The Opium Smugglers (1948) is one of four books by Idriess marketed as the Australian Boys' Adventure Series . The others in this series were Headhunters of the Coral Sea (1940), The Great Trek (1940) and Nemarluk: King of the Wilds (1941). The blurb for Headhunters (on the DJ inside flap - but repeated in its advertisements in the other books) was "Here is an exciting book of adventure for all readers from nine to ninety." And these ages are repeated in other blurbs - e.g, the back inside flap of The Great Boomerang states that, for the three earlier books in this series, they are, "For Boys from Nine to Ninety." Idriess begins his Author's Note for The Opium Smugglers with these words: "This boys' book is for your dad as well as for you." So the question is: Are these books suitable and appropriate for boys? And for boys as young as nine years old? First, it is recognized that these books were published in a different era - the 1940's - just as WWII was raging or had just concluded. Mores as regards the suitability of certain literature for children was a bit more nebulous than today. There was not the viewing codes for television - the content ratings of G and PG, M, etc - that we have now. In fact no television per se - which may have been a good thing for children then. But no doubt parental guidance for reading matter was just as expected as nowadays. Yet there is also no doubt that some of the themes and graphic imagery in these books is adult in nature. Nemarluk has the killing of the Japanese from the Ouida ; Headhunters has the massacre of most of the survivors of the Charles Eaton and headhunting sorties; and The Great Trek features an almost constant battle against "hostile blacks" with many of them being killed or wounded - all for the sake of ploughing through their country to reach a distant destination. In The Opium Smugglers there is overt racism: racist terminology and racist stereotyping, e.g., Little Paddy is described as "a little black monkey" (p.5) and "like a monkey" (p.11), perhaps offset a little by admiration for the aboriginals' tracking and other skills. But racism is unfortunately endemic in Idriess - and many others of the era. There are other things from a 21st century perspective that we would frown upon - especially for a children's book! There is smoking by many (e.g., p.11), but not limited to the adults (or near adults, if Jack and Dick, by their characterisation as "boys" themselves in the book - perhaps they were late teenagers or young men under 21?): Little Paddy himself is given cigarettes (p.155). There is the graphic mauling of Billy by a tiger shark (and, as an aside, there is the labelling of the poor old grey nurse shark as a man-eating threat to people by Idriess; a common but unwarranted misconception of the time) and his being doctored and sewn up by Cross-eyed Joe. There is the torture of Cross-eyed Joe and the two Malays by the Japanese crew. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the child abuse (torture!) of Little Paddy by Slinker, who half-throttles him, belts him with a belt on his bare bottom and ties him up. And then when this comes to light Little Paddy is laughed at by all. Perhaps these stories could have been pitched at teenagers and above - who today cannot only read but perhaps unfortunately also see a lot more graphic material - but not nine year olds! Finally, as to the truthfulness of The Opium Smugglers - I am inclined to agree with Dal McGuirk ( Forum Q and A - Clive English, November 26, 2020) that this was a story based on Idriess's experiences but woven together into one plot.
I have a few shelves of books by Idriess. You look along them and notice that most of the titles on the spines of these tomes - including the author's name (invariably Idriess, or Ion L. Idriess) and publisher (Angus and Roberson, or A & R. or A & R Ltd, except of cause for the 1927 Madman's Island, which has Cornstalk Company) - go across the spine (transverse) and that some go down the spine (that is, they are read from top to bottom) and that just a very few read the other way - that is from bottom to top. So, most of these titles you can read with your head straight, others (the top to bottom ones) you may tilt your head to the right to read easily, but the latter you have to tilt your head the other way, to the left, which is a little jolting and mildly annoying. But why has A and R arranged it so? You will notice that almost all of Idriess's pre-war and war books have transverse titles, as indeed have post-war titles until about 1955, after which top-to-bottom titles predominate. Some transverse titles, at least on the dust jackets, have a variation in that the titles are angled rather than straight across. Most notably these are The Cattle King and Tracks of Destiny , and to some extent The Silent Service (1944). But the book titles I find that are somewhat jarringly different are the three that read from bottom to top, namely, Onward Australia (1944), Gems from Idriess (1949) and Across the Nullarbor - DJ only - not the hard cover (1951). Why are these three different? It may have been that A and R want these to stand out and be different. Wikipedia notes that the USA, Commonwealth countries, Scandinavian countries and Holland have a (more or less) standard title orientation of top-to-bottom - if the title is not transverse - and indeed, top-to-bottom seems to have superseded transverse as the norm in more recent times (post 1950's). But central European countries (France, Germany, Russia, etc) and others have adopted bottom-to-top as the norm. Both top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top are traditions with historical precedent. A quick glance at my mostly more modern home library confirms that almost all have top-to-bottom orientated titles on the spines, with but very few with transverse or bottom-to-top titles. The same holds true for public libraries. And if you have wandered along looking at titles with your head tilted to the right, the ones orientated differently certainly stand out - if somewhat annoyingly! So with these three Idriess books. But why these three in particular? I am not sure. It may just be the whim of A and R (see, for example, A and R's rather idiosyncratic approach to editions in this site - https://www.idriess.info/single-post/2016/03/11/identifying-first-edition-idriess-books - or Editions, Impressions and Printings (Sep. 22, 2020) in this Forum). Any ideas? There is one more thing to note with top-to-bottom titles: if they are placed flat with the front cover up the spine is readily readable. But with a bottom-to-top book, the title appears upside down!