P. R. Stephensen i(105 works by) (a.k.a. Percy Reginald Stephensen; PRS)
Also writes as: Inky ; Peter Russell ; Peter Stephens
Born: Established: 20 Nov 1901 Maryborough, Maryborough (Qld) area, Maryborough - Hervey Bay - Fraser Island area, Maryborough - Rockhampton area, Queensland, ; Died: Ceased: 28 May 1965 Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
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P. R. 'Inky' Stephensen grew up in Maryborough and graduated from the University of Queensland in 1922. In 1921 he edited the university magazine Galmahra, causing controversy by including the erotic lyrics of his friend Jack Lindsay (q.v.).He also joined the Communist Party in that year. From 1922 to 1923 Stephensen taught at Ipswich Grammar School before being awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1924.

In England Stephensen read philosophy, politics and economics at the Queen's College, Oxford, and joined the university branch of the Communist Party. He was involved in the 1926 general strike and helped organise the Workers' Theatre Movement in London. He wrote at least two satirical workers' plays. Disillusioned by the capitulation of the union leadership, he allowed his membership of the Communist Party to lapse. After graduating with second class honours he joined Jack Lindsay at the Fanfrolico Press where he was business manager 1927-1929. His account of this period is given in his book Kookaburras and Satyrs (1954).

Stephensen was involved in the publishing of about twenty titles in 1927-1929, including some translations. He also co-edited, with Jack Lindsay, the literary magazine, London Aphrodite. He set up the Mandrake Press in 1929 to publish D. H. Lawrence's controversial paintings, and took part in an anti-censorship crusade. He also arrranged to produce a secret English edition of Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, and published his own collection of Australian stories, The Bushwhackers (1929). His works of this period included The Legend of Aleister Crowley (1930) as well as prose, verse and short stories. The Mandrake Press collapsed in 1931 and Stephensen returned to Australia in 1932 to become managing editor of the Endeavour Press in Sydney with Norman Lindsay (q.v.). His partner, Winifred Sarah Venus nee Lockyer, accompanied him; they were to marry in 1947.

Over a dozen titles were published before disagreements with the board of Endeavour Press led to Stephensen's resignation in 1933 and the establishment of his own publishing company. P. R. Stephensen & Co. was under-capitalised but managed to publish another dozen Australian works. Its demise in 1935 delayed publication of Xavier Herbert's (q.v) Capricornia. Stephensen had attemped to expand his sketches from The Bushwhackers into a novel, 'The Settlers' in early 1933, but it was never completed.

The Egon Kisch (q.v.) affair prompted Stephensen to lead a rebellion against George Mackaness in the Fellowship of Australian Writers with the support of Frank Clune (q.v.). In July 1935 he launched The Australian Mercury to foster indigenous culture but it lasted only one issue. An early advocate of Aboriginal rights, Stephensen helped organise the 'Day of Mourning and Protest' to mark the sequicentenary on the 26 January 1938.

Stephensen became increasingly involved in right-wing nationalist politics. He was disillusioned with communism and democracy as well as frustrated with the failure of his business ventures. The success of a libel action against the Sydney Bulletin, its printer and Brian Penton (q.v.) in 1936 brought temporary relief from financial penury. In 1941 Stephensen co-founded the Australia First movement which was characterised by extreme isolationist, nationalistic, anti-English, anti-Communist and anti-Semitic views. In 1942 Stephensen, along with other members of the movement, was arrested and subsequently interned without trial until 1945.

On his release after the war Stephensen and his wife moved to Victoria, where for ten years his only work was ghost-writing for Frank Clune. This reached the proportions of an industry; in 1945-1946 alone Clune researched and Stephensen wrote almost 200,000 words including Ben Hall the Bushranger (1947), five long stories for Man magazine and fifty radio broadcasts. Stephensen wrote and co-authored several books about ships and the sea. He was unable to avoid controversy, however. The publication of Kookaburras and Satyrs resulted in public dispute with Jack Lindsay, and hostilities between Stephensen and Xavier Herbert about the writing of Capricornia were revived and aired publicly in the Sydney Bulletin in 1961. Stephensen spent his last years in Sydney where he became involved in writing about its maritime history. His views remained unrepentantly racist, anti-semite and pro-fascist. Stephensen died as flamboyantly as he lived, collapsing after a standing ovation following his speech on censorship and Lady Chatterley's Lover at the Savage Club annual Australian literature night in May 1965.

Stephensen's translations of works in Britain during the 1920s include Lenin's Imperialism (1925) and On the Road to Insurrection (1926) as well as The Antichrist of Nietzsche (1928). As he became more involved with right-wing politics in Australia during the 1930s, Stephensen wrote Trade Without Money! An Examination of the German Barter System (1935), Glossary to 'Bio-Politics' (1941) and Fifty Points for Australia: An Exposition of a Policy for an Australia-First Party after the War (1941). He also wrote Sydney Sails : The Story of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron's First 100 Years (1862-1962) (1962) and The History and Description of Sydney Harbour (1966).

(Source: Adapted from Craig Munro, 'Stephensen, Percy Reginald (1901 - 1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, MUP, 1990, pp 70-71; Craig Munro Wild Man of Letters: The Story of P. R. Stephensen (1984)).


  • See also the full Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for P. R. Stephensen.
  • Craig Munro's Wild Man of Letters: The Story of P. R. Stephensen (q.v.) claims that fifty-six works published by Angus and Robertson in the name of Frank Clune between 1937 and 1970 were written on his behalf by P. R. Stephensen. Munro comments: 'During 1936 Stephensen began what was to become a lifelong collaboration with Clune, first as his 'editor' and then later as his ghost writer. Clune prided hinself on coming from the school of hard knocks but he also suffered from a sense of educational and cultural inferiority, especially among his writer friends, so he took on the Oxford-educated Stephensen to make up the deficiency. When their partnership was well under way, Clune provided the principal research material and anecdotes from his travels, and Stephensen put together and polished the narratives, imitating Clune's jocular style. They first collaborated in Dig (1937), the story of the Burke and Wills expedition, and Stephensen received thirty-five pounds for his assistance.' Munro (305) includes a list of the works they collaborated on.
Last amended 14 Mar 2003
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