I wonder how many authors there are with more than 10 metres of collection space of 72 boxes of written material in THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA, than that of one of the loveliest and most amazing men I have ever met: OLAF RUHEN.
The Australian Literature Resource also credits him with 78 books. Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1911 and serving as a bomber pilot, with the RNZAF during World War II, Olaf moved to Sydney in 1947 working as a journalist and establishing himself as a freelance writer during the 1950s, with short stories published in the prestigious American SATURDAY EVENING POST.
Over 300 short stories were published in magazines and anthologies in addition to Olaf’s major novels and documentary books world-wide, including NAKED UNDER CAPRICORN (1958), MOUNTAINS IN THE CLOUD (1963), LIVELY GHOSTS (1964), SCAN THE DARK COAST (1969) and the lovely children’s book THE DAY OF THE DIPROTODON (1976).
The first four words of the old ‘JACK OF ALL TRADES and master of none’ temporarily applied to Olaf’s early life, when he had successfully worked as a fisherman, skipper, farm labourer, timber worker, reporter, and freelance writer.
But after he moved to Mosman in Sydney he was soon recognised as a serious documentary and fictional author and critic – the true master of prose – writing mostly about Australasia, based on his extensive travels throughout Australia, New Guinea, and the South Pacific regions. A man of vision, gifted with natural leadership and guidance, Olaf inspired many young writers, yours truly included, to reach their dreams.
He was reputed not to be demonstrative, showing his love and affection, but on the occasions, I was invited to spend time with Olaf and his wife Madeleine at their Mosman home since the sixties, that did not seem to be true.
As my father was assassinated in 1945 when I was only six years old, I looked at Olaf as a kind of father figure because of his warmth towards the family and me. All my Ruhen books are not just autographed but were gifted to me by Olaf, as each was published.
And finally 31 years after the publication of HIS FIRST GREAT SUCCESS, Olaf’s 1958 novel, NAKED UNDER CAPRICORN, it was made into a TV movie, released in September 1989, starring NIGEL HAVERS, NONI HAZLEHURST, and the delightful DAVID GULPILIL.
Part 2 in next month’s issue.