Colleen McCullough Dies at Age 77

There are no ambitions noble enough to justify breaking someone’s heart. ”  – Rainer Moerling Hartheim, “The Thorn Birds”

Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds – perhaps Australia’s best known literary work – died Thursday of apparent kidney failure.  She was 77.

Born in Wellington, New South Wales, she was an avid reader as a child (perhaps as a way to deal with her brutish father and coldhearted mother).  Early on, she was a teacher, a librarian and a journalist but dreamed of being a doctor; unfortunately, she had to abandon that dream when she developed a severe allergy to the soap used in hospitals.  She then moved on to neurophysiology and eventually settled in a position of research associate (as well as teaching) at the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut.

The success of The Thorn Birds, written in 1977 while she was at Yale, allowed her to live life on her own terms, and to eventually move to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific where she lived and worked for over 30 years (she refused to move back to the Australian mainland as long as her mother was still there).  She went on to write twenty-two additional works, many of them quite substantial.

But it is The Thorn Birds for which she will be remembered.  Sometimes referred to as Australia’s Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds was her second novel, and spawned a wildly popular 1983 television mini-series that was seen by over 100 million viewers.  Even though the mini-series won six Emmy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards and the People’s Choice Award for Best Mini-Series, Ms. McCullough’s response to People Magazine when asked if she had liked it was typical of her larger than life personality:  ” “I hated it,” she said. “It was instant vomit.”

Ms. McCullough is survived by her husband, Ric Robinson, two stepchildren and two step-grandchildren.

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