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Cox, Erle (1873–1950)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Erle Cox (1873-1950), writer and journalist, was born on 15 August 1873 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, son of Ross Cox, teacher, part-time writer and later inspector of schools, from Dublin, and his wife Mary, née Haskell, of Melbourne. After education at Castlemaine Grammar School and a year at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Cox took up wine-growing at Rutherglen. Ten years later he went to Tasmania, where he was based in Launceston as a traveller for a tobacco firm. On 24 December 1901 he married Mary Ellen Kilborn, daughter of a Wahgunyah vigneron; the couple later settled in Melbourne where Cox worked as a 'mercantile agent'.

Cox's first published stories appeared in the Lone Hand in 1908 and 1909. In 1918 he won a Bulletin competition for a four-line epitaph on a fallen soldier. Regular contributions to 'The Passing Show' column in the Melbourne Argus led in 1921 to a post on the editorial staff. As 'The Chiel' and under his own name he wrote special articles, features on religion and the Churches, book reviews and from 1929, film critiques. He became well known as a champion of British movies; his pungent style, humour and unquestionable honesty won him a large following of readers and the grudging respect of the film industry. In 1946 with others he was given five days notice to leave the ailing Argus. He promptly joined the Age, taking his 'Chiel' nom de plume, and many of his readers with him.

Cox's main claim to fame is his novel Out of the Silence, a classic work of science fiction. Set in rural Australia, it tells the story of a young vigneron who discovers, buried beneath his land, a huge sphere containing the culture and technology of a past civilization. Cox began to write the book about 1916 but had shaped the idea for it earlier—'pacing up and down the St Kilda sands'. At first he was unable to find a publisher but in 1919 the Argus printed the story in weekly instalments between 19 April and 25 October. It created extraordinary interest: 'No more successful serial story has been published in Australia' claimed the Australasian in 1925, heralding its appearance in Melbourne in book form. That year it was also published in London and, in 1928, in New York. American reviewers placed it alongside the works of Jules Verne and Rider Haggard. A new edition appeared in 1932; in 1934 the Argus published a picture-strip version and 3DB broadcast the story as a 25-part serial. Two more editions were published: one in 1947 with a prologue added, and in 1974 a French translation entitled La sphére d'or.

In 1938 at the behest of the Argus, Cox wrote another book, designed to awaken Australians to the threat of an invasion from the north: Fools' Harvest, serialized in the Argus in November 1938 and published next year, pictured Australia plunged into a grim struggle against occupation forces. The Missing Angel, a humorous piece, was published in 1947.

Tall, well-built, with silver hair and distinguished features, Cox was an avid reader with especial interest in the history of the French court. In August 1950 he retired because of ill health and on 20 November died at his home in Elsternwick; he was cremated after a Presbyterian service. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, Erle Harold, who for many years represented the Melbourne Herald in Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • G. McInnes, Goodbye, Melbourne Town (Lond, 1968)
  • Melbourne Science Fiction Club, Somerset Gazette, Jan 1971
  • All About Books, 18 Apr 1929
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 1 Aug 1925, 3 June 1939
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 Nov 1950
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Nov 1950
  • R. H. Croll papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Cox, Erle (1873–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/cox-erle-5799/text9841, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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