Francis Joseph Hardy was born at Southern Cross in western Victoria and later moved with his family to Bacchus Marsh, west of Melbourne. His mother, Winifred, was a Roman Catholic – his father, Thomas, a non-believer of Welsh and English descent. In 1931 Hardy left school, aged 14, and embarked upon a series of manual jobs. According to Hardy biographer Pauline Armstrong, “his first job was as a messenger and bottlewasher at the local chemist’s shop” and then Hardy worked at the local grocer. He later also did manual work “in and around Bacchus Marsh in the milk factory, digging potatoes, picking tomatoes and fruit”.
There is some debate among Hardy’s biographers about the relative extent Hardy personally suffered from hardships during the 1930s depression. Hardy claimed himself that he left home when he was 13 because “his dad couldn’t get the dole” with him at home. However, Jim Hardy, Frank’s eldest brother, wrote to the Melbourne Herald on 6 November 1983 to rebut this assertion, claiming that Frank had never had to leave home – further noting that their “father never lost a day’s work in his life”. According to biographer Jenny Hocking in a more recent biography,