Tom Ronan was spent most of his early childhood at Roebuck Plains station, in the inland areas of north-west Australia. His father was a station manager and his mother an amateur actress who used to entertain her children with monologues from Shakespeare.
Shortly after leaving school at the age of fourteen, Ronan started his working life as an apprentice stockman. He was a rouseabout and drover at different periods of his life, and was employed as a ship's clerk and shell-opener on pearling boats at Broome in the 1920s. These experiences would have a lasting influence on Ronan's writing, which depicts life in cattle stations, the bush, and the pearling industry. His novels and memoirs feature characters and reflections about some of the white and aboriginal people he met and worked with on his time there.
Ronan enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at the age of thirty-two. In the two last years of the war and following his return from fighting in El Alamein, Egypt, Ronan worked in the meat-packing industry, which was an essential war occupation. During a period spent in hospital recovering from illness, he started work on what was to become his first novel, Strangers on the Ophir
(1945). In late 1947, he and the thirty-year old writer for radio Mary Elizabeth ('Moya') Kearins were married with Catholic rites. The couple moved to the Northern Territory in 1950, where they brought up ten children and lived until 1969, at which point they relocated to Adelaide.
During this time, Ronan also held a position as technical assistant at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's research station (1950-1957). In 1954 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Batchelor, but he resigned his seat the following year. He chaired the Northern Territory Tourist Board between 1963 and 1965, and later ran a herd of one hundred milking goats. Elizabeth Durack
, a friend, described Ronan as thin, balding, tall and rangy, with penetrating brown eyes, and regarded him as 'a good raconteur'. In the two decades he lived in Springvale homestead, Ronan wrote four of his five novels, a biography of this father, two volumes of autobiography, and a collection of short stories and fragments from his longer narrative works. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, his wife Moya helped edit his manuscripts.