(1921 - 2008)

and other works

Page updated 3rd November, 2021.
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site in Australia..

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Obituary in the SMH, or click on the photo

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Ivan Southall non-fiction war books of interest

Other juvenile fiction

Southall from A-Z (SLV)

Every Australian Boys' Hero of the 1950s. Before 'Inspector Rex' there was Rex the Wonder Dog!

'Meet Simon Black' was my first Southall book. Unlike many of the 'Biggles' books which I borrowed from the local library, read, returned and promptly forgot about, 'Simon Black' gained my complete attention. They featured a believable character, a science-fictional aircraft but first and foremost were set in my own country: Australia.



SIMON BLACK IN COASTAL COMMAND, first published 1953, also ran as a serial in the Aussie storypaper, THE AUSTRALIAN BOY in 1955, but due to the cessation of this publication at issue 80, was never completed!  

I recall back in 1960 during my first year of high school and having won a prize of a book, being asked to pick a title. "The latest Simon Black Book, please!" It was 'Simon Black Takes Over' with an arresting dust jacket design: Simon confronting a little alien, green with a light bulb-like head in a helmet. I could barely wait to reach home, whereupon I opened my book and soon lost myself within. Sadly, this was the second last of the series with 'Simon Black at Sea' coming out in 1961. This was a disappointment in more ways than one.

bc Ivan Southall went on to author many other books, but so far as I'm concerned, will always be remembered for Simon Black. Born in Melbourne in 1921, Ivan Southall grew up in the suburb of Surrey Hills and won a part-scholarship to Box Hill Grammar School. Tragedy intervened: his father died and he had to leave school at 14, eventually landing a position on the Melbourne Herald as a copy boy, after a number of minor jobs. What spare time he had was taken up writing short stories and a number of these saw publication in the paper. By the time the war arrived, Southall had written four novels, one of these eventually being revised and published by Angus and Robertson in 1950. Originally titled 'Full Throttle to Fortune', it became 'Meet Simon Black'. During the war, Ivan Southall flew Sunderlands for the RAAF, 461 SQUADRON, over the seas surrounding Britain and won a DFC for sinking a German U-boat. With the war over, he became a war historian in England before returning to Victoria, eventually moving to the Dandenong Ranges. He wrote more than 60, mostly children's books, and happily was still writing well into his later years. A number of these have won 'Book of the Year' awards.

The State Library of Victoria held an exhibition of Ivan Southall's works and life, in the Queen's Hall, Melbourne in 1998, and the site Southall from A-Z is now back online.

The SIMON BLACK* books
All published in Australia by Angus and Robertson, and overseas in many foreign language editions. The early books were printed on poor quality paper with crudely (but attractively) illustrated jackets on at least the first three. See the copy of -IN PERIL illustrated. The reprints were much nicer, jacket-wise, and on better paper. The artists were 'I Maher', Wal Stackpool and Frank Norton. Does anyone have information on these artists?
*BEWARE of the ABRIDGED editions which came out in plain laminated boards and paperbacks!

Version #2 jacket. See #1 at top.

Version #1 jacket

Version #2 jacket

1. MEET SIMON BLACK, first published 1950. Full colour jacket on 1957 reprint.
Ex-Squadron Leader Simon Black, DSO, DSC and Bar, and now a mechanic and garage proprietor in a small valley east of Melbourne, has invented a supersonic aircraft, 'Firefly'. Simon's offsider at the garage is teenager Johnny Grant. He looks after the business while Simon and elder brother Alan Grant work on their aircraft at Stanton Farm. Their secret is guarded by the faithful dog, Rex. The author was ahead of his time, the 'Firefly' being a VTOL (= Vertical Take-Off and Land) aircraft, rocket-powered with horizontal props in both wings - a primitive 'Harrier'. This introductory book takes you through the test flight, which is caught by a Mr Stanton of the 'Telegraph'. Simon and Alan decide to 'call in' on Simon's father, an aircraft manufacturer, in Sydney. After playing 'tag' with an RAAF Meteor over the City, Alan takes the controls and screams beneath the Harbour Bridge. Great stuff! All this in the first 30 pages. The duo eventually are given the task of finding a professor who has gone missing on a secret expedition to New Guinea. The story moves along at a fast pace, the style timeless.

2. SIMON BLACK IN PERIL, first published 1951, my reprint 1952, original jacket.
[The cover illustration of the 'Firefly' on the original jacket is incorrect, as readers will discover.]
Simon is commissioned by the Secret Service (ASIO?) to investigate the disappearance of a number of merchant ships in the Pacific. This turns out to be the work of a group of Nazis, based on an island stronghold. How will Simon and Alan destroy this group of saboteurs?

3. SIMON BLACK IN SPACE, first published 1952, my reprint 1957.
Our heroes have improved on the original aircraft. Firefly 3 is capable of travel outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Mysterious flying discs have appeared over Australia. Simon and Alan have been ordered to find one and follow it to its source. To tell you more would ruin the story. Science fiction with a touch of 'The X Files'.

