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Ambrose Pratt was the son of an English surgeon with connections to New South Wales conservative politicians such as Henry Parkes and Edmund Barton. Pratt was educated at St.Ignatius College, Riverview, and Sydney Grammar School. Private tutors provided instruction in French, German, riding, boxing, fencing and shooting. Family losses in the 1890s depression led Pratt into the law but he soon gained a reputation as a polished debater and contributor to the Australian Worker, reflecting his Labor sympathies.
After a brief interlude in the South Pacific and droving in Queensland, Pratt married Eileen May Roberts in Sydney in 1898 and sailed for England to launch a career in writing and journalism. Lord Northcliffe invited him to join the Daily Mail where he was employed until 1905 and it was during this time that he began to write the first of twenty novels which he admitted were pot-boilers. Pratt became a bestselling author of Australian bushranging, convict and larrikin yarns, socio-political and industrial romances and lurid spy novels set in European contexts. Miller comments that Pratt is 'an actionist and relies upon the vividness and rapid movement of events to sustain the interest of the reader'(p.487). Most of his novels were published in England, a few in America and some were translated. Those with Australian themes rapidly became bestsellers for the New South Wales Bookstall Company.
Pratt became a leader writer for the Age from 1905 and from 1918-1927 was editor and part-proprietor of the Australian Industrial and Mining Standard. Philosophicaly he was a Deakinite Liberal whose views on the need for a strong naval defence, tariff protection and the threatening power balance in Asia and the Pacific won him allies on both sides of politics. He shifted into the conservative camp after the 1916 Labor Split and was a member of 'the Group' that engineered Lyons's defection from the Labor Party in 1931.
By the 1920s Pratt was a wealthy businessman with considerable investments in Asia. He no longer needed to write pot-boilers and his literary output focused on the preservation of Australian fauna, the development of ideals of citizenship in Australian youth and interpreting Asian thought and civilisation for an Australian audience. His last novel, Lift UpYour Eyes, reflected his concern for the spiritual regeneration of Australia through its youth.
Throughout his life Pratt had been exposed to Asian influences. His father had been a British consular official in China and his grandfather was an amateur Orientalist who sought enlightenment in India and Tibet. In his later years Pratt travelled frequently to Asia for both commercial gain and intellectual enrichment. He came to question the inherent progressiveness of the West and believed Asian religions could benefit Australian society by teaching the cardinal virtue of self-sacrifice for the good of the community. During World War II he denounced the White Australia Policy publicly. His last literary effort, the play 'Point in Time' (1941), attempted to interpret Chinese philosophy to an Australian audience.
Pratt was almost as well known for his non-fiction as his novels including David Syme: TheFather of Protection (1908), The Real South Africa (1913), The Red Book: aPost-Bellum Policy for the British People (1914), The Australian Tariff Handbook: 1919, Magical Malaya (1931), The Elements of Constructive Economics (1931), The Lore of the Lyrebird (1933), The Centenary History of Victoria (1934), The Call of theKoala (1937), and Sydney Myer: a Biography (1978). He also edited the Handbook of Australia's Industries (1934) and edited and translated The Judgement of the Orient: Reflections on the Great War by K'Ung Yuan Ku'Suh (1916).