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Source: Sun (Sydney) 27 May 1934, p.44.
Con Drew i(58 works by) (a.k.a. Conway T. Drew)
Born: Established: 1875 Brisbane, Queensland, ; Died: Ceased: 1942
Gender: Male
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BiographyHistory

(1875-1942) Soldier, bookmaker, sportsman, trainer, journalist, author, playwright, editor, publisher, screenwriter.



OVERVIEW

Once described as 'the 'Steele Rudd' of Sydney's underworld,' Conway T. Drew was regarded by his contemporaries as one of Australia's leading humorists and authors of popular culture fiction, particularly through his horseracing industry stories. Since then his reputation has been largely overshadowed by other writers from that period, notably Rudd (On Our Selection!) and C. J. Dennis (The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke). Like Dennis, Drew specialised in telling his stories in the vernacular of the day. He also focused on the underbelly of city life, peopling his stories with flawed, but nevertheless likable characters who frequently found themselves in situations outside respectable society and the law.

Drew's own life was full of adventure and variation. Raised and educated in Brisbane he excelled at sport and while still a young man fought in the Boer War. After returning home he built a reputation as sporting trainer, hotelier, story teller, bookie, businessman and publisher before turning to journalism and eventually a career as an author. In addition to his novels and short story collections Drew's works have appeared in such publications as the Sun (Sydney), Sydney Sportsman, Referee, Arrow, Punch, The Lone Hand, Bulletin, Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and The World's News (Sydney), and numerous regional newspapers. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1924 silent film Dope. As an editor and publisher he helped promote surfing and lacrosse.



DETAILED BIOGRAPHY

1875-1907: The son of William Leworthy Goode Drew (1826-1989), at one stage the Chairman of the Queensland Public Service Board, Con Drew was one of six surviving children, and the youngest of three boys. Educated at Brisbane Grammar, he excelled at most sports, notably boxing and cycling, and showed promise in the study of English and maths. After completing his schooling he spent a number of years travelling overseas before enlisting with the Australian and British forces in the Boer War. While in South Africa in 1900 Drew gained attention around Australia after sending a novel message to his cycling club in Brisbane. Described in the Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate as a 'droll card' (13 June 1900, p.2), Drew reportedly wrote his Christmas message on a biscuit (see also Brisbane Courier 31 January 1900, p.6). His association with South Africa also saw him become a member of that country's Soldiers' Association.

After returning home in 1901 Drew moved to Sydney where he initially pursued a career training athletes and involving himself in various aspects of sports publicity and promotion. In 1907 he became proprietor of Kelso's Hotel at the corner of Oxford and Crown streets, and soon after, in partnership with a gentleman known as Cocker Tweedle, established a boxing, wrestling and punch-ball academy that operated out of the premises. Among those to use the facilities for their students were Snowy Sturgeon and Will Dibley (Sturgeon, the prominent Sydney boxer and trainer was later associated with vaudeville entrepreneur Harry Clay as his chief 'chucker-out' at the North Sydney Coliseum).

By this time, too, Drew had begun to establish himself as a yarn teller of some repute. A number of his stories were subsequently retold in Sydney newspapers like the Arrow, Referee and Sydney Sportsman. His name also began to appear frequently in Sydney newspapers in connection with sporting wagers and as a donator of prizes for various events. Among these was a 1908 'go-as-you-please road race organised by Andy Kerr (aka the 'Coogee Bunyip').

1908-1915: Drew sold his license for Kelso's Hotel in late-1908 and for the next few years focused on training boxers while also working as caretaker of Shark Island. His involvement with this latter venture included a fishing and picnic catering service. Of the sportsmen he trained, Drew had arguably his biggest success with Jack O'Neill, a navel boxer stationed on H.M.S. Powerful. References to Drew's stories and jokes (often published under the title 'Con Drew's Joke') also continued to appear in papers over the next four years.