4. SIMON BLACK IN COASTAL COMMAND, first published 1953, my reprint 1957.
This book takes you back a decade and explains how Simon and Alan first met. Probably the best boys' book to come out of this country in the 1950s, 'Coastal Command' bears the stamp of authenticity, thanks to the author's background. Both Simon and Alan are fleshed out, character- wise. You can believe in these two young fliers. The 'Flying Porcupines', as the enemy has nick-named the Sunderland flying boats, had a majesty all of their own. Bristling with guns, these mighty aircraft were responsible for saving many allied aircrew - and sinking many U-Boats. If you haven't yet read a 'Simon Black' (or any Ivan Southall book), make this your first. It still stands up as a great read, over 40 years on.

Version #2 jacket. See #1 above.

5. SIMON BLACK IN CHINA, first published 1954.
A year after their journey into space, the boys are sent on a perilous trip into China, this time with Johnny as well. The trio must impersonate three men whose aircraft was shot down while transporting some type of secret material to a spy ring in the East. Their Catalina is destroyed so Simon and Co must use the 'Firefly'. This time the author has penned a dramatic thriller.

6. SIMON BLACK AND THE SPACEMEN, first published 1955.
Any blurb on this story will give the plot of 'Simon Black in Space' away, so all you need to know is that the boys are back off into space.

7. SIMON BLACK IN THE ANTARCTIC, first published 1956, my reprint 1958.
The b/w frontispiece gives you a clear illustration of the 'Firefly'. Simon and Alan are dispatched (with Rex) to investigate strange happenings on an Australian Antarctic base. A read of this may remind you of 'The X Files' episode 'Ice', which was based on the original short story 'Who goes There'. I fact the exploration of the Antarctic was the big news story of the mid-1950s.

8. SIMON BLACK TAKES OVER, sub-titled 'The Strange Tale of Operation Greenleaf', published 1959 and very scarce.
The little green men arrive on Simon's home ground. A twisting and always entertaining narrative keeps the reader looking forward to each chapter, wondering what will happen next. I loved it.

9. SIMON BLACK AT SEA, sub-titled 'The Fateful maiden voyage of APM1 Arion', published 1961.
The artist is un-named, probably ashamed of the atrocious dust jack, internal scribbles and frontispiece, not forgetting the endpapers which show an object which looks as if it was designed by a 10 year-old schoolboy! The book itself is a one-off, size-wise, being of a larger format than the previous titles. Simon and Alan are ordered by the Aussie PM to accompany the weird air-sea vessel, 'Arion', condemned by the RAN as a monstrosity, on its maiden voyage. The book isn't poorly written - far from it. The plot is simply ridiculous even if similar events have occurred in real life! I recall how disappointed I was, having eagerly waited for two years - for Simon's next adventure. You knew from the sub-title that things were going to end in disaster, after all!

10. SIMON BLACK IN ARABIA Not published under this name. Any details welcomed chiefchook@gmail.com .

Undated but probably received pre-2000.
I've just discovered your site. I don't have any info on Simon Black in Arabia, but re some of the others: / There is also a title "Simon Black on Venus". As far as I can tell, this is the same as Simon Black and the Spacemen. (Info source: The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (Paul Collins 1998)) I have a copy titled that, though an "edited" version... / Several of the titles were "edited" for the school trade (& abbreviated, according to MUP Encyc Austn SF&F). I'm reasonably sure edited versions of the following exist:
Simon Black in Space
Simon Black on Venus (See note below.)
Simon Black takes over
Simon Black at Sea
The National Library of Australia generally has anything published in Australia. The following query on their catalogue returns a list of all their holdings with Simon Black in the title & by Ivan Southall:
The NLA doesn't seem to have a non-edited version of SB on Venus, however The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy does list it. This Encyc. also lists foreign language edns for the SF & borderline SF titles; if you are interested I can transcribe/scan. / I'm fairly sure the cover of _SB in Space_ that is shown on the Fantastic Fiction site is the editted version - I can't lay my hands on my copy at the moment:
Thanks for your comments and information, Jane.

May 7, 2012
We hold two copies of [Simon Black on Venus] at [link here] which can be viewed in the Heritage Collection Reading Room at the SLV.
Juliet O'Conor
Children's Research Librarian
Rare Printed Collections
State Library of Victoria
Available Mon, Wed and Fridays
ph 86647228
fax 96396829
Thank you, Juliet. Note: Juliet mentions that over 600 items, mostly foreign language editions of Southall's books, are currently being catalogued by the SLV.

April 4, 2021
Discovered your site by chance when Google-ing "Firefly 3" for the fun of it, and I hope it's still active (as distinct from simply being available). I was another Simon Black fan when younger (still am), though I mostly found the books through libraries. These days, I have most of them and keep my eyes open for the rest, though it's slow going.

