Pulp Friday: Sharks in Australian pulp fiction

Pulp fiction has long been fascinated by sharks, and pulp published in Australia is no exception.

Being attacked by them, hunting them, sighting or being threatened by them, or just marvelling at large they grew, sharks were a perennial pre-occupation in local Australian pulp paperback fiction from the 1950s to the 1970s. They also appeared regularly in the pages of the Australian equivalent of men’s adventure pulp, publications like Adam and Man.

Although I have not included any of this material in the images below, sharks were also a staple of popular tabloid magazines like Pix and Australasia Post. Referred to in Australia as ‘barbershop magazines’, these now defunct weeklies presented punters with a steady diet of girls in bikinis, racy jokes, Hollywood gossip, and masculine adventure stories.

Many of these were set in heavily exoticised parts of the South Pacific and Asia. But there was also a rich variant that took place far-flung parts of tropical northern Australia and the outback. These latter stories depicted a sort of Australian weird – a land of gnarly, weather beaten eccentrics (much like Captain William E. Young on the cover the Shark Hunter, published by Horwitz in 1978), who had dangerous livelihoods in unimaginably remote parts of the country, and did battle regularly with the threat posed by the country’s uniquely lethal fauna, including sharks.

The book covers below are scanned from my private pulp collection and given an idea of the extent of Australian pulp’s fascination with sharks.

Some of the titles, Shark Attack!, published by Horwitz in 1962, and Killer Shark, published by the same company in 1975, are instant novel style sensationalist primers on the dangers of shark attacks and how to survive them. Zane Grey Shark, published by Horwitz’s adults only imprint, Scripts, in 1977, shamelessly capitalises on the name of the famous western writer and is in fact a collection of non-fiction pieces edited by Loren Grey, his son. Shark Hunter, published by Horwitz in 1978, features another key focus of pulp’s fascination with sharks, the grizzled out-door types who hunt them

Death Island, published in 1973, is part of Horwitz’s long running John Slater war series. The lurid cover is by Col Cameron, a prominent Horwitz illustrator in the 1960s and early 1970s. Cameron also did two of the three Adam magazine covers below.

But the most interesting titles relate to the infamous ‘Shark Arm Case’, which took place in 1935 when a 3.5 metre tiger shark being held captive in Aquarium in the Sydney bayside suburb of Coogee, regurgitated a human arm. Before it had been captured the shark had devoured a smaller shark which had originally eaten the human hand. Fingerprints taken from the hand showed that it had originally belonged to a former boxer, police informer and small-time hoodlum, James Smith. The subsequent investigation led to a businessman, Reginald Holmes, who had previously employed Smith to undertake insurance scams, along with another man, a body builder named Patrick Brady who was eventually tried for Smith’s murder. Holmes was subsequently found dead in his car, the victim of an apparent suicide, although there was strong speculation that he was in fact murdered.

Following Holmes’s death the case against Brady fell apart and he went to his grave in 1965 proclaiming his innocence.

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2 Responses

  1. The Adam covers are great!

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