In 1912 Drew made use of his high-profile and vast experience within the sporting fraternity to set himself up as an on-course bookie at Victoria Park Racecourse. In announcing his debut in the ledger on 24 July, the Sydney Sportsman said of him:

If it is the same Con as we know in the old days the punters cannot go wrong in doing their business with him. He understands the game from A. to Z. and Andy Kerr, the Coogee Bunyip, swears by him. The Bunyip says he has got more money than him so if punters are lucky enough to back a winner with him there will be no waiting, your cash will be there with civility. Con's motto is 'Over the odd, and fair dealing,' and punter cannot do better than give him a turn ('Con Drew's Joke. ' 24 July 1912, p.5).

That same year Drew also established another sporting business, this time a billiards saloon in George Street.

Sometime during the years 1913 or 1914 Drew turned his storytelling into a part time career through Sydney's Telegraph newspaper. This led in turn to a collaboration with I. B. Evans in 1915 that produced a collection of stories focusing on the horseracing industry. Titled The Grafter, and published by Drew himself (using the Shipping Newspaper Company as printer), the collection was well-received in most reviews following its initial release. As Sydney's Sun newspaper records:

Con Drew and J. B. Evans [sic] are two local authors with whose names Australian literature has not previously been acquainted. Which shows that Australian literature is a short-sighted affair, seeing that some of the yarns contained in The Grafter, a volume of short but connected stories just published, had previously appeared in the Daily Telegraph. How they escaped notice is a mystery, but none of the Telegraph readers remember that journal containing anything one-tenth as bright as these delightful tales of Sydney spieler life ('Good Goods ; Bad Packing,' p.22).

1916-1919: By 1916 Drew's celebrity status was such that he was chosen to by prominent chemist G. W. Hean to endorse the company's Tonic Nerve Nuts through a widely published series of newspaper advertisements. Interestingly, the Hean's advertisements began appearing around the same time that Drew's second volume in the Grafter series was published. Written this time in the form of a novel, and without former collaborator I. B. Evan's, the book (which Drew again self-published) redirects its focus to the Grafter's mate, Jinker. Following its release in February 1916 Jinker, The Grafter's Mate quickly secured Drew's reputation as the country's most popular writer of 'sporting' novels.

On the advice of Bert Bailey Drew began adapting Jinker into a stage play sometime around mid-1916. A planned production for later in the year was curtailed, however, owing to the briefness of Bailey's Melbourne season and the 'possibility of On Our Selection running the whole of it' ('On and Off the Stage,' 28 September 1916, p.19). It was also likely that the dramatically inexperienced author had been unable to complete the adaptation in time. Drew eventually completed the script in early 1917 in collaboration with Oswald Anderson. Both authors were determined to have the play produced during Melbourne's Easter racing carnival season but eventually settled for Sydney as its Repertory Theatre was the only suitable venue available to them ('A New Australian Play,' p.17). Anderson took on the role of producer, with Walter Bentley its director. Unfortunately the novel's popularity, and a cast comprsing some well-known actors did not result in a successful stage adaptation. Indeed, according to evidence given by Anderson during his application for bankruptcy in 1919 the Repertory Theatre season was an absolute disaster. The Sun newspaper further records:

Then it was transferred to the Theatre Royal for two weeks. The first week it paid its way, but the second week it was a failure. It was then taken to tho country. The author and witness [Drew] dramatised the story. His partner was not able to find his share, and he had to find the lot, which necessitated his borrowing £450 ('Musical Venture : Anderson's Limited.' 29 May 1919, 27).

Following the failure of his first and only theatrical venture Drew returned to his career as a literary writer. His first major work was the biography Reminiscences of Dick Gilbert, published in 1917. Between December that year and mid-April 1918 he also edited and published The Surf : A Journal of Sport and Pastime. Although short-lived The Surf is believed to have been the world's first surfing paper.

