Sunday, 29 August 2021

Gerald Dillon, freelance journalist

Gerald Aloysius Dillon (29 June 1897–[after 1952]), Irish-Australian soldier and freelance journalist, contributed an article on “'The Female Spectator': Mrs. Eliza Heywood's Periodical” to Australian Woman’s Mirror in March of 1934. I said in my post on that article (here), that Dillon contributed a series of roughly fifty bookish essays to the Australian Woman’s Mirror, "many about women or women writers such Joanna Southcott, Ouida, Angella Burdett, Sidney Webb and Katherine Mansfield (probably his most famous essay)." I also said that "I have not been able to find out as much about Dillon as I would like"—but what I have found is below.

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The AustLit entry for Dillon states "Gerald Dillon was a freelance writer from Sydney," and list only six of his works: once self-published book (Why Editors Regret: First Aid for the Free-Lance Gerald Dillon (Sydney, 1929)), the Katherine Mansfield essay mentioned above, and four pieces of his journalism that seem to have been selected more-or-less at random.

After a pretty extensive search online, I located quite a bit more information than AustLit offers. My three main sources of biographical information (reproduced below) are a series of entries for him (and his brothers) in The Catholic Who's Who and Yearbook from 1930–52 (vol. 23 (1930): 134; 29 (1936): 131; 34 (1941): 130; 35 (1952): 118), a brief article about Dillon published in <>The wireless weekly: the hundred per cent Australian radio journal, Vol. 36 No. 28 (12 July 1941): 3b (this article supplied the only photograh I could find of Gerald Dillon), and a National Archives entry.

The Catholic Who's Who and Yearbook entries are all much the same, the 1930 edition reading

[1930–52] "Dillon, Gerald Aloysius—b.1897, y.s. [youngest son] of late Theobald Augustus Dillon, co Roscommon; edu. Downside and R.M.C. [Royal Military College, Sandhurst]; Sec.Lieut 6 (Inniskillg) Dgns [Dragoons] 1916; resigned as Lieut 1921; served Great War; at present engaged in journalism. Author of Why Editors Regret: Box 2876N. G.P.O., Sydney, N.S.W."

The yearbooks contain entries for two bothers, which provide more details of the family:
  Gerald's father was Theobald, of Mount Dillon, co. Roscommon,
  his mother was Bertha, daughter of Nicholas Mulhall of Boyle, co. Roscommon;
  his eldest brother went to Trinity College Cambridge (B.A.), was Capt. in the Connaught Rangers (Special Reserve); served in WW1, and was called to the Irish Bar in 1922;
  the second brother, Capt. John Jospeph Dillon (b. 19 Feb. 1896), went to Sandhurst, like Gerald, was a Lieutenant in the Connaught Rangers (Special Reserve); was twice wounded in WW1, winning the Military Cross, rising to Captain in 1927 in the Royal Army Service Corps.

Gerald Dillon, well known for his talks on 2FC and 2BL [Sydney radio stations], has had a life crammed with travel and adventure.
  An Irishman, born in Dublin in 1897, he spent six years at an English public school before returning to Dublin to study law.
  In 1916 he abandoned law to enter Sandhurst. Graduating there with a commission in the Dragoons, he served in France in the last war.
  After the war, feeling an urge to travel, he resigned his commission in the Army, and visited Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and Tahiti before settling for several years in Papua as a plantation manager.
  Gerald Dillon’s variety of experience has given him plenty of material for broadcasting. He is also well known as a freelance journalist, and on one occasion he turned to authorship.
His anecdotes of life among the wild and woolly natives of Papua have proved very happy entertainment for radio audiences.

[1939–48] WW2 Service record [National Archives of Australia: Citizen Military Forces Personnel Dossier]

Service Number - N279151
Date of birth - 29 Jun 1897
Place of birth - DUBLIN IRELAND
Place of enlistment - PADDINGTON NSW
Next of Kin - Unknown
Contents date range: 1939–1948
Item ID: 6194595
Location: Canberra
Access status: Open

[ (here) adds: "Rank: Corporal"]

Beyond The Catholic Who's Who and Yearbook and the anonymous "Filled Life With travel," Trove fills in many details concerning Dillon's freelance and radio work. However, although there are hundreds of entries for Dillon on Trove, they add little about his personal life. Apparently, he lived in "Verona," Waruda St., Kirribilli, Sydney, before WW2, but I was unable to find any record after the 1952 Catholic Who's Who and Yearbook. If we are to judge by the lack of a Next of Kin in his WW2 Military Forces Personnel Dossier, it appears he did not marry. He seems to have died obscurely, and alone, with no memorial or death notice.

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Dillon's self-published 58-page booklet, Why Editors Regret was reasonably-well received, being reviewed in half a dozen journals throughout Australia. Although most major libraries in Australia have a copy, I have been unable to look into one due to the lock-down, but the reviews contain a number of details, so I will finish this post by transcribing three the longer reviews, and provide links to three others. The reviews below are organised chronologically.

"Franziska" [Frances Zabel], The Australian Woman's Mirror, Vol. 5 No. 48 (22 October 1929): 24c, 41b "Let's Talk about Books" (here)

Editors would have far fewer regrets if this little book were read by all those Australians seeking to break into freelance journalism The author, who can speak from experience of the ups and downs of freelancing, gives much practical advice to the budding writer and covers a wide field—what editors want, the article, book reviews, verse, the paragraph, the short story, writing for children, and so on. A foreword has been written by the editor of the Bulletin and there are special contributions by the editor of Aussie, the editor of the Mirror, Katharine Susannah Prichard, J. H. M. Abbott Professor Brennan, Edward Perugini, W. E. FitzHenry and others. Apart from a few typographical errors that should not have crept into a literary handbook, the little volume is well-produced, and it should do something toward realising the expressed purpose of Mr. Dillon the lightening of the heavy burthen which weighs on those who wander without proper sense of direction in the fugitive byways of literature.

