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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adamson, George Ernest Bartlett (1884–1951)

by Robert Darby

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

George Ernest Bartlett Adamson (1884-1951), journalist, was born on 22 December 1884 at Cascade, Ringarooma, Tasmania, son of George Adamson, a miner from Scotland, and his English wife Jane, née Bartlett. The Adamsons shifted to the west coast where Bartlett attended primary schools at Zeehan and Dundas, then worked as a clerk at a mine. About 1914 the family moved to New Zealand. There Adamson became a clerk with the Wellington publishers Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd and later publicity manager for New Zealand Picture Supplies Ltd. On 16 November 1917 he married with Methodist forms Scottish-born Mary Anna McLachlan in her mother's home at Brooklyn; they were to have three sons. Always interested in literature, particularly the English Romantics, he published a volume of verse, Twelve Sonnets (1918).

He was encouraged by its favourable reception in Australia and sailed with his wife for Sydney. Arriving in April 1919, he joined the staff of Smith's Weekly and wrote feature articles, topical verse, jokes and light fiction. In 1923 Adamson left the paper to do freelance work, notably a regular feature in the Sunday News, as well as syndicated crime stories and adventure serials; he also grew fruit at Arcadia and in 1924 helped to establish a packing co-operative for local orchardists. He later founded the slightly salacious Sydneysider which crashed during the Depression, leaving him without a regular income until he rejoined Smith's Weekly in 1935; he was to remain with the paper until it closed in 1950.

Rejected for military service in 1914 on medical grounds, Adamson had been pro-war and anti-Bolshevik. In the 1930s he became an active executive-member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. In the mid-1930s he promoted the communist-sponsored Writers' League (later Association) which amalgamated with the fellowship in 1938. Although subsequently accused by Miles Franklin and Jean Devanny of factionalism in his activities on the F.A.W. executive, as its president Adamson persuaded the government to increase the vote for the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1938 and was to suggest liberal changes embodied in the Obscene and Indecent Publications (Amendment) Act of 1946. His experience in the Depression, his relationship with other writers (especially Devanny), and his alarm at fascist triumphs in Europe and authoritarian trends in his own country had led him to join the Communist Party of Australia by 1943.

Adamson's publications included two collections of leftist political verse, a long erotic poem, Beyond the Sun (privately printed in 1942), bushranger stories, an adventure book for boys and miscellaneous works. Most of his vast journalistic output remains uncollected. As a poet, he was old-fashioned. He typified the survivor on Sydney's Grub Street, the working journalist who could turn his pen to whatever copy was required: in 1939-40 he wrote a poem in praise of airmen for Smith's Weekly and another denouncing the national register for the Workers' Weekly.

Genial, passionate and sometimes obstinate, Adamson was a fighter for civil liberties, a hater of wowsers, an indulgent and often delightful father, and a man who wanted his writing to improve the lot of ordinary people. He was tall and swarthy, with a magnificent voice, and revelled in fresh air, surfing and stonework. Survived by his wife and sons, he died suddenly on 4 November 1951 in Sydney while speaking at the Domain on behalf of the Australian-Soviet Friendship Society. He was cremated after a secular ceremony.

Select Bibliography

  • L. P. Fox, Bartlett Adamson (Syd, 1963)
  • J. Devanny, Point of Departure, C. Ferrier ed (Brisb, 1986)
  • Barjai, 22, 1947, p 28
  • Journalist, Dec 1951
  • Southerly, 13, no 3, 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1924
  • Tribune (Sydney), 7 Nov 1951
  • Adamson scrapbook (privately held)
  • George Adamson papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • F. D. Davison papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Ryland papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Darby, 'Adamson, George Ernest Bartlett (1884–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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