Colin Thiele Essay - Critical Essays

Thiele, Colin


Colin Thiele 1920–

Australian novelist for children and adults, poet, playwright, biographer, nonfiction writer, and editor.

Thiele uses his childhood home, southern Australia, as the setting for vividly described stories which characteristically center on a confrontation between humanity and natural forces. He introduces his non-Australian readers to a world unfamiliar yet understandable due to his care in describing the human condition.

In Fire in the Stone the desolate grandeur of central Australia counterbalances the greed and desperation of the opal miners. The fourteen-year-old protagonist of Blue Fin must fight the violent sea to save his father, their tuna boat, and himself, thereby tapping hidden resources of courage. These two books, as well as his other novels, exhibit Thiele's theme of accountability for one's actions. His skill in delineating character and use of regional color and humor prevent his works from being overly moralistic.

Athough Thiele's novels for young adults have been critically well received, few have been published outside of the British Commonwealth. Storm Boy was named Australian Book of the Year in 1975. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 14.)

There is some nice descriptive writing [in Storm Boy about the title character], his hermit father Hideaway Tom, and their home on "the long, long, snout of sandhill and scrub" between the South Australian Coorong and the Indian Ocean. There is logic to the boy and his father living in complete isolation, and the attempt to fit the wild scenery into the mold of a story and Storm Boy into normal society appears as a contrived forced issue…. The retrospective view of the scenery as a happy memory is much less forceful than its original portrayal as a valid setting for life.

"Eight to Eleven—Fiction: 'Storm Boy'," in Virginia Kirkus' Service (copyright © 1966 Virginia Kirkus' Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, January 1, 1966, p. 6.

Margery Fisher

In February Dragon the fire is climax but not reason for the whole story. I think the author may have meant it to be more integral, for early on he makes it clear that Aunt Hester, whose arrogance it is that causes the fires, is not a likeable person. But the book is really a chronicle of the Pine family, whose children … go through the routine of Australian youth—playing up at school, fishing for yabbies, keeping pets. The story lacks point and distinction, in fact, until the fire begins, and then the author is almost forced into strong, realistic writing. He finds the courage to put his characters into real peril and to allow real tragedy…. In other words, this is not a Technicolour fire but a natural disaster well described in terms of the characters in the story.

Margery Fisher, "'February Dragon'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 4, No. 9, April, 1966, p. 684.

Donald J. Bissett

Storm Boy [in the book of the same name] lives a carefree, beachcombing existence in a remote shanty on the coast of Australia. He finds an abandoned pelican which he raises, and the two become inseparable. Although there are many poignant moments in the book, believability is strained when Mr. Percival, the pelican, rescues the crew of a shipwrecked tugboat, dies a grim death and causes the boy to give up his aimless life—all in true TV Lassie style….

"Storm Boy" suffers from too much plot….

Donald J. Bissett, "New Books for Young Readers: 'Storm Boy'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1966 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 1, 1966, p. 30.

The author of this interesting story of life in the Bush [February Dragon] has obviously an intimate knowledge of the Australian countryside and the daily life on a Bush Homestead….

Although an imaginative fictional story the book has that rare quality of imparting knowledge whilst telling an exciting and interesting tale…. The facts and figures blend easily into the text which is well written with needle sharp descriptions of the village characters and of the animal personalities.

The "February Dragon" of the title is the dread bushfire. There is no sentimental glossing over the harsh truth and nature is seen at her most cruel….

This book will make a deep impression on all who read it….

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'February Dragon'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 30, No. 4, August, 1966, p. 256.

Margery Fisher

[The hero in Blue Fin] is an anti-hero in tune with the present day; the swing in fashion is neatly illustrated if you compare [John] Masefield's Dick Pomfret with fourteen-year-old Steve Pasco, known as Snook—gangling, accidentprone, noisy and confused with the course of life….

This is a gloriously unconventional adventure story, full of the classic qualities of heroism, speed and drama but shot with irreverent guffaws of laughter and the uncompromising acceptance of life's grotesque accidents and frustrations…. [Snook's] character is beautifully drawn and shrewdly so; the story depends on character and action in proper balance and earns high praise for this. And it is a very good story. (pp. 1439-40)

Margery Fisher, "'Blue Fin'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 8, No. 6, December, 1969, pp. 1439-40.

D. L. Rees

The reader becomes very much involved in [Blue Fin, a] finely written account of the tuna fishermen. Snook, fourteen and gawky, is teased by most and held in open contempt by his unsympathetic father…. The outcome is a shock.

The absorbing descriptions of the tuna industry (particularly the scenes in the canning factory), the strong characterization, [and] the moving central theme all combine to produce a book of substance and of merit.

D. L. Rees, "Fiction: 'Blue Fin'," in Children's Book News (copyright © 1970 by Children's Book Centre Ltd.), Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February, 1970, p. 28.

No-one thinks of deep sea fishing as being an easy job, but it might be natural to gravitate towards this sort of work if a boy had enjoyed fishing along river banks. [In Blue Fin] Colin Thiele makes boys realize that there is no comparison. This is not a story which has been soft-pedalled for children, it is about the dangers deep sea fishermen meet, the fierce competition, the difficulty in making money, and the dangers which have to be faced. It is a tale of courage and heroism and yet the chief character is nobody's idea of a teenage fictional hero, he is quite the reverse until the end of the story. This is a book which will be enjoyed by any boy who finds ordinary living a bit dull and uneventful.

