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McLAREN, Jack

(1884—1954)


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(1884–1954), born Melbourne, the son of a puritanical Presbyterian clergyman, ran away from home at 16. After a year's wandering in the bush he became a cabin boy on a sailing vessel bound for South Africa. These early, severe experiences are graphically described in Blood on the Deck (1933), revised in 1947 with the title My First Voyage. He was subsequently mate on a timber schooner trading along the Queensland coast and tried a variety of occupations in the Pacific, northern Australia and New Guinea, before in 1911 settling on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula where he established a coconut plantation. His account of his eight years on Cape York, My Crowded Solitude (1926), distinguished by his detailed observations of the area's natural life and including succinct descriptions of his hardships and achievements and more extended accounts of Aboriginal life, was popular both in England and overseas. During these years McLaren also began to contribute prose sketches to the Bulletin, often using the pseudonym ‘Jack McNorth’. He moved to Sydney in 1919 to work as a freelance writer, and subsequently lived in Melbourne before settling in 1925 in London, where he eventually established a reputation. A familiar radio broadcaster in England, McLaren contributed articles and short stories to English, American and Australian magazines. He published three other autobiographical travel books, My Odyssey (1923), which describes his experiences in Papua, Thursday Island and the Solomons, My South Seas Adventures (1936), and My Civilized Adventure (1952). He also wrote numerous short stories and novels, which are competent if undistinguished adventure stories or romances based on his experiences in northern Australia, the Pacific Islands and New Guinea. Generally sympathetic, if occasionally paternalistic, towards the indigenous peoples of these areas, McLaren interprets their way of life in his travel writings with sensitivity and even deference. His novels and short-story collections include Red Mountain (1919), The White Witch (1919), The Skipper of the ‘Roaring Meg’ (1919), The Savagery of Margaret Nestor (1920), The Oil Seekers (1921), Feathers of Heaven (1921), Fagaloa's Daughter (1923), Spear-Eye (1925), The Hidden Lagoon (1926), Isle of Escape (1926), The Sun Man (1928), A Diver Went Down (1929), The Money Stones (1933), The Devil of the Depths (1935), The Crystal Skull (1936), Their Isle of Desire (1941), The Marriage of Sandra (1946), Stories of Fear (1946), Stories of the South Seas (1946) and New Love for Old (1948). Of these, one of the most distinctive is The Sun Man, a romance set on Thursday Island, which includes some graphically described diving scenes. McLaren's knowledge of diving also animates one of his best short stories, ‘A Diver Went Down’. In addition he published a volume of verse, Songs of a Fuzzy-top (1926), the love story of a South Sea Islander; and Gentlemen of the Empire (1940), an account of the work of district commissioners, patrol officers and other officials in some of ‘the British Empire's tropical outposts’.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.



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