Thea Astley, renowned Australia author, passed away in August 2004, at the age of 78. Author of 16 novels, she recently quipped to the SMH:
“My writing hairs have worn off with age, like the hairs on your legs.”
In 2000, she won her fourth Miles Franklin Literary Award, an extraordinary effort, and reflecting her dry wit and eye for the absurdities of regular life.
Astley published her first novel, Girl with a Monkey, in 1958 and kept writing while she raised her son, Ed, and worked as a schoolteacher and a fellow at Macquarie University. The family moved to tropical Queensland, which often became the setting for her books because she delighted in its scenery, small communities and “screwballs”.
In 1994 she declared that her novel Coda was her last. But the then Prime Minister, PaulKeating, gave her a creative fellowship and she turned out The Multiple Effects of Rainshadowand, reluctantly, Drylands. Australian director Tony Buckley holds options on the film rights for Drylands.
Her last public recognition was a special award at the 2002 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for her lifetime achievement as “a trailblazer”. And yet, as one of a generation of “prose-poets” led by Patrick White, she wrote books that some readers found impenetrable, leading to smaller sales than deserved.
Thea Astley’s novels twice won The Age Book of the Year: in 1975 for A Kindness Cup; and 1996 for The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow. She won the Miles Franklin award four times for the following books:
- The Well Dressed Explorer,
- The Slow Native
- The Acolyte and
In her later years, she lived in Byron Bay, and continued to entertain the locals with hysterical readings, within a few weeks of her death. Vale Thea.
This profile prepared with thanks to Jason Steger, AAP, Susan Wyndham and others. The photograph above is courtesy of Clayton Jones August 2004.