The Bulletin, vol. 50, no. 2594 (30 Oct 1929): 5a–b (here)

Why Editors Regret
  They don’t; but the harmless fiction makes a catchy title, and prospective or potential freelances who spend half a crown on Gerald Dillon’s booklet of that name should not have any regrets, either. Editors do not regret, because theirs is the most impersonal job on earth; they buy what they want, they turn down what they don’t want. The best friend in the world ceases to be a friend when he translates himself into a piece of paper with words on it. Having done that, the best friend is a bit of copy and nothing else.
  Mr. Dillon has strong support: Bert F. Toy, editor of the Woman’s Mirror, and writer here of a most compact and in formative article; Walter Jago, editor of Aussie—not very informative, but a good blow where one has been long asked for; Katharine Susannah Prichard—so so; Harold Mercer—amusing and encouraging (he says, “One bit of misleading information may destroy a growing reputation painfully built up” (and he writes sermons for sick clergymen); C. J. Brennan—an excellent page on light verse; Hugh McCrae—Hugh McCrae; Edward Perugini—one or two acute remarks on serious verse; J. H. M. Abbott—on “historical background” in fiction (“There are 700 possible separate characters available amongst the convicts of the first fleet.” May he be spared to use the five of them that he has not used already!); Edyth Bavin, wife of the N.S.W. Premier—on “writing for children,” which she herself does charmingly; W. E. FitzHenry, who has grown up in The Bulletin office and knows as much about marketing paper with words on it as the next man, and his brother. A guiding foreword by S. H. Prior, editor of The Bulletin, and seven articles by Mr. Dillon covering pretty well the whole field of freelancing complete the bill of contents.

The Capricornian (Thu 5 Dec 1929): 12a: BOOKS RECEIVED (here)

S. A. Rosa, The Labor Daily (Sat 7 Dec 1929): 9g. LITERARY JOTTINGS (here)

The Advertiser (Sat 8 Feb 1930): 14f "LITERARY BEGINNERS" (here)

The West Australian (5 Jul 1930): 5d (here)

(By J.P.)

A small booklet with the above title came recently before my notice, and I found it interesting to read because of the elementary hints and tips it contains for those who practice free-lance journalism in Australia. That it is written for Australians is its chief virtue. This booklet, largely the work of Mr. Gerald Dillon, but containing some brief contributions by other well-known journalists and authors, fills a want that, I imagine, many writers in Australia have felt: it sets down some guidance that should explain to the disappointed just why and how editors 'regret' when they return manuscripts. For instance: 'What the editor wants is the sort of matter he publishes' … 'Get a typewriter' … 'Never fold your manuscript more than once' … 'Enclose a stamped addressed envelope for return' … 'Never use single spacing in typing' … 'Never send a covering letter with a manuscript'—these are the first essentials to the equipment of the freelance; indeed, I think they are guides that will take him over half his journey to acceptance of his manuscript.
  The book discusses the usual methods of writing newspaper articles, short stories, serials, verse, juvenile matter and paragraphs—the last subject to some purpose, which is perhaps not unnatural in a laud where paragraph writing has become a habit rather than a practice. These discussions are slight, and the symposium to which various well-known writers have contributed is notable for its general evasion of the book's requirements. Katharine Susannah Prichard has 'nothing very much to say as to 'why the editor regrets,' except that he doesn't when he says so.' The truth is that editors often do regret: and the editor of 'Aussie' has here something to say about why they regret. Hugh MacRae says. 'I cannot see how any freelance journalist could benefit by anything I might have to say.' J. H. M. Abbott dismisses 'The Historical Back ground,' of the short story, in two paragraphs, and Edyth Bavin 'Writing for Children' in two shorter paragraphs. Perhaps the soundest and most useful article is that by the Editor of 'The Australian Woman's Mirror' on 'The Woman Free Lance.' and it is a pity that the other contributors had not approached their task with the same seriousness and desire to help, when a thorough-going handbook for the local freelance might have been the result.
  This booklet should, though, be useful to the beginner, who will soon find that his experience does not tally with Mr. Dillon's in several matters. It is said that there is practically no market in Australia for articles of the discursive essayist type: and 'The local market for short stories is practically unlimited.' With good essays on almost all subjects appearing regularly in our leading papers. I wonder what shade of meaning Mr. Dillon in tends for his word 'discursive.' As for the short story market, this is decidedly limited, because it is over-supplied, and this for the reason that short-story writing ' is the one branch of literature in which, more than in any other with the possible exception of verse, local writers have squandered their energies.

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Four final notes: [1] In a recent essay by Martin Griffiths ("Katherine Mansfield’s Australia," Tinakori: Critical Journal of the Katherine Mansfield Society Issue 4 (Summer 2020): 60–70) Dillon is mistakenly described thusly (ibid. 63) "New-Zealand-born commentator Gerald Dillon." [2] it is nice to see a Frances Zabel review of Dillon's book. For my post on Mrs Zabel, see here. [3] I was delighted to find that Dillon wrote an article on "A Perfect Library," which I will post soon. [4] "Verona" near "Astoria" in Waruda St., Kirribilli was a boarding house (according to Anne Watson, The Art of Roland Wakelin (1975), 2.22), but a "superior" one, according to a 1930 advertisement (offering "Superior Single Rooms, fireplace, balcony, glorious views, from 15/.").

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