Over the next few years Drew's stories, articles and poetry appeared in newspapers around the country. Largely revolving around sporting activities, the titles included: 'Cocoa : Dodging the "Knock,' 'Hooks and Crooks : Living on their Wits,' and 'A Deal in Pigeons' (1918). In 1919 the Bookstall Company of Sydney published The Doings of Dave, his collection of 30 interrelated stories again focusing on the sporting underworld. Late that same year he also began contributing 'The Smokeroom' column to the Referee. It continued well into 1920.

1920-1929: Over the course of the 1920s Con Drew's articles, stories and poems continued to find popular favour with Australians. Among his more popular syndicated stories during the early years were 'How He Won,' 'A Snakebite Antidote,' 'The Marked Coin' (1920), and 'The Cockney and the Prince,' 'The Goose and the Gold,' and 'The Double Cross' (1921). Among his published poems around this same period were 'Down Manly Way' (1922) and 'The Sentimental Loser' (1923).

In 1922 Drew published another volume of stories - Rogues and Ruses, again through the Bookstall Company. The following year he completed the screenplay for 'The Trail of Twang.' The film was produced by Australasian Pictures Productions and released the following year with the new title Dope.

The mid-1920s saw the publication of stories like 'Under the X-rays,' 'Bill Beach and His Sweater' (1923) and 'A Matter of Nerve' (1924). In late 1924 he was also employed as sporting writer for Keith Murdoch's newly-purchased Punch magazine.

In 1927 Drew's stories began appearing on radio. The first known work to be broadcast was 'The Cockney and the Prince.' Narrated by Montgomery Stuart, it aired on Sydney station 2FC on 1 November. Stuart narrated two more stories ('Stringer Johnson's Goose' and 'Dennis and the Wallnuts') later that same month. This time they were relayed interstate. The favourable response led to 2FC broadcasting more stories in December. The station also revived the series between May and June 1928, this time with Brunton Gibb narrating.

1930-1942: Although aged 55 at the start of the 1930s, Drew shows no sign of having slowed down in either his creative or his journalistic output at that stage. His first newspaper piece published that year, in late February, was 'The Quetta Wreck,' an historical insight published on the 40th anniversary of the ship's sinking (Evening News 28 February 1930, p.6). He appears to have been focusing more intently on this form of journalism for newspapers by the 1930s. Another piece published in 1931, for example, explores the history of Shark Island (1931).

Much of Con Drew's writing between ca. 1932 and the end of the decade was published in the Bulletin. He has been linked to the journal as early as 1927, however, with the publication of 'The Grafter and the Goose' (11 August). Some of his works nevertheless still appeared in other outlets, sometimes as reprints from the Bulletin, and at other times written expressly for a particular newspaper or magazine. Two such articles were published in Brisbane's Sunday Mail in 1935, for example - the first being his recall of 'Brisbane Forty Years Ago' (10 February, p.34), and the second titled 'Stage of Fifty Years Ago' (7 July, p.35). Other newspapers to publish his works during the 1930s included the Sun (Sydney), Queenslander, and World's News.

In December 1938 Drew's wife, Amelia, passed away at a private hospital in Darlinghurst, Sydney. She was aged 66. At the time the couple were living at 5 Waratah Street, Rushcutters Bay.

No details relating to Con Drew's life or literary activities between 1938 and his death in early 1942 have yet been located. The Truth (Sydney) records, however, that he had been ill for some time and that this had 'kept him away from the Inky Way' ('Humorist Con Drew Lay's Down His Pen.' 4 January 1942, p.21).

Notes

  • During the Theatre Royal season of Jinker the Grafter's Mate, Oswald Anderson announced that the play would later undertake a country tour. In his 1919 bankruptcy application he also stated that the country tour had taken place. However no details relating to this tour have yet been located using the National Library of Australia's digitised newspaper service, Trove.

  • This biography has been contributed by Dr Clay Djubal as part of a digital archive and educational program research grant (2015-2016) awarded to Kerry Kilner (UQ Research Fellow, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland). Funding for this grant was made available by The Ian Potter Foundation.

Last amended 10 Dec 2016 07:57:11
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