William Campbell Charnley

A biographical note 

William Campbell Charnley was born on 29 August 1882 at Ballarat, Victoria of Edward Charnley and Elizabeth Campbell. At 15 he was swinging a sledge hammer for a blacksmith. Two years later, in 1899, he arrived in Kalgoorlie, following his elder brothers, James [1875 Ballarat - [?] Kalgoorlie] and John William [1872 Ballarat - 1925 Nedlands], who were involved in prospecting. William worked in a foundry, while absorbing the elements of goldfields life, of gold dealers and thieves, alluvial mining disputes, details of mine robberies and desert prospecting.  He was adamant that goldfields life was much easier and more pleasant than that depicted by K.S. Pritchard in her deliberately depressing political novels.

He married Flora Kemp [1888-1974] at Boulder in 1905. Three of their children survived to adulthood:- John William [1906-1986], William Campbell [1922-1997] and Elizabeth [1929-].

On shifting to Perth in 1916, The Sun wrote his farewell:-

"Bill Charnley left Boulder this week for the coast to work for the same firm by whom he has been employed on the fields. Bill is in many respects a remarkably gifted man, and like many such has the veil of overmuch modesty. A few years ago he used to delight Boulder audiences with lectures on various subjects, [At the Worker's Hall, Boulder] and by participating in debates of all kinds of meetings, and it is safe to say that had he cared to push his barrow in the political world he would have been a legislator to-day. But he is honest as well as modest, and could never lend himself to the intrigue, meanness and wire-pulling that political preference entails. He has been a voracious reader, and has a memory that is startling for its holding capacity. His chief interests are now literary, and he has what must be the fairly unique record for beginners of having had seven stories and poems accepted from ten submitted to first-class London and Australian magazines, and received payment for them on the highest scale. He has written much for the W.A. press, and was one of the contributors to the W.A. Gift Book and has had poetical and other contributions in this journal. This is altogether meritorious, when it is remembered that Charnley's daily toil is of the most severe kind physically. His public life recently has been confined to membership of the Boulder Library Committee, and an occasional appearance at the meetings of his union, the Surface Workers. Those who know him best have no doubt as to his ability to make good at the coast, and while regretting the loss of an old and esteemed citizen this scribe wishes him the best of luck in his new sphere of action." 

He appears to have first had his work published in 1915. Miner's Pthisis kept him out of WWI and afterwards he toiled as a timber worker and deep sea fisherman. He did considerable writing for the Westralian Worker during John Curtin's editorship and was a full-time writer after 1930. He wrote many historical articles, short stories and some verse, publishing in international magazines such as Wide World, Blackwood's Magazine, History Today, and the Windsor Magazine. In Australia he published in The Bulletin, The Lone Hand, The Australian Journal, The Western Mail, The Countryman, Walkabout, Famous Detective Stories, and AustralianLife, and various WA newspapers. He was later well known for his ABC talks on WA history and Broadcaster articles. He claimed to have his material published in almost every Australian paper open to freelance writers in the form of paragraphs, verse, articles, short stories and serials, and was a stalwart of the Bulletin's 'Aboriginalities' page. Internationally, the Wide World Magazine hailed him as its most prolific Australian contributor, and he considered, in 1951, that he had sold close to a million words overseas.

He wrote as W.C. Charnley, W.C.C., and Billy See (a play on his initials), and under other pen names. Unfortunately bibliographies in Australian library systems are woefully incomplete, due in great part to the iniquitous practice of not indexing articles in magazines and journals. Some of his personal papers have recently been found and a bibliography has been compiled of all his currently known works.

Many of his articles on bush history are in the style we tend to think of as the 'Idriess genre,' but where their subject was identical, Charnley was the chronological leader by many years, and in greater detail. His literary 'mistake' was to write articles rather than books.

There is potential here for a good thesis for an anti post-modernist, non PC, mature age student attempting an understanding of the real Australia.

This Hesperian series of Charnley's booklets are the precursor to hopefully definitive studies of some of the incidents described. While the participants are long gone, many previously inaccessible documents have now become available to allow detailed examination of the actions of interest.

W.C. Charnley died in Perth in September 1966, aged 84.

Peter J Bridge, December 2009.