Colleen McCullough

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Colleen McCullough
Colleen McCullough.jpg
Born(1937-06-01)1 June 1937
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
Died 29 January 2015(2015-01-29) (aged 77)
Norfolk Island, Australia
Occupation Novelist, neuroscientist
Genre Fiction, fantasy, drama
Spouse Ric Robinson m. 1984

Colleen Margaretta McCullough AO ( /məˈkʌlə/ ; married name Robinson, previously Ion-Robinson; [1] [2] 1 June 1937 29 January 2015) was an Australian author known for her novels, her most well-known being The Thorn Birds and The Ladies of Missalonghi , the latter of which was involved in a plagiarism controversy.

Order of Australia series of Australian national honours

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service. Before the establishment of the order, Australian citizens received British honours.

<i>The Thorn Birds</i> novel by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds is a 1977 best-selling novel by the Australian author Colleen McCullough. Set primarily on Drogheda—a fictional sheep station in the Australian Outback named after Drogheda, Ireland—the story focuses on the Cleary family and spans the years 1915 to 1969.

<i>The Ladies of Missalonghi</i> novel by Colleen McCullough

The Ladies of Missalonghi is a short novel by Australian writer Colleen McCullough commissioned for the Hutchinson Novellas series and published in the United States in the Harper Short Novel series in 1987. Set in the small town of Byron in the Blue Mountains of Australia in the years just before World War I, the novel is the story of Missy Wright and the Hurlingford family.



McCullough was born in 1937 in Wellington, in the Central West region of New South Wales, [3] to James and Laurie McCullough. [4] Her father was of Irish descent and her mother was a New Zealander of part-Māori descent. During her childhood, the family moved around a great deal and she was also "a voracious reader". [5]

Wellington, New South Wales Town in New South Wales, Australia

Wellington is a town in inland New South Wales, Australia, located at the junction of the Macquarie and Bell Rivers. It is within the local government area of Dubbo Regional Council. The town is 362 kilometres (225 mi) from Sydney on the Great Western Highway and Mitchell Highway.

Central West (New South Wales) Region in New South Wales, Australia

The Central West is a region of New South Wales, Australia. The region is geographically in eastern New South Wales, in the area west of the Blue Mountains, which are west of Sydney. It has an area of 63,262 square kilometres (24,426 sq mi).

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In March 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 7.9 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

Her family eventually settled in Sydney where she attended Holy Cross College, Woollahra, [6] having a strong interest in both science and the humanities. [7]

Sydney City in New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,131,326, and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

She had a younger brother, Carl, who drowned off the coast of Crete when he was 25 while trying to rescue tourists in difficulty. She based a character in The Thorn Birds on him, and also wrote about him in Life Without the Boring Bits. [8]

Crete The largest and most populous of the Greek islands

Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. Crete and a number of surrounding islands and islets constitute the region of Crete, one of the 13 top-level administrative units of Greece. The capital and the largest city is Heraklion. As of 2011, the region had a population of 623,065.

Before her tertiary education, McCullough earned a living as a teacher, librarian and journalist. [5] In her first year of medical studies at the University of Sydney she suffered dermatitis from surgical soap and was told to abandon her dreams of becoming a medical doctor. Instead, she switched to neuroscience and worked at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. [6]

University of Sydney university in Sydney, Australia

The University of Sydney is an Australian public research university in Sydney, Australia. Founded by H in 1820, it was Australia's first university and is regarded as one of the world's leading universities. The university is colloquially known as one of Australia's sandstone universities. Its campus is ranked in the top 10 of the world's most beautiful universities by the British Daily Telegraph and The Huffington Post, spreading across the inner-city suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington. The university comprises 9 faculties and university schools, through which it offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. In 2014 it had 33,505 undergraduate and 19,284 graduate students.

Dermatitis skin disease

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a group of diseases that results in inflammation of the skin. These diseases are characterized by itchiness, red skin and a rash. In cases of short duration, there may be small blisters, while in long-term cases the skin may become thickened. The area of skin involved can vary from small to the entire body.

Neuroscience scientific study of the nervous system

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary branch of biology that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits. The understanding of the biological basis of learning, memory, behavior, perception, and consciousness has been described by Eric Kandel as the "ultimate challenge" of the biological sciences.

In 1963, McCullough moved for four years to the United Kingdom; at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London she met the chairman of the neurology department at Yale University who offered her a research associate job at Yale. She spent 10 years (April 1967 to 1976) researching and teaching in the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. While at Yale she wrote her first two books. One of these, The Thorn Birds , became an international best seller and one of the best selling books in history, with sales of over 30 million copies worldwide, that in 1983 inspired one of the most-watched television miniseries of all time. [9]

Great Ormond Street Hospital Hospital in London

Great Ormond Street Hospital is a children's hospital located in the Bloomsbury area of the London Borough of Camden, and a part of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust.

