Meet A.C. Smith

I was the third child born to a family of six who lived in a two-bedroomed cottage at Annerley. Brisbane City, capital of Queensland, was but a short tram ride away.

Apart from a flood of tears when Mum departed to give birth to her fourth child in September 1955, the abiding earliest recollection was in the front of an ambulance. Beside me was Dad and Mum, she cradling baby Rosemary, he with blood all over his face. In the back was lovely sister Diane, 14. None of us had major injuries.

Not so brother Jim, 12, screaming ahead in another ambulance. Placed on the dangerously ill list for a time, he spent weeks in hospital before recovering.

In 1956, my formal education commenced at the Junction Park State School, though by this stage my mother had inculcated in me the basics of the written word and I was never short of books from then on. Mum was an avid reader and correspondent. Sent to work at thirteen when her education ended, her understanding of the English language was prodigious. Woe betides any spelling errors in my compositions.

My favourite early books were the “Famous Five” Enid Blyton series. The great Australian classics, Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms and Clarke’s For The Term Of His Natural Life nourished an appreciation of early Australia.

Then, along came the Bronte sisters and Dickens. Enough said save that I almost wept when Mr Pickwick and his companions reached the end of their adventures and the great author’s favorite book, David Copperfield. Uriah Heep, Estella, Sampson Brass, Quilp, Esther Summerson, Florence Dombey, Wilkins Micawber, the Smallweeds and many others, characters indelibly stamped on my brain and who enjoy agelessness. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights endure as classics of English literature and as a testament to the achievements of two young women writers in a literary world almost predominantly shaped by males.

Increasing searches for sharp humour and spiritual insight saw me visit G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, with countless more. As Samuel Johnson once wrote, ‘In order to write a novel you need to have read a library,’ and by the time of my first novel, that condition precedent had almost been met.

Of all books my mother gave me, the most foundational was the Bible. In so many respects, it buttressed classic English literature. This book gave an uneducated man, John Bunyan, the capacity to write a masterpiece in The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Book of Job, in particular, is an epic of phenomenal proportions. Terms like, scourge of the tongue, my days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and what have become cliched, laughed to scorn and skin of my teeth, originated in this stupendous work penned over four thousand years ago.

But while reading can fashion dreams, alone it was never enough to put potatoes into the saucepan. Thus, I also learned at an early age what sweating in the bush was and that axes, bars, shovels and grubbers weren’t a prop. The value of hard physical work has remained with me as well as its rewards. Nothing ever tastes quite so scrumptious as the food you grow.

My father fashioned the work ethic at his 157-acre Mt Samson farm in the Pine Rivers shire some 22 miles north-west of the city GPO. This venture occupied all his time outside of work as an itinerant labourer and then a postman. Nothing that Dad got was given to him. “Hard work never hurt anyone,” was a Percy Smith gem.

From 1964 until early 1966, I attended Salisbury High School, with the family by this stage having moved to a slightly larger home in working-class Coopers Plains, five miles to the south of Annerley.

Wearying of school at fifteen, I was frog-marched into an apprenticeship in February 1966. Four years later as a fully-fledged tradesman fitter and turner, it was disconcerting to find myself looking for a job. Mechanics was not my forte but had to be made so.

At just nineteen, in April 1970 I travelled to Christchurch New Zealand in pursuit of a first love I had met there on holiday earlier that year. With the ardour waning by September, I took to sea on the cargo ship M.V. Kaituna as fourth engineer.

Over the next eight years, marine engineering sent me to much of the Far East and its near neighbours as well as the west coast of the USA, Canada, most Australian ports and many others in New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

Following a collision when proceeding into Vancouver Harbour on the M.V. Erawan, fate steered me on another course through the encouragement of a brilliant Canadian attorney who I came to know only as “Mr Cunningham”.

The author, 23, after ‘a night to remember’.

An outbound ship had almost cut ours in half in the early hours of 25 September 1973. In my role as third engineer, I was on watch when the collision occurred. Mr Cunningham insisted on meticulous detail as to what had transpired. After the court case, I expressed admiration at his flash capacity to master principles of engineering and navigation. He encouraged me to study law.

In between other maritime stints and seven years later, the University of Queensland conferred a Bachelor of Laws degree upon me. Articles of clerkship, then a position as associate to a Supreme Court judge followed before I was admitted to the Bar on 1 November 1982.

Admission day as a barrister 1 November 1982 with Mr Justice Shepherdson.

Private practice began in 1983 and, for the next thirty years, almost no legal jurisdiction was out of bounds.

As a kid, I had loved cricket. Being a member of the Australian barristers’ team was the realisation of a dream to play in English conditions. That we defeated England at Radley College, Oxford on the very day Pat Cash won the Wimbledon Championship became a dual celebration.

Winners are grinners, the author far left with the victorious Aussies at Oxford.

Now residing at the farm, in 1996, I had the honour of being elected as a federal member of parliament, serving just one term before returning the Bar. Suffice to say that my time in politics, though short, was the fulfilment of a long-term ambition. But writing, as always, beckoned.

In between my wife Anna and I acquired a fortnightly news/magazine called the Samford Times. We re-badged it as The Westerner and more than doubled the circulation until its sale in late 2002 when the pressure of legal work conflicted too frequently with deadlines.

All the while, a physical toll had been levied, by the seven-day-a-week preoccupation with the law most of all. There followed open heart surgery with three by/passes.

It was nearly eighteen months before I mended. Having put down the genesis of a novel theming proof of love by actions rather than words, I had something to lift me when my health improved.

I found proof of such love through the characters of Richard and Greda. This culminated in the publication of Deeply With The Sun In Our Eyes, my debut novel, in late 2019.

Writing is a spiritual experience. Thankfully, the first lengthy journey made the second to The English Colonel’s Wives, a tad shorter and a little easier.

A.C. Smith