Guide to the Papers of Frank Dalby Davison


MS 1945

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Frank Dalby Davison
Papers of Frank Dalby Davison
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 1945
2 metres (13 boxes, 1 folio item)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence with Davison's mother and family, and letters from literary figures including Nettie and Vance Palmer, Kylie Tennant, Henry Handel Richardson, Walter Murdoch, Patrick White, Tom Inglis Moore, Marjorie Barnard, R. D. FitzGerald, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Xavier Herbert and others. The papers also include typescript drafts of some of his novels and some published novels inscribed to Davison from the authors. There is also an ABC television interview transcript with Davison conducted by Owen Webster and the unedited working script of an interview with Davison recorded in 1969, the text of a talk on Christopher Brennan by Hilary Lofting, war service documents, and Davison family photographs.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Frank Dalby Davison, National Library of Australia, MS 1945, [series and/or file number]'.


The papers were donated to the Library by Davison in 1962. Two small additions were received in 1988 and 1994.

Other Davison Papers are held at MS 764 and MS 8825. Related material is held in the Owen Webster Papers at MS 4805; the Pixie O'Harris letters at MS 4805; the Kay Davison Papers at MS 5183.


The papers were organised into four series by Library staff.

Biographical Note

Frank Dalby Davison was born Frederick Douglas Davison in Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 23 June 1893. He was educated at Caulfield State School, leaving at the age of 12 to be a farm labourer. After 1909 Davison travelled in the United States, Canada and the West Indies. He served with the British Army in France during World War I and in 1915 married Agnes (Kay) Ede, by whom he had one son and one daughter. In 1919 Davison returned to Australia and took up a selection on a soldier settlement farm near Injune, Queensland. The farm failed, and in 1923 Davison moved to Sydney where he worked in real estate and as an advertising manager for his father's magazine, the Australian. During the depression, Davison began writing full time, winning the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for his novel Man-shy in 1931. His concern at the destruction of the Australian natural environment led to his stories Blue coast caravan (1935), 'The wasteland' (1935), and Children of the dark people (1936). Davison was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund Fellowship in 1939-1940. Davison made political commentary through his writings "to reveal the Australian situation and to promote liberal democratic values." He saw literature as a means by which people might be helped to know themselves and their society as a necessary prelude to reform. He was active in the Fellowship of Australian Writers and formed a close working relationship with Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw. In 1938 he was appointed M.B.E. for his services to literature. In 1944, Davison's marriage was dissolved and he married Edna Marie McNab. The couple bought a farm 'Folding Hills' at Arthur's Creek (Victoria) where he wrote his last major work, The white thorntree (1968). Davison died in Melbourne on 24 May 1970. References: Who's who in Australia, 1968 The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (2nd edition), 1994 Monash biographical dictionary of 20th century Australia 1994 Australian dictionary of biography vol. 13

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1859-1970

The series contains letters from Frank Dalby Davison to his mother comprising some 192 letters, 1945-1951. The letters are mainly of a domestic nature but also contain vivid descriptions of surroundings and people and of his social life in Melbourne, and later at Folding Hills, including meetings with Vance and Nettie Palmer, Flora Eldershaw, Ian Mair, Leonard Mann, Dal Stivens, Noel Counihan, Jossel Bergner and Vic O'Connor.

Other family correspondence includes letters by Edna Marie (wife of Davison) to his mother c. 1948; a letter to Davison from Doris Lister and Peter Davison ; letters to his daughter Doris and twenty-three letters to him from his mother being, in part, replies to his letters mentioned above.

The series also includes general correspondence, comprising 429 letters from 110 correspondents over the period 1925-1962, principally relating to literary matters. There are also congratulatory letters on Davison's published works and correspondence on the Sydney 150th Anniversary competition.

Personal friends, publishers and fellow Australian authors are among the correspondents who include Nettie Palmer (51 letters), Vance Palmer (41 letters), Kylie Tennant, Henry Handel Richardson, Walter Murdoch, Patrick White, Dal Stivens, Hal Porter, Tom Inglis Moore (13 letters), Ian Mudie, Miles Franklin, Xavier Herbert, Eleanor Dark, Marjorie Barnard, Gavin Casey, Hans Heysen and Elioth Gruener.

