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Hardy, Francis Joseph (Frank) (1917–1994)

by Paul Adams

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Frank Hardy, by Viva Gibb, 1988

Frank Hardy, by Viva Gibb, 1988

State Library of Victoria, 49193865

Francis Joseph Hardy (1917–1994) writer, communist, and political activist, was born on 21 March 1917 at Southern Cross, Victoria, third of eight children of Thomas John Hardy, milk grader, and his wife Winifred Mary, née Bourke, both Victorian born. By coincidence, he was born in the same year as the Russian Revolution. His father moved around Western Victoria for work before the family settled at Bacchus Marsh, where Frank was educated at St Bernard’s Catholic primary school. While drawing cartoons for the local paper, he was employed in a series of unskilled jobs including at a chemist’s store, a grocers, a milk factory, and on farms. He was most influenced by the political opinions of his father who held radical views but was not an activist. Like his father, Frank would also develop a lifelong addiction to gambling and a capacity for storytelling. Tom was renowned for yarn-spinning and would blend fact and fiction to make up stories about real people. Frank would embrace this style of storytelling and adapt it to his own literary style. 

In 1938 Hardy went to Melbourne and worked as a cartoonist for the Radio Times. At his next job, as an advertising manager and salesman with the Cavalcade Radio company, he met Rosslyn Phyllis Couper, a stenographer. They married on 27 May 1940 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Later that year he joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), after it had been declared illegal by the Menzies government. Mobilised in the Citizen Military Forces on 22 April 1942 and employed as a clerk and draughtsman in Melbourne, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in May 1943. He made time to be campaign director for the communist candidate, Malcolm Good, in the Victorian State election in June. The next month he was posted to the 8th Advanced Ordnance Depot at Mataranka in the Northern Territory. Encouraged by Sergeant Frank Ryland, a journalist, he began to write seriously and in October became editor of the 8AOD’s newsletter, the Troppo Tribune. Returning to Melbourne, in October 1944 he was assigned as an artist to the Army Education Service journal, Salt. He was discharged from the AIF on 1 February 1946.

By 1945 Hardy had joined the communist party’s Realist Writers’ Groups and was mixing with other communist authors from whom he learnt much of his craft. He began writing under the pseudonym ‘Ross Franklyn,’ a blend of his and his wife’s forenames. That year he won short story competitions for ‘A Stranger in the Camp’ (that had been entered on his behalf by Ryland) and for ‘The Man From Clinkapella’. At the suggestion of CPA leader Ralph Gibson, he began work on a book in the exposé style of the American writer Upton Sinclair. Centred on the prominent and controversial Melbourne Catholic businessman John Wren, Power Without Glory: A Novel in Three Parts (1950) would arguably become his most significant work. Informants for the book included journalists, political and racing identities, CPA and Australian Labor Party members, Wren’s disaffected daughter Angela, and Ian Aird, who had been close to the family. Hardy received help in researching the novel from his wife, and fellow communists Deidre Cable and Les Barnes. However, the writing was all his own.

To provide a defence against possible prosecution, Hardy used the thinly disguised pseudonym of ‘John West’ to portray Wren as a corrupt manipulator of the gambling industry and of governments. Much of the book was printed in secret and the first edition of eight thousand copies sold out within a month. In October 1950 Wren’s wife, Ellen, brought a charge of ‘private prosecution for libel’ (Wren v Hardy 1951, 256) for Hardy’s depiction of ‘Nellie West’ having an affair with a bricklayer. The Victorian government intervened and took the extraordinary measure of upgrading the charge to one of criminal libel. While the former, if proven, could attract a fine, criminal libel carried the possibility of a prison sentence. A condition of Hardy’s subsequent bail was that he played no part in the further sale and distribution of the book. Responsibility for producing the work thus passed to a network of communists, trade unionists, and other volunteers in lounge rooms around Melbourne. The Frank Hardy Defence Committee was also established, comprising left-wing writers such as C. B. Christesen, Alan Marshall, Brian Fitzpatrick, Eric Lambert, and John Morrison. On 18 June 1951 Hardy was found not guilty.

