Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vennard, Alexander Vindex (1884–1947)

by Hugh Anderson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Alexander Vindex Vennard (1884-1947), journalist, was born on 11 July 1884 at Vindex station, near Winton, Queensland, son of Irish-born Joseph Vennard, labourer, and his Scottish wife Jane, née Sutherland. In 1890 the family moved to the Normanton district whence, at 13, Alexander stowed away and worked for two years on pearling luggers in Torres Strait. After rejoining his family and attending school in Brisbane, he resumed his adventures in the Pacific until he contracted malaria.

Establishing himself as a journalist in Brisbane, he worked at Bowen and Proserpine before becoming editor of the Port Denison Times. On 13 October 1910 he married Isabel Emily Nicol with Presbyterian forms at Proserpine. The couple settled in Sydney where Vennard wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, Sun, Bulletin and London Daily Mail. Again smitten by wanderlust, he took his swag and left home in 1913. At Coonamble, as 'Frank Reid', he enlisted in the 18th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 5 April 1915; by October he was fighting on Gallipoli with the 5th Brigade.

Evacuated to Egypt, Reid contributed articles to local and English newspapers. He transferred to the Imperial Camel Corps and served in the Libyan desert, Sinai and Palestine. Described as a 'hard case' who 'never shirked his duty or his punishments', he was wounded and hospitalized at Gaza in 1917. At Moascar camp, near Ismailia, he met David Barker with whom in 1918 he produced Kia Ora Coo-ee, a monthly magazine for Australian and New Zealand troops. When Charles Barrett joined them, circulation rose from 3000 to 15,000. After being discharged in Sydney in May 1919, Reid wrote short stories for Smith's Weekly for nearly two years.

Lured to the north, he contributed articles to Cummins & Campbell's Monthly Magazine, and a regular column 'On the Track' for the North Queensland Register, Townsville, for about twenty-five years. He adopted the pseudonym 'Bill Bowyang' after the straps buckled over trousers below the knees. Collecting yarns, ballads and anecdotes about bush life, and gathering contributions from readers, Vennard published—in addition to his column—at least nine booklets of 'bush recitations'. As 'Frank Reid' he also wrote Toilers of the Reef (1925), a book for children, and The Fighting Cameliers (1934), a breezy, historical narrative permeated with digger insouciance. His Romance of the Great Barrier Reef was published posthumously (1954). He wrote other occasional pieces under the pen-names 'Island Exile', 'Island Trader', 'Wirraroo', 'Fossicker', 'Maurice Dean' and 'Frank Neil'. Having risen from printer's devil to author, he knew every line of the Inky Way.

A constant friend to bushmen and 'diggers', Vennard in later life had a bedraggled appearance: 'His black creased shoes were untied; his unpressed serge pants were held by a leather belt and he wore an open necked khaki shirt. He was stout, and his rugged features proclaimed him as a lover of the open spaces'. He had huge hands and kindly grey eyes. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, Vennard died of heart disease in Bowen hospital on 16 February 1947 and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Barker, The Story of ‘Bill Bowyang’ (Bowen, Qld, 1978)
  • Kia Ora Coo-ee, 15 July 1918
  • Topic, 19 June 1947
  • Cummins and Campbell's Monthly Magazine, Mar 1947
  • Islands Review, 1, no 4, Jan-Mar 1969, p 14
  • Bowen Independent, Oct 1924, 28 May 1927
  • North Queensland Register, 1 Dec 1973.

Citation details

Hugh Anderson, 'Vennard, Alexander Vindex (1884–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/vennard-alexander-vindex-8912/text15657, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 12 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Reid, Frank
  • Bowyang, Bill
  • Island Exile
  • Dean, Maurice
  • Island Trader
  • Wirraroo
  • Fossicker
  • Neil, Frank
Birth

11 July 1884
Winton, Queensland, Australia

Death

16 February 1947
Bowen, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation