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Ivan Francis Southall AM, DFC (8 June 1921 – 15 November 2008) was an Australian writer best known for young adult fiction.[1] He wrote more than 30 children's books, six books for adults, and at least ten works of history, biography or other non-fiction.[2]

Ivan Southall
BornIvan Francis Southall
(1921-06-08)8 June 1921
Canterbury, Victoria
Died15 November 2008(2008-11-15) (aged 87)
Wantirna, Victoria
Notable worksAsh Road, To the Wild Sky, Bread and Honey, Fly West
Notable awardsChildren's Book of the Year Award: Older Readers 1966, 1968, 1971, 1976; Carnegie Medal 1971
Years active1942-2000


Early lifeEdit

Ivan Southall was born in Melbourne, Victoria. His father died when Ivan was 14, and he and his brother Gordon were raised by their mother. He went to Mont Albert Central School (where he wrote the first of his Simon Black stories) and later Box Hill Grammar, but was forced to leave school early, and became an apprentice process engraver. He joined the Royal Air Force in Britain, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in sinking a German U-boat in the Bay of Biscay in 1944. He returned to Australia with his English bride, Joy Blackburn. Their youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome.

He tried his hand at farming at Monbulk, but the attempt foundered. His only option was to become a full-time writer[citation needed].


Ivan Southall had two careers as a writer.

His first period was mainly as author for adult readers, up to 1960. Notably, he wrote the biography of Keith Truscott, an Australian fighter ace who served in England in the last stages of the Battle of Britain and the aftermath, including seeing action during Unternehmen Zerberus (Operation Cerberus), the breakout from Brest harbor of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, later in Darwin, in North Australia, during the early Japanese air raids and at Milne Bay, at the eastern end of New Guinea, during the last stages of the Japanese advances into the South Pacific and New Guinea.

Southall also wrote the official history of his Royal Australian Air Force squadron in the south of England, when he was pilot of Short Sunderland flying boats patrolling against and attacking German U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. Later he published a version of this history as They Shall Not Pass Unseen and much later returned to his experiences of combat in Sunderlands in books for younger readers, including the non-fiction Fly West and the novels Simon Black in Coastal Command and What About Tomorrow?.

Southall also wrote Softly Tread the Brave, describing the cold-blooded courage of Australian bomb-disposal officers, Hugh Syme and John Mould, serving in the Royal Australian Volunteer Naval Reserve, in England, when German bombers used parachutes to drop massive sea-mines on British cities. A sea-mine contained far more explosive than steel-plated bombs and could devastate a city block. To prevent an unexploded sea-mine from being defuzed, the mines were fitted with extremely complicated and sensitive fuzes. Some were light-sensitive, others were magnetically triggered, others were fitted with trembler-triggers. Southall later published a version of this story for younger readers under the title Seventeen Seconds — the time available to run in case the fuse of the mine was accidentally triggered while the bomb-disposers were trying to dismantle the fuse.

If Southall had written nothing else he would deserve the same kind of fame as his fellow-Australian, Paul Brickhill (author of The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky and The Great Escape), for his non-fiction accounts of fascinating and important people and actions during World War II but Southall wrote much more.

From 1950 to 1962, Southall also wrote, for younger readers, adventure stories about a fictional brave pilot, 'Simon Black' — an Australian counterpart to W.E. Johns' hero 'Biggles'. Several of these ventured into science-fiction, with space flight, aliens and lost humanoid races.

Southall's major, second career as author began with his move from the often unrealistic heroics of 'Simon Black' into the everyday world of children and teenage characters, beginning with Hills End, Ash Road. Many of these plunge the young characters into physical dangers, such as flood or bush-fire or a major highway accident, at times when adults are absent and unable to help. Others present more psychological stresses, such as climbing a tree (despite a major physical disability), confronting bullies or anticipating a Japanese attack in mainland Australia. His later novels for young adults conducted most of the action in the mind of the central character, allowing Southall to introduce memories of other adults (often war heroes) and thoughts about religion, the Bible, pacifism, love and death. These are often difficult works, undervalued and misunderstood by critics and readers — notably Blackbird and The Mysterious World of Marcus Leadbeater, which, like the earlier Bread and Honey (with a central theme of a soldiers heroism in the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I), are profound reflections on heroism, cowardice and World War II.

Southall's best known children's novels include Hills End, Ash Road, Let the Balloon Go and Josh (1962 to 1971). The non-fiction Fly West recounts his experiences in Short Sunderland flying boats during the Second World War.[3] He is the only Australian winner of the annual Carnegie Medal for British children's books, the 1971 award to Josh.[1][4][a]

Southall dealt in his books both with survival in the face of dramatic events such as fire and flood and with personal and psychological challenges. He was one of the first to write specifically for young adults.[5]

A retrospective exhibition Southall A–Z: Ash Road to Ziggurat was held in the State Library of Victoria in 1998 and is available online.[5] It includes an interview conducted in 1997, a biography, bibliography and exhibition of book cover designs with information about the books.[6]

He met his first wife, Joy Blackburn, during the Second World War and they had four children, Andrew, Roberta, Elizabeth and Melissa. He remarried, to Susan Stanton, whom he met in 1974 on his United States visit to deliver the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture at the University of Washington. Southall died of cancer on 15 November 2008 aged 87.[7]


Ivan Southall won the 1971 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising Josh as the year's best children's book by a British subject.[4] He was the first Medalist from outside the United Kingdom and remains the only one from Australia.[8][a]

Ash Road, To the Wild Sky, Bread and Honey and the nonfiction Fly West were all named CBCA Australian Children's Book of the Year (1966 to 1976).