Also included is the text of a talk on Christopher Brennan by Hilary Lofting.

Correspondence, 1925-1959 (File 1-9) - Box 1, 2

Correspondence, 1960-1970 (File 10-20) - Box 2, 3

Undated correspondence (File 21) - Box 3

Correspondence, 1859-1889 (File 22) - Box 3

Letters from Marjorie Barnard (File 23) - Box 3

Correspondence with Doris Mary (File 24-26) - Box 13

Series 2. Writings

Writings by Frank Dalby Davison including typescript drafts of books, and drafts and cuttings of stories and non-fiction articles.

Final drafts of The white thorntree (File 1-5, 5a) - Box 4

Second draft The white thorntree (File 6-17) - Box 5, 6

First draft The white thorntree (File 18-25) - Box 6

Drafts of part Book 3 (The white thorntree) (see also Files 35-38) (File 26-30) - Box 7

First draft Dusty (File 31) - Box 7

First draft Man-shy (File 32) - Box 7

'Crown lands ranger'; 'The intelligent pig'; 'Something wrong'; 'Flooring boards'; 'Something wrong', 1933; 'Road to yesterday'; Unidentified draft (File 33) - Box 7

Poem by Chris Cordner; One act play 'When she came back' (File 34) - Box 7

Non Fiction: 'Henry Lawson country'; 'This little pig stayed home: a documentary and critical study of absenteeism among workers in Australian war industries'; 'Still waters of the west', 1940 (2 xerox copies); 'Snapshots' (File 34) - Box 7

Typescript of 'Land of blue horses', 1962, intended by Davison to be the first volume of The white thorntree (added 27 May 1988) (File 35-38) - Box 13

Series 3. Miscellaneous papers

Transcript of ABC Outside Broadcast television interview with Frank Dalby Davison conducted by Owen Webster (4 copies) (File 1) - Box 8

Dinner to honour Frank Dalby Davison on 12th November 1968 on the publication of his novel The white thorntree (includes speeches by Davison, Professor A. G. Austin, Ian Turner and A.A. Phillips) (File 5) - Box 8

War service documents – xerox copies and 'Sword and Saddle' (typescript) (File 6) - Box 8

Stella Bowen material and other papers (File 7) - Box 8

Diary by an unknown author annotated "Trip to England in the Bisley team by R.M.S. Rome", May-Sept. 1898. Includes shooting scores, and references to family and articles submitted to The Age (File 8) - Box 8

Davison family photographs: (File 9) - Box 8

Tom Davison (married to Jane Brown) (Item 1) - Box 8
Two of Jane (Brown) Davison: one as a girl of sixteen and the other as an old woman (Item 2-3) - Box 8
Jane's father, Frederick Brown. (Also father to Uncle Fred from America and Anne (Item 4) - Box 8
Ann Brown, sister to Jane (Item 5) - Box 8
Fred Davison (son of Tom and Jane) with two of his three sisters outside their home in Bernard Lane, Bendigo (Item 6) - Box 8
John Watterson (father of Amelia Davison – Frank's mother) (Item 7) - Box 8
Amelia Davison (Millie) shortly before her death and the other as a girl of twenty (Item 7a-8) - Box 8
Fred Davison at about fifty (Item 9) - Box 8
Doris Davison (sister to Frank) (Item 10) - Box 8
Frank Davison as a soldier in Belgium (Item 11) - Box 8
Frank Davison with his sister Dulcie (as children) (Item 12) - Box 8
Frank Davison aged three (Item 13) - Box 8
Frank Davison as baby in pram with his first dog (Item 14) - Box 8
Three of Frank Davison with horses (Item 15-17) - Box 8
A woman riding a white horse. (profile) (Item 18) - Box 8
Five women and a baby. (Inscribed 'Bush fillies' by Davison) (Item 19) - Box 8
A group of men and women. The settlers (Item 20) - Box 8
A section of cotton crop (Item 21) - Box 8

Original poster for a lecture by Davison at the Pakies Club, 1937 (folio) (added 24 October 1994) (File 10) - Folio [unnumbered]

Series 4. Books

Books collected by Davison.