Yale University private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

New Haven, Connecticut City in Connecticut, United States

New Haven is a coastal city in the U.S. state of Connecticut. It is located on New Haven Harbor on the northern shore of Long Island Sound in New Haven County, Connecticut, and is part of the New York metropolitan area. With a population of 129,779 as determined by the 2010 United States Census, it is the second-largest city in Connecticut after Bridgeport. New Haven is the principal municipality of Greater New Haven, which had a total population of 862,477 in 2010.

The success of these books enabled her to give up her medical-scientific career and to try to "live on [her] own terms." [10] In the late 1970s, after stints in London and Connecticut, she settled on the isolation of Norfolk Island, off the coast of mainland Australia, where she met her husband, Ric Robinson. [9] They married in April 1984. [2] Under his birth name Cedric Newton Ion-Robinson, he was a member of the Norfolk Legislative Assembly. He changed his name formally to Ric Newton Ion Robinson in 2002.[ citation needed ]

McCullough's 2008 novel, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet engendered controversy with her reworking of characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice . Susannah Fullerton, the president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, said she "shuddered" while reading the novel, as she felt that Elizabeth Bennet was rewritten as weak, and Mr. Darcy as savage. Fullerton said: "[Elizabeth] is one of the strongest, liveliest heroines in literature … [and] Darcy's generosity of spirit and nobility of character make her fall in love with him – why should those essential traits in both of them change in 20 years?" [11]


Close-up of her headstone in Norfolk Island Cemetery, 2015 Colleen McCullough Robinson headstone (closeup), Norfolk Island Cemetery, 2015.JPG
Close-up of her headstone in Norfolk Island Cemetery, 2015

McCullough died on 29 January 2015, at the age of 77, in the Norfolk Island Hospital from apparent renal failure after suffering from a series of small strokes. She had suffered from failing eyesight due to hemorrhagic macular degeneration, osteoporosis, trigeminal neuralgia, diabetes and uterine cancer, and was confined to a wheelchair. [9] [1]

She was buried in a traditional Norfolk Island funeral ceremony at the Emily Bay cemetery on the island. [12]


In 1984, a portrait of McCullough, painted by Wesley Walters, was a finalist in the Archibald Prize. The prize is awarded for the "best portrait painting preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics". [13] The depth of historical research for the novels on ancient Rome led to her being awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by Macquarie University in 1993. [14]

She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia on 12 June 2006, "[f]or service to the arts as an author and to the community through roles supporting national and international educational programs, medico-scientific disciplines and charitable organisations and causes". [15]


Selected novels

Masters of Rome series

  1. The First Man in Rome (1990)
  2. The Grass Crown (1991)
  3. Fortune's Favorites (1993)
  4. Caesar's Women (1996)
  5. Caesar (1997)
  6. The October Horse (2002)
  7. Antony and Cleopatra (2007)

Carmine Delmonico series

McCullough also published five murder mysteries in the Carmine Delmonico series. [16]

  1. On, Off (2006)
  2. Too Many Murders (December 2009)
  3. Naked Cruelty (2010)
  4. The Prodigal Son (2012)
  5. Sins of the Flesh (2013)

Biographical work


Screen adaptations


  1. 1 2 Susan Wyndham (29 January 2015). "Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds, dies". The Age.
  2. 1 2 The Peerage. Retrieved 2 February 2015
  3. "About Colleen McCullough",; retrieved 3 January 2016.
  4. Enough Rope - Transcript of McCullough interview with Andrew Denton (24 September 2007)
  5. 1 2 Mary Jean DeMarr, Colleen McCullough: a critical companion, p. 2
  6. 1 2 Cheetham, Anthony (30 January 2015). "Colleen McCullough obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  7. "Colleen McCullough: Internationally acclaimed Australian Thorn Birds author dies aged 77". ABC News. 29 January 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  8. Jason Steger, "McCullough cut through the small talk". Profile, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 2015; retrieved 2 February 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fox, Margalit (29 January 2015). "Colleen McCullough, Author of The Thorn Birds, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  10. Mary Jean DeMarr, Colleen McCullough: a critical companion, p. 3.
  11. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet,; accessed 3 January 2016.
  12. "Colleen McCullough to be buried among Bounty mutineers". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  13. "Archibald Prize 07". Art Gallery NSW. Retrieved 19 July 2007.
  14. McCullough awarded Doctor of Letters,; accessed 3 January 2016.
  15. McCullough profile,; retrieved 2 February 2015.
  16. 1 2 3 Michelle Smith, "Was Colleen McCullough under-regarded as a writer? The next few chapters will tell",; 29 January 2015.
  17. Patricia Maunder. "Outspoken writer Colleen McCullough praised by all except literary establishment",, 30 January 2015.

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