Brian James; a bibliography. Alan Tierney (Goulburn NSW, The Author, 2004). 102pp. ISBN 0 9598755 5 7. Available from the author, 132 Coromandel St, Goulburn NSW 2580. $12 + $2 postage.
Brian James was the pen-name of John Lawrence Tierney (1892-1972), the author’s father. Tierney was a schoolteacher and decided that discretion dictated that he use a pseudonym; he chose the first two Christian names of his eldest son, Brian James Hume Tierney, and all his published works were under the name Brian James. The present work is a development of the author’s earlier A Check List of Brian James, 1942-1971 (1973).
James (i.e. John Lawrence Tierney) was born on a farm at Eurunderee, NSW, which is near Mudgee, about 600km north-west of Sydney. He wanted to become a farmer but his mother persuaded him that teaching would be a more reliable career. He qualified as a teacher and spent nearly forty years in that profession in various schools in New South Wales. At about the age of 40 he bought fifteen acres of bushland on the northern outskirts of Sydney and worked on it at weekends and during school holidays, clearing the land and planting an orchard. He found that farming was more difficult and frustrating than he had expected, and the venture was never much of a success. His anecdotes about clearing the property entertained his wife who persuaded him to write them down. Years later his wife, who was a friend of the author Marjorie Barnard, showed her this work, and Barnard encouraged him to send it in to The Bulletin. James’s first short story “Uncle’s Career” was published there on James’s fiftieth birthday.
So James, a frustrated farmer who earned his living as a schoolteacher, discovered by chance that he was really a writer, and for the rest of his life all his spare time went into writing. Altogether he published (by his son’s calculation) 99 short stories (many of them republished in anthologies and collections both here and overseas) and two novels. James’s work was deservedly popular in the 1940s and 1950s, reviewers praising his sardonic sense of humour and his capacity for satiric observation of human folly. Virtually all of his work is to do with the two subjects he knew best, farming and teaching. Through his Bulletin connections James became friendly with other names of the time such as Douglas Stewart and Norman Lindsay, the latter praising him as one of the two best short story writers Australia has produced, the other being Henry Lawson. Lindsay’s qualifications for judging literature are questionable, and, with all of James’s works now out of print, it seems that history has failed to endorse this hyperbolic claim.
But James undoubtedly has a place in the history of Australian literature, and scholars can be grateful that his son has devoted a substantial amount of time and energy in compiling this bibliography. It is a comprehensive listing of the works of James, and of works about him. Published works are listed chronologically and republication of stories or extracts are noted. Works about James include reviews, commentaries, criticism and biography. James left a collection of unpublished manuscripts (now in the Mitchell Library) and these are described. Appendices present statistical data of publication patterns in a variety of ways.
This is a very thorough and potentially very useful work. If there are any collectors of James’s works, they cannot do without it. Any serious collector of twentieth century Australian literature will need it, as will any library, here or overseas, with an interest in modern Australian literature.
Neil A Radford