title of this name would have had zero chance of becoming the Published title. The book was sent to a renowned reviewer at that time prior to publishing, and his reply to Upfield and Jessica Hawke was quite succinct:

“…Have you had any word from the publishers about “That Bastard From the
Bush”? That’s one hell of a title and I don’t think you’ll get away with it. …”

This is explained at Tom Thompson’s Official Arthur Upfield site at this link, and the taking the further link to the list of Upfield’s manuscripts compiled by bookseller Kay Craddock at this link. (pdf document)