Ion (Jack) Llewellyn Idriess 1889-1979

Dedicated to the Life and Works of

Jack's name

 There are interesting issues about Jack’s name. For about 60 years I had assumed the pronunciation of Jack’s family name was Idr-EE-ess. When I started seriously collecting Idriess books and other material about his life I began to have doubts about my belief.

I found The Australian Dictionary of Biography prefers Idr-UH-ss and around the Daintree River south of Cooktown he is known as EYE-dress. And there may be other pronunciations. Idriess Enterprises, the commercial copyright entity, uses Idr-EE-ess. To settle the matter, I asked some Idriess descendants.

Jack’s nieces (Kathlyn and Gwynnyth) – his sister Katie’s children – pronounce the name EE-dress but Wendell Peacock, Jack’s Grand-daughter, said the name is pronounced Idr-EE-ess.

So I had come full circle back to the pronunciation I had been using for 60 years.

I believe the correct pronunciation is Idr-EE-ess but then Jim Bradly one of today's foremost experts on Jack's life and work has good grounds for using EE-dress.

SO THE PRONUNCIATION ISSUE IS STILL NOT SETTLED. THERE IS EVEN A SUGGESTION THAT "IDRIESS" MIGHT BE A NAME ASSUMED BY HIS FATHER - FROM THE DISTRICT JACK'S FATHER CAME FROM. JACK'S FAMILY NAME MIGHT HAVE BEEN "JONES".

I suppose the solution is to pronounce Jack's surname in a way with which you are comfortable. For me, it's Jack Idr-EE-ess.

Jack’s given names are also a bit confusing. Idriess’ biographer, Beverley Eley, wrote that his full name was Ion Llewellyn Windeyer-Idriess but this is probably not correct. After Jack’s birth his father, Walter Idriess, registered Jack’s name as Ion Windeyer (part of his wife’s maiden name - Juliette Windeyer-Edmonds). Jack’s birth certificate reads just “Ion Windeyer”. Presumably his father took for granted his family name but why not “Ion Llewellyn”?

Whatever the reason, there is no evidence that Jack ever used the name Windeyer, either as a hyphenated family name or as an additional given name. For all of his life he acknowledged the name of Ion Llewellyn Idriess.

Even so, he was known to his mates in the bush as Jack. It is likely that he started calling himself Jack before he was 18. However, when he finally broke away from the care of his step-grandmother in 1908 he fully adopted the name Jack and there is no written reference to his real name again until his first book Madman’s Island was published.

In the 1938 rewriting of that book Idriess explains why he called himself Jack – “In these covers I am alluded to as “Jack”. That was always my old bush name; few of my old friends of the far-out lands ever knew me as Ion”. He often gave a similar explanation in other books.

In the Author’s Note to Back o’ Cairns Idriess said he was teased at school because the name Ion was too different to the usual names of the day. He did not like it. He said he called himself Jack when he ran away to sea to escape from the care of his step-grandmother. He said he kept the name Jack at his next (and successful) attempt to run away – this time to the bush. So it appears Jack suffered the name Ion until he was 18 then he changed his name when he made the break away from his family for a life in the bush.

At another much later time he wrote of his dislike for the name Ion. In 1933 there was a column in the Melbourne Argus newspaper entitled “What’s in a Name”. In this column, Jack’s friend Alec Chisholm wrote, “Ion Idriess respects the Ion because it has descended to him from his Welch forefathers but for everyday use he much prefers plain Jack”. These comments “evoked heartfelt support” from Idriess who responded: “What torment some of us would have been saved at the school roll call if our parents had had a nicer sense of the fitness of things.” As late as 1958 Jack said he would still occasionally hear a disbelieving “way-back bushman” growl, “Jack Idriess! He didn’t write them books! I knoo Jack Idriess well. He could no more write books than I can. Ion Idriess wrote them books – some city bloke!”

So, Idriess was “Jack” in the bush and “Ion” as an author – all his books are written under the name Ion Idriess or Ion L Idriess and only the Author’s Note to Back o’ Cairns is signed Ion (“Jack”) Idriess.

Frequently Jack used a variety of other names for his magazine pieces. In his book of collected Idriess’ articles, Jim Bradly records “Gouger” being used for 20 years. Jim said Jack used "Gouger" in the Bulletin and in Smith's Weekly. Jim discovered that "Cyclone" also appears in Smith's Weekly.

Jim Bradly is uncovering more and more pseudonyms in many publications other than the Bulletin. Jack seemed to use "Gouger" more frequently in the Bulletin right through until the mid-1920’s when he was already preparing to launch his career as an author under his full name. Then he started to use “I.L.I”. In Jim Bradly's book, “Up North” appears in 1925. Also used were “Sniper” in 1928 and “Fingerpoint” in 1928.

Probably, the most curious was the name “Eric”. Enigmatically, Idriess wrote in one of his last books that, “on a selection and locally throughout one district (his name) was Eric”.

The “Cyclone Jack” nickname – widely used around the Cooktown district – was (Jack said) first given him by Aboriginal people. He said they called him Watchell (Cyclone) Jacky because he was too tired and sleepy to step out of his own track. Although, elsewhere, he said Watchell is another name for a sleeping lizard, at page 71 of the The Tin Scratchers, referring to his first days as a “wage slave” at the Annan River Tin Mining Company, he wrote that the name stuck because he would not work – he was “a great worker when the boss is looking”.

Whatever the meaning, Jack said the name was seized on with delight by his white mates because they said he was too slow. His mates said it would take a cyclone to get him moving. Indeed, on his own admission, he did not pull his weight in a bush camp and further, he just did not care. He even seemed to wear this reputation with some pride.

Without any discernable self-consciousness Jack wrote that his mate Dick Welsh, really exasperated with him, exclaimed, “Cyclone, You’re the bloody limit.”