Davison, Frank Dalby 1893-1970

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DAVISON, Frank Dalby 1893-1970

PERSONAL: Born June 23, 1893, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; died May 24, 1970, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

CAREER: Australian novelist and short story writer.


Man-Shy: A Story of Men and Cattle, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1931.

Red Heifer, Cadmus, 1934.

Children of the Dark People An Australian Folk Tale, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1937.

Coast to Coast Australian Stories, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, Australia), 1943.

Dusty: A Novel, Refinery (Chicago, IL), 1946.

The White Thorntree: A Novel, two volumes, Melbourne National Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1968.

Also author of Forever Morning, 1931; The Wells of Beersheba, 1933; and Blue Coast Caravan.

SIDELIGHTS: Frank Dalby Davison was an Australian novelist and short-story writer. Davison used his Australian heritage as backdrops for his fiction. His most acclaimed novels pit nature against human progress. Davison also tests his human characters, putting them in harsh situations common on the Australian outback. He was intimately familiar with the daily routines and farming conditions of Australian ranches and frequently used his knowledge to create plot and settings for his works.

Davison's writing can be divided into two periods: the eight books he published between 1931 and 1946, and the work that came after. The earlier works mainly use the Australian bush country and the interaction between man and animal as the dominant themes. Two of these novels, Man-Shy: A Story of Men and Cattle and Dusty: A Novel are considered by some to be Australian literary classics. The second half of Davison's career would come with the 1968 publication of the two-volume work The White Thorntree: A Novel, a book that marks a radical departure from the themes from his earlier works.

Man-Shy, published in 1931, is one of Davison's best-known novels. It is the story of a cow, written from the cow's point of view. Man-Shy details the cow's birth, her life, her escape from the ranch, and life afterwards. Man-Shy met with critical success as an animal story that paralleled the quest for freedom that motivates both man and animal. Davison was praised for his ingenuity in imagining what might be happening within an animal mind. Harry Heseltine, writing in The Literature of Australia also lauded Davison's prose in Man-Shy, commenting that it achieves "an unassuming lyricism unique in Australian fiction of the period." Southerly contributor K G. Howarth, while noting that Man-Shy is not perfect, also felt that the work deserves its praise and that "[s]tories of this kind. … aretoo rare in Australian literature."

Another of Davison's early works was Children of the Dark People: An Australian Folk Tale, published in 1937. It is the retelling of an Aboriginal folk tale. Children of the Dark People depicts a young girl and boy, Jackadgery and Nimmitybelle, who become lost due to an evil witch doctor. The kind spirits of Nature, the billabong, bush, plain, and mountain "gullies," come to the children's rescue and help to guide them home. The Wells of Beersheba published in 1933, evokes a strong sense of Australian national pride. The work is a tribute to the horses who served with the Australian Light Horse regiments in World War I. Dusty: A Novel, published in 1946, is another of Davison's acclaimed animal stories. Dusty is a story about an Australian cattle dog and the two very different sides of its nature that arise and produce a conflict for the animal.

The White Thorntree: A Novel presents a different theme than those Davison's readers had come to expect. The White Thorntree explores the conflicts that arise between a man or woman's natural desire for sex and the ways society restricts those longings. Also a departure for Davison was his use of characters that are distinctly urban; instead of animals or people working in the outback, these characters are all human and live and work in the city.

The White Thorntree follows the changing friendship between four married couples over the period of two decades. At different times, the partners who make up the marriages have adulterous affairs with each other. Davison tries to convey the frustrations felt by the different men and women in their desires for each other, yet being unable to act upon those desires because of what the current culture of the time expects of them. Society does not approve of extra-marital sex or of loving someone outside a marriage, so all of the affairs are conducted in secret.

Louise E. Rorabacher, in her book Frank Dalby Davison, compared and contrasted The White Thorntree with Davison's early works. Rorabacher felt that The White Thorntree's main fault lies in Davison's inability to convey a sense of place, a feeling of Australia, for which he became famous. "[The] odds seems at the moment to be heavy on the side of Davison's continuing to be known as a writer for his first period rather than his second," Rorabacher concluded.



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 15, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Heseltine, Harry, The Literature of Australia, edited by Geoffrey Dutton, Penguin (Harmonsworth, England), 1976.

Rorabacher, Louise E., Frank Dalby Davison, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1979.


Southerly Volume 6, number 2, 1945, pp. 11-12.*

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