Australian writers speak (File 1) - Box 9

Marjorie Barnard – Macquarie's world (File 2) - Box 9

M. Barnard Eldershaw – The life and times of Captain John Piper (File 3) - Box 9

M. Barnard Eldershaw – Phillip of Australia (File 4) - Box 9

M. Barnard Eldershaw – Essays in Australia fiction (File 5) - Box 9

Herbert Basedow – Knights of the boomerang (File 6) - Box 9

Herbert Basedow – The Australian Aboriginal (File 7) - Box 9

Barbara Baynton – Bush studies (File 8) - Box 9

C. E. W. Bean – Anzac to Amiens (File 9) - Box 9

C. E. W. Bean – The 'Dreadnought' of the Darling (File 10) - Box 9

C. E. W. Bean – On the wool track (File 11) - Box 9

Stella Bowen – Drawn from life (File 12) - Box 1

Gavin S. Casey – It's harder for girls (File 13) - Box 1

Peter Cowan – Drift (File 14) - Box 1

Dymphna Cusack – Jungfrau (File 15) - Box 1

Sydney de Loghe – The straits impregnable (File 16) - Box 1

Mary and Elizabeth Durack – All-about (File 17) - Box 1

Miles Franklin – All that swagger (File 18) - Box 1

Miles Franklin: a tribute (File 19) - Box 1

Robert D. FitzGerald – Moonlight acre (File 20) - Box 1

Brian Fitzpatrick – The Australian people, 1788-1945 (File 21) - Box 1

A. P. Elkin – The Australian Aborigines (File 22) - Box 1

Mary Gilmore – Old days, old ways (File 23) - Box 1

Frank Hardy – Power without glory (File 24) - Box 1

Xavier Herbert – Capricornia (File 25) - Box 1

Eve Langley – The pea-pickers (File 26) - Box 1

Charles Kingsford-Smith – Story of "Southern Cross" trans Pacific flight 1928 (File 27) - Box 1

D. H. Lawrence and M. L. Skinner – The boy in the bush (File 28) - Box 1

Henry Lawson – On the track : and Over the sliprails (File 29) - Box 1

Henry Lawson – The country I come from (File 30) - Box 1

Henry Lawson – Joe Wilson and his mates (File 31) - Box 1

J.T. Lang – The great Australian bust (File 32) - Box 1

Frederick T. Macartney – Australian literary essays (File 33) - Box 1

Frederick T. Macartney – Furnley Maurice (File 34) - Box 1

Hugh McCrae – Story-book only (File 35) - Box 1

Hugh McCrae – Colombine (File 36) - Box 1

Leonard Mann – Flesh in armour (File 37) - Box 1

Alan Marshall – These are my people (File 38) - Box 1

Martin Mills (Martin Boyd) – The Montforts (File 39) - Box 1

William Moore and T. Inglis Moore (eds) – Best Australian one-act plays (File 40) - Box 1

John Shaw Neilson – Collected poems (File 41) - Box 1

Nettie Palmer – Talking it over (File 42) - Box 1

Nettie Palmer – Fourteen years (File 43) - Box 1

Vance Palmer – The world of men (File 44) - Box 1

Vance Palmer – The black horse (File 45) - Box 1

Vance Palmer – Louis Esson and the Australian theatre (File 46) - Box 1

Lloyd Ross – William Lane and the Australian Labor movement (File 47) - Box 1

Steele Rudd – On our selection (File 48) - Box 1

P.R. Stephensen – The foundations of culture in Australia (File 49) - Box 1

Sydney Tomholt – Bleak dawn and other plays (File 50) - Box 1

Price Warung – Tales of the early Australian days (File 51) - Box 1

Henry Handel Richardson – Ultima thule (File 52) - Box 1

Henry Handel Richardson – The way home (File 53) - Box 1