Harold Darwin: The Library Man

Arguably the most important influence in the life of author Mavis Thorpe Clark was Harold Darwin, the Library Man. In 1960, it was he who introduced her to the "red earth" of outback South Australia.

"Harold Darwin loved that country - every grain of sand, every gibber, every mulga and myall. He knew the name of every tree, every bird, every wildflower; he knew the lore of the desert. And he taught me."

- The Early Dreaming: Australian Children's Authors on Childhood (1980) page 18.

Harold Darwin, a retired teacher, dreamed of taking books to the isolated people of north-west South Australia. When he failed to attract government funding for his project, he set about materialising his own dream - a mobile library for the outback.

He modified a van to accommodate himself and his book collection, and he journeyed over the mostly dirt roads, charging one shilling to borrow a book:

"He was to conduct this service for 15 years until he reached 80 years of age. During those 15 years, he spent only a few days each month in the comfort of the flatette behind his son Ken's house in Adelaide's Eden Hills. From the beginning of March until the end of November, the Library Man and his van travelled the outback. Only the heat of December, January and February, when the temperature could reach 125°F (52°C) day after day, took him off those tracks. He never underestimated the fierceness of the country he travelled. He carried water, food, petrol, spare parts, tyres for his vehicle, handy bits of wire and wood, for the unpredictable mishap or delay; and was often able to offer succour to some unfortunate or less-responsible motorist.

Most pastoral properties had their quota of children within their isolated communities and when his van appeared, those who came running were the children; to pay their shilling and borrow a book, but also to gather around him as he sat on the van step and read them a story."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 87-88.

See also "Books in the Outback", an article by Mavis Thorpe Clark published in People magazine, 15 March 1961; "Christmas with a Difference", an article written in 1960; or The Min-Min, 1966.

Six scruffy children sitting on and around the step of the van.

Harold Darwin reading to the children at one of his outback stops, 1960.

        phone box in the middle of the stony desert.

Harold Darwin using the Woomera Long Range Weapons Project telephone, 1963. It was "perched on a short pole, with naught around it for miles except gibbers".
- Trust the Dream (1999) page 132.

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Van and car in the South Australian bush.

Harold Darwin's van followed by car driven by Mavis Thorpe Clark and her husband Harold Latham, 1960.

2 vans with draper and Harold Darwin.

Harold Darwin (left) and Harold Latham (right) chatting with a travelling draper (1960).

Van is open showing the book collection. Readers include a father and three little girls.

Harold Darwin (left) with one of the families he visited in outback South Australia, 1960.

Mavis and Harold Latham's car bogged in deep puddle, hood up.

Harold Darwin (left) and Harold Latham working on the bogged Holden, 1963.