Despite Hardy’s celebrity following the Power Without Glory case, ‘after a period of relative prosperity’ (Hocking 2005, 133), he began to borrow heavily and had trouble earning an income. Bills piled up, and attempts to gamble his way out of his debts only aggravated his woes. Visits to the Soviet Union unlocked royalties for publications of his work which had been syndicated through Eastern bloc publishers but this money could not be shifted to Australia. As Cold War hysteria against communism eased, Hardy began to find paid work as a writer again. In the 1960s, despite objections from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization—which believed there were secret messages in his writing—Hardy was employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to craft scripts for The Yarns of Billy Borker television series. During the 1970s he was a regular panel member on the ABC series Would You Believe, and an advisor for the thirteen-part adaptation of Power Without Glory. Throughout his career he also worked in various journalistic roles, including for extended periods with the Australasian Post and the Age. He was awarded a fellowship by the New South Wales government’s advisory committee on cultural grants in 1969, but received no support from the Commonwealth Literary Fund until 1972 because of ASIO’s continuing security concerns.

In 1968 Hardy had published The Unlucky Australians, a documentary-fiction account of the Aboriginal fight for equal wages and land rights in the Northern Territory. The book focused on the Gurindji walk-off from Wave Hill station in August 1966, a struggle that evolved into a ground-breaking land-rights claim. Earlier that year Hardy had travelled to Darwin, short of money and suffering from writer’s block. After the walk-off he visited the Gurindji camp at Wattie Creek and spoke with elders. He drafted a letter from them to Federal parliament in October and in the years that followed played a key role—as chief publicist and president of the ‘Save the Gurindji’ committee—in mustering support. Among those he lobbied was the Federal Opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, who later acknowledged Hardy as a ‘staunch fighter for human rights’ (Hocking 2005, 177). He also met the ophthalmologist Fred Hollows, whom he encouraged to visit Wave Hill and treat eye diseases amongst members of the community. They developed a lifelong friendship.

On several occasions Hardy had attempted to write the definitive book on the Australian communist movement. After his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1951 he wrote Journey into the Future (1952)—a largely uncritical tract that praised Stalinist Russia, the kind of work the party expected communist writers of his generation to compose following such visits. In 1962 he travelled to the Soviet Union again, this time after its leader, Khrushchev, had denounced Stalin in a secret speech to the party congress. Hardy then began to write ‘Return to the Future’ with the aim of observing changes and to correct the mistakes of the ‘Stalin personality cult,’ but the book was never published.

Hardy returned to the Soviet Union and met with writers and party members in 1968. He disapproved of much that he saw, and of the way trade unions had become incorporated into the bureaucracy. He began a chapter by chapter refutation of Journey into the Future. Accepting an offer from the London Sunday Times, he wrote ‘The Heirs of Stalin’ (1968), a series of self-reflective articles critical of the Soviet Union as an unequal society, and which condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in that year. The articles earned him the rebuke of the Soviet embassy in Canberra and his fellow communist writer Judah Waten, who tried to have him expelled from the CPA. Hardy’s novel But the Dead Are Many captured the political disputes between the pro-Soviet and the Aarons faction in the Australian party, and examined issues of bad faith and blind political compulsion. It received accolades from critics overseas but was disparaged locally for its highly experimental fugue form.

In the 1970s, following Hardy’s repeated infidelities, he and Rosslyn separated. They did not divorce and stayed in regular contact until her death in 1981. He remained a political rebel and, in 1986, after being arrested for refusing to pay 111 parking fines, opted to spend forty-eight hours in prison. His later work included the play Mary Lives! (1992), a biographical account of his youngest sister who had been a well-known media personality. He twice stood unsuccessfully for the Senate: as a communist candidate in 1953 and as an independent in 1993. Survived by his son and two daughters, Hardy died on 28 January 1994 at his North Carlton home with a racing form guide beside him. Before his cremation, a public funeral was held at the Collingwood Town Hall. A thousand-strong crowd listened to eulogists, including Gough Whitlam and two Gurindji elders, and watched his coffin—draped with the Aboriginal and Eureka flags—being borne out, while the Trades Hall choir sang the Internationale.

Select Bibliography

  • Adams, Paul. The Stranger From Melbourne: Frank Hardy—A Literary Biography, 1944–1975. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1999
  • Armstrong, Pauline. Frank Hardy and the Making of ‘Power Without Glory’, Carlton South, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2000
  • Hocking, Jenny. Frank Hardy: Politics, Literature, Life. South Melbourne: Lothian Books, 2005
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX126476
  • National Library of Australia. MS 4887, Papers of Frank Hardy, 1931–1988
  • National Library of Australia. MS 9878, Papers of Pauline Armstrong, 1990–2002
  • Wren v Hardy. Victorian Law Reports 34 (1951): 256–67

Additional Resources

Citation details

Paul Adams, 'Hardy, Francis Joseph (Frank) (1917–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hardy-francis-joseph-frank-19531/text30894, accessed 14 November 2018.

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