Southall was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1981.[9]

In 2003 he was awarded the Dromkeen Medal by the Oldmeadow Foundation for his lifetime contribution to children's literature in Australia.[10]

Earlier that year, the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association had recognised The Long Night Watch (Methuen Children's Books, 1983) as the best English-language children's book that did get not a major award when it was originally published twenty years earlier. It is named for the mythical bird phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes, to suggest the book's rise from obscurity.[11]

The Sly Old Wardrobe, written by Southall and illustrated by Ted Greenwood, was named Children's Picture Book of the Year in 1969.[1]



  • The Weaver from Meltham (Melbourne: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1950) — about South Geelong carpet manufacturer Godfrey Hirst[12]
  • The Story of The Hermitage: the first fifty years of the Geelong Church of England Girls' Grammar School (Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire, 1956)
  • They Shall Not Pass Unseen (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1956)
  • A Tale of Box Hill: day of the forest (Box Hill: Box Hill City Council, 1957)
  • Bluey Truscott (Angus and Robertson, 1958)
  • Softly Tread the Brave (1960)about Australian mine clearance officers John Mould and Hugh Syme (GC)
  • Seventeen Seconds (1960) an abridged version of Softly Tread the Brave
  • Journey into Mystery (1961)
  • Parson on the Track (1961)
  • Indonesia Face to Face (1964)
  • Lawrence Hargrave (1964), in the Six Great Australians series[1]
  • Rockets in the Desert: The Story of Woomera (1965)
  • The Challenge: Is the Church Obsolete? (1966)
  • Fly West (1974)
  • A Journey of Discovery: on writing for children (1975)


  • Simon Black series (RAAF adventure stories)[13]
    • Meet Simon Black (1950)
    • Simon Black in Peril (1951)
    • Simon Black in Space (1952)
    • Simon Black in Coastal Command (1953)
    • Simon Black in China (1954)
    • Simon Black and the Spacemen (1955)
    • Simon Black in the Antarctic (1956)
    • Simon Black Takes Over (1959)
    • Simon Black at Sea (1961)

After Simon Black, Southall changed emphasis "from the actual adventure ... to the depiction of the way children respond, interact and grow".[13]

  • Hills End (1962)
  • Ash Road (1965)
  • The Foxhole (1967)
  • To the Wild Sky (1967)
  • Sly Old Wardrobe (1968), pictures by Ted Greenwood
  • Let the Balloon Go (1968)
  • Finn's Folly (1969)
  • Chinaman's Reef is Ours (1970)
  • Bread and Honey (1970); US title, Walk a Mile and Get Nowhere[13]
  • Josh (1971)
  • Benson Boy (1972)
  • Head in the Clouds (1972)
  • Matt and Jo
  • What About Tomorrow (1977)[14]
  • King of the Sticks (1979)
  • The Golden Goose (1981) — sequel to King of the Sticks
  • The Long Night Watch (1983)
  • Rachel (1986)
  • Blackbird (1988)
  • The Mysterious World of Marcus Leadbeater (1990)
  • Ziggurat (1997)

Further readingEdit

  • The loved and the lost: The life of Ivan Southall by Stephany Evans Steggall, Lothian, South Melbourne, 2006.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b For about sixty years, the Library Association (now CILIP) defined British children's books by publication of the first edition in Britain. Around the turn of the century it opened the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals to books published in Britain within three months of the first English-language edition, which covers at least the co-publication that is now common.


  1. ^ a b c d "Papers of Ivan Southall (1921–2008): Biographical Note". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Vale Ivan Southall". The Book Show. ABC Radio National. — Preface (2008); Interview on his novel Ziggurat, by Ramona Koval (1997), broadcast 18 November 2008. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  3. ^ "SOUTHALL, Ivan Francis, DFC". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 31 October 1944. Archived from the original on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1971) Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Retrospective: Southall from A–Z: Ash Road to Ziggurat". State Library of Victoria. NLA. 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 7 September 2004. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Ivan Southall". CMIS Focus on Fiction. Department of Education. Western Australia ( Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Announcement of death". ABC News ( 15 November 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  8. ^ Josh at ILAB (antiquarian booksellers).[dead link]
  9. ^ "SOUTHALL, Ivan Francis, AM". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 26 January 1981. Archived from the original on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Dromkeen Medal". Scholastic. Archived from the original on 3 July 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2007.
  11. ^ "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012"[permanent dead link]. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
    See also the current homepage "Phoenix Award" Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Discover Godfrey Hirst" Archived 12 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Godfrey Hirst Carpets North America. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  13. ^ a b c "Ivan Southall: 2003 Dromkeen Medal Winner". Scholastic. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  14. ^ "What about tomorrow / Ivan Southall". Catalogue record. National Library of Australia (NLA). Retrieved 18 February 2012.

External linksEdit