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Norman, Noel Wilson ('Louis Kaye') (1901–1981)

by Peter Pierce

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

This is a shared entry with Leslie Norman

Noel Wilson Norman (‘Louis Kaye’) (1901-1981), author, was born on 14 July 1901 at Claremont, Tasmania, eldest of five sons of Tasmanian-born parents Leslie Norman (1876-1954), civil servant, and his wife Ethel Mary, née Wilson.  Leslie had been born on 5 July 1876 in Hobart, son of Frederick William Norman, schoolteacher, and his wife Margaret Ann, née Hurburgh.  The family home was the Derwent School, run by Frederick Norman.  Leslie, who married Ethel on 3 October 1900 at the Congregational Church, New Town, was a clerk in the Tasmanian Public Service, until he was retrenched in 1925.  An enthusiastic and eccentric proponent of his island home, he was secretary from 1926 of the 'Come to Tasmania' Organisation, which aimed to attract tourists to the State.  He proposed building a casino (a 'Monte Carlo') at Kingston Beach, south of Hobart, and, under the auspices of the organisation, published Tasmania’s Strange Story in 1929.  In 1931 he became paid secretary of the short-lived Dominion League of Tasmania, which demanded 'justice for Tasmanians or secession'.  He wrote a series of books on ships and the sea, including A Hundred Years of Yachting (1936), Pioneer Shipping of Tasmania (1938) and Sea Wolves and Bandits (1946).  Survived by his wife and three of their sons, Leslie Norman died on 13 August 1954 in Hobart and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Noel, who preferred to be called 'Bill', was educated privately and briefly at The Hutchins School, but ran away from home at 13; he worked on a farm at Hagley before travelling and working as a stockman and drover in the Western Australian outback.  This trip provided seminal material for most of his later novels.  Back in Tasmania, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1918 but was discharged when his real age was discovered.  He worked as an insurance agent for a while.  In 1922 he was reported to be destitute in Melbourne and his father reluctantly paid his fare home to Hobart.

Moving into quarters behind the Lindisfarne home of a widow, Gwendoline Gibson—where he was to live for some thirty-five years—Norman started to write short stories.  To the chagrin of his father, who despised his literary aspirations, he quickly achieved notable popular and financial success; his brother Don, also a writer, remembered that, early in the 1930s, the Saturday Evening Post paid him $US1500 for a story.  Written under various pseudonyms, his stories found outlets in newspapers and journals in Britain, including the Strand Magazine and the Illustrated London News, as well as in the United States of America and Canada.  From 1931 to 1938, beginning with Tybal Men, a sheep station saga, and ending with Tracks of Levask, he published thirteen novels with Wright & Brown, of London, under the nom de plume 'Louis Kaye'.  Spiced with elements of the American Western, these books showed a sense of the imaginative importance of the continent’s interior.  In 1933 Norman deplored Australia’s failure to confront 'our plains and desert country'.  He also revealed sensitivity towards Aborigines.  The tales of adventure and sagas of pioneer struggle placed him in the mainstream of Australian fiction in the interwar years.

Financially secure, as his father had never been, Norman began to develop real estate in southern Tasmania.  Although he continued to publish stories in the 1950s, he gradually stopped writing because of double taxation on his overseas earnings and publishers’ demands for more sensational material.  He retained, however, his membership of the Authors Guild in the USA.  In Australia his work fell into obscurity.

On 4 July 1962 at the registrar-general’s office, Hobart, Norman married German-born Ursula Valeske Dambergs, née Wehlfeldt, a clerk and a divorcee.  They lived at Launceston.  After Norman suffered a stroke early in the 1970s, he was moved to a nursing home in Hobart.  There were no children.  Survived by his wife, he died on 19 April 1981 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Miller and F. T. Macartney, Australian Literature (1956), p 261
  • M. Giordano and D. Norman, Tasmanian Literary Landmarks (1984)
  • D. Norman, A Tasmanian Life (1994)
  • Australian Author, August 1981, p 35
  • Journal of Australian Studies, no 36, 1993, p 36
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23 April 1981, p 10

Citation details

Peter Pierce, 'Norman, Noel Wilson ('Louis Kaye') (1901–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/norman-noel-wilson-louis-kaye-15094/text26294, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 13 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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