Anyway, after reading the page on the books, I have a few comments to make that you might be interested in:

1) To me, the stars of the books have always been the Fireflys. The idea of them is brilliant, though the engineer in me (I'm an aeronautical engineer by profession) is forced to admit that while Southall may known a lot about flying from the pilot's perspective, he didn't have a clue about aircraft design. Dearly as I love them, they are impossible; rocket engines, VTOL fans and manoeuvring in space just don't work that way!

2) Despite that, I have built a plastic model of Firefly 1 -- or an approximation of it, anyway, because there is no way to be exact about it since no two depictions of her look the same! The illustrations on the dust jackets have only one thing in common -- she's painted red -- and the illustrations inside don't even have that. Nonetheless, it's fun to come up with something that could be a supersonic aircraft with up to six seats, including one for Rex. Next will be an RAAF Firefly and Firefly 3!

3) The aircraft on the cover of Simon Black in Peril is, I believe, meant to be Firefly 2, a large flying-boat meant for the sort of roles that Sunderlands and their cousins got up to -- only with the classic Firefly features of rocket propulsion and VTOL fans in the wings(!). IIRC, this was the only time we ever saw Firefly 2 in action; she's merely mentioned in passing in later books. It has to be said that, despite Firefly 2 being described as resembling a Sunderland, the dust jacket picture doesn't look anything like that or any other flying-boat that I recognise, and we won't even mention the fans being on stalks like helicopter rotors...

4) I can confirm that "Simon Black on Venus" is just "Simon Black and the Spacemen" by another name, renamed by A&R in 1974 when they reissued some (4?) of the books with boards that were more like cardboard and no dust jackets. They may have edited the stories for whatever reason, but it wasn't particularly noticeable. What was notable was the dreadful artwork that replaced the original illustrations. It was appalling IMO, and did nothing to make the books attractive. Maybe that's why they only put out 4 of the 9 titles: potential buyers were put off by the art, including the tiny cover illustrations.

Thanks for making it this far in my ramblings. I hope they might be of some help in keeping the page up-to-date, or just of some interest.

Phil Atcliffe
Good to hear from you, Phil. Maybe we're the last two Firefly fans left on Earth! LATER: But no, a new comment under.

December 3rd, 2021
I just thought that I’d add my bit about the discussion on these two books.  (I have both.) Yes, they are definitely the same story, but no, they are not the same text.  SBoV has been shortened, edited and abridged in a similar way to the “school edition” of Simon Black in Space. (Of course, if you haven’t seen the difference between that and the original, it won’t mean much to you, unfortunately.) And some of the changes to the text seem baffling to me. 

Ditto to Phil's comments on the artwork in the re-released versions. 

On another matter, I have wondered whether the Fireflys (or is the correct plural Fireflies?) were part inspiration for at least some of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbird craft. Certainly there’s a functional resemblance between Firefly 1 and Thunderbird 1, Firefly 2 and TB2, and Firefly 3 and TB3. 

Thanks for your comments I agree about the Fireflys (Spellcheck doesn't like the 'ys' spelling) being an inspiration for Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds.


I'll only discuss books here from my own collection.
THEY SHALL NOT PASS UNSEEN (A&R, first published in 1958.)
A brilliantly written book, the factual story of the author's own 461 Squadron (emblem at left), flying Short Sunderland 4-engined, 27-ton flying boats during WW2. This is not what purists would call a "unit history". It does list outstanding and less so experiences of the squadron during the war years and contains details of crews involved - and those who did not return. Numerous b/w photos taken on missions are to be seen within. You will be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable read, fact or fiction, on aircraft. This book was used as a basis for the better known children's book, "Fly West".

BLUEY TRUSCOTT (A&R, first published in 1958.)
The story of our own air ace of WW2, Keith "Bluey" Truscott, first with 452 Squadron in England, and later with 76 Squadron in the Pacific. Also includes the adventures of Irish air ace Paddy Finucane and other squadron members. Exciting, moving and generally a well-constructed book which you'll want to keep reading. Illustrated with b/w photos.

17 SECONDS (H&S 1973 abridged version of SOFTLY TREAD THE BRAVE, first published in 1960.)
The amazing story of Australia's heroic aerial mine defusers, John Mould and Hugh Syme, both awarded the George Medal for their work during WW2. 17 SECONDS was the time you had to get to safety once the timer began running. The abridged book was written for younger readers and no more exciting true life book has ever been written. I'm currently reading the unexpurgated original book. Highly recommended.


JOSH (A&R 1971) is the story of a boy sent out to stay with a relative in a Victorian country town which his family helped build years before. Immensely readable, funny, sad, exciting; highly recommended! (John, 6.09)

TO THE WILD SKY (A&R 1967, Puffin pb) is the story of six children lost in Australia after their plane comes down, well off their set course. How each feels, reacts and survives is brilliantly described in yet another outstanding work from the fertile mind of Ivan Southall. Recommended, as always! (John, 5.10)