Also writes as: Steele Rudder ; Arthur H. Davis
Born: Established: 14 Nov 1868 Drayton ; Died: 11 Oct 1935 Brisbane
Steele Rudd was born Arthur Hoey Davis at Drayton, Queensland, in 1868. He was the eighth of thirteen children born to Thomas Davis (q.v.), a Welsh blacksmith and selector, and his Irish wife, Mary nee Green. Rudd was educated at the Emu Creek State School, leaving at twelve to work on several local properties before moving to Brisbane in 1885 to become a clerk in the public service. In 1889, Rudd was transferred to the sheriff's office in the Supreme Court and was promoted to under-sheriff in 1902 before being retrenched under Sir Arthur Morgan's Special Retrenchment Act in 1904. During the 1890s he shared lodgings with Cecil Boland, a young solicitor, who introduced him to the works of Scott, Thackeray and Dickens.
Rudd began contributing rowing skits to the Brisbane Chronicle in 1890 under the name of 'Steele Rudder' (from the English essayist Richard Steele and the part of a boat). This had been shortened to Steele Rudd by the time the first of Rudd's selection stories, 'Starting the Selection' based on his father's experience, appeared in the Sydney Bulletin in 1895. Encouraged by the editors of the Bulletin, Rudd contributed a steady flow of selection stories. The popularity of these stories saw the publication of Rudd's first collection, On Our Selection, in 1899. This was followed four years later by Our New Selection, the second of ten volumes that deal with the Rudd family. While Rudd wrote more, this history of the Rudd family remains his most important work.
In December 1894 Rudd had married Violet Christine Brodie; they had three sons and a daughter. She was alarmed when he refused lower level public service employment in favour of forming a company to produce Steele Rudd's Magazine, an illustrated monthly. Davis began to drink socially to promote circulation and advertising, moving the family to Sydney. The magazine's collapse and the family's return to Brisbane brought discord in the family that marked the start of his wife's nervous breakdown. In 1909 Rudd reluctantly bought a farm on the Darling Downs near Nobby at his wife's insistence. Rudd continued to write and actively participated in local affairs.
The family had to return to Brisbane in 1917 as Violet's health continued to deteriorate and she required special medical attention. Rudd failed to rejoin the public service or sell his farms. The latter were a constant drain on his resources and in 1919 his wife was permanently admitted to the Hospital for the Insane. The loss of assets under her name adversely affected the finances of Rudd. Fotheringham (1995) asserts that Rudd's literary creativity was destroyed by the return to a farming life. This is reflected in the stories he wrote between 1908 and 1913. In 1913 he stopped writing for three years. Rudd had tried for many years to gain the interest of the commercial theatre in the Rudd family; finally in May 1912 actor-manager Bert Bailey q.v.) staged a version of On Our Selection. Between 1912 and 1916 it was seen by one million people in Australia and New Zealand with regular revivals until 1929. Rudd was to gain only modest royalty payments from these performances. During the war Rudd wrote three other plays, 'Duncan McClure' (1915), 'Gran'dad Rudd' (1917) and 'On Grubb's Selection' (1920). The latter two were the most commercially successful.
Rudd moved several times between Brisbane, Sydney and Toowomba while working as a freelance writer and editor of several 'Steele Rudd' magazines. The publishing world had changed by the time Rudd returned to writing in 1916. Local publication was becoming more difficult as production costs increased; publishers were not interested in cheap one-shilling works. Rudd also had difficulty finding acceptance as a writer outside the narrow vein of Steele Rudd stories. The exception was The Memoirs of Corporal Keeley (1918), a well written and popular work, enriched by Rudd's access to the letters of his son, Gower, about army life during World War I.
The failure of his magazine publishing ventures forced Rudd to sign away the rights to some of his works, leaving him with little financial success. Despite the popularity of Bert Bailey's stage and screen adaptations, the royalties were meagre. The Depression worsened his situation with the failure of the film version of The Romance of Runnibede and the bankruptcy of the producer of the stage version of The Rudd Family. Rudd was divorced in 1934 and had relationships with Winifred Hamilton (1923-1932) and Beatrice Sharp (1932-1935) whom he intended to marry until ill health intervened. His last years were spent battling alcoholism and loneliness; he saw little of his children. Rudd was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund pension from October 1930 and left only £501 when he died in 1935. Nevertheless the continued popularity of Rudd's stories and a 1990s television adaptation testify to the influence of these stories on Australian culture.
(Source: Richard Fotheringham In Search of Steele Rudd (1995); Van Ikin, 'Davis, Arthur Hoey [Steele Rudd] (1868 - 1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography online; and '"Rudd, Steele" (Arthur Hoey Davis) (1868-1935)' in William Wilde et. al. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994): 666-667)