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'Blue Fin'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 34, No. 1, February, 1970, p. 43.

Frank Eyre

Colin Thiele's books about South Australian country life have not yet achieved the international reputation of some other Australian books, but they are sensitive and moving stories which reveal a deep understanding of boys and their nature and contain vivid descriptions of lovingly observed birds, animals and natural surroundings that deserve to be known more widely. (p. 166)

Frank Eyre, "Regional Writing," in his British Children's Books in the Twentieth Century (copyright © 1971 by Frank Eyre; reprinted by permission of the publishers, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.; in Canada by Penguin Books Ltd.), Longman Books, 1971, Dutton, 1973, pp. 161-76.∗


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Virginia Haviland

[In Blue Fin the] impact of the fisherman's hazardous occupation on the whole community—its satisfactions, uncertainties, dramas, and tragedies—is strongly presented; and the writing, frequently figurative, gives a sharp sense of camaraderie and sensations at sea. (pp. 381-82)

Virginia Haviland, "Summer Booklist: 'Blue Fin'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1974 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. L, No. 4, August, 1974, pp. 381-82.

[Fire in the Stone is a] solid, tense, realistic adventure…. Ernie's relationships and encounters with his father, with Willie, with the motley townsmen and the Aborigines...

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Susan Cooper

Colin Thiele's "Fire in the Stone" [is] gripping…. Here with a vengeance is the real world: the world of Ernie, who lives alone with his wastrel father in a house dug out of sandstone, in the strange lovely-desolate part of Central Australia where men seek their fortunes in the opal fields….

This is a marvelous novel, not only bringing Australia to vivid life but giving the young reader an uncompromising, provocative picture of the situation of man.

Susan Cooper, "Chair-gluers for the 8-14's," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1974 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all...

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Monica Dickens

[I read "Fire in the Stone"] cover to cover with total pleasure….

What is so fascinating and rare is the picture painted by this skillful author, in the dry, dun colors of an arid landscape, of an Australia no one who has only seen Melbourne and "Sinny" and gleaming Canberra could even guess at. Inland Australia seems to have much in common with the raw new lands opening up in this country at the turn of the century. Men struggling with a harsh, intractable landscape, emotions centered desperately on greed and luck….

The writing … is perceptive, evocative, funny, lyrical. If kids—or whoever buys books for kids—can overcome the insular reverse of "Who wants to read about...

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Margery Fisher

Albatross Two is sensational and occasionally sentimental but it is a vigorous book, giving a panoramic view of a small township on the South Australian coast altered and upset by the arrival off its shores of an oil rig. Colin Thiele has set his scene firmly, stated his theme and studied it from every angle…. The plot is exciting enough for anyone…. The dramatic solution to the village's problem is so obviously authentic in details, the story is so well told, the characters play their parts so naturally, that one hardly feels like complaining that the happy ending belongs too obviously to fiction rather than to reality.

Margery Fisher, "Progress and Protest:...

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Joan Murphy

Colin Thiele has written a carefully documented book [Albatross two] about the effects of an off-shore oil rig on a remote bay in south Australia. Everything is black and white and the oil men are condemned before they take to sea…. One knows the dangers of oil pollution but no-where in this book is there any attempt to evaluate. The characters are stereotypes—Tina is the girl who loves birds—one realises from the opening chapter the fate that lies in store for her tame penguin Piglet, and her brother Link who goes to work on the rig and has a secret sympathy for the oil men. Many of the characters have impossible nicknames and speak in almost unreadable dialect, both of which factors irritated me...

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Zena Sutherland

In the hot, dry summer of Australia, there is always the danger of a bush fire, the "dragon" of February. There's no softening of the blow [in February Dragon], as the Pine family and their neighbors lose their farm crops, their home, and most of their pets after a fire due to one careless picnicker who never realizes her role…. Hester's attitude toward animals and rural life is one thread, the threat of fire another, and the courtship between two teachers a third, in a story that is episodic rather than sequential…. This is not as cohesive as Thiele's earlier books, but it gives a good picture of family and community life in the Australian countryside, it has variety and action in the episodes, a vigorous...

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Susan Cooper

The first part of February Dragon seems to me rather "written down"—surprising, from so good a writer as Colin Thiele. But children will put up with its agreeable though unremarkable story of the life of a group of children in the Australian bush, for gradually it comes to grips with the "dragon." He is a creature as familiar in a hot American summer as in a hot Australian February—fire. A bushfire sweeping through the children's lives destroys homes, pets, and friends; the portrait is enormously vivid—and salutary.

Susan Cooper, "Newberry Medalist Susan Cooper Reviews New Novels," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The...

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Paul Heins

The simplicity of [The Hammerhead Light] reflects the uncomplicated emotional relationship between the old man and the young girl, and their common way of thinking and feeling is in tune with the natural, wholesome beauty of their surroundings. (p. 446)

Paul Heins, "Stories for Intermediate Readers: 'The Hammerhead Light'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1977 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. LIII, No. 4, August, 1977, pp. 445-46.

Counterpointing all [the] standard Peck's-bad-boyishness [in The Shadow on the Hills] is Bodo's involvement with half-crazed hermit Ebenezer Blitz who delivers wild sermons in...

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Margery Fisher

The setting of Storm Boy will be [unfamiliar to many readers] … but by the end of the book it will be surprising if they do not feel they know the part of the South Australian coast celebrated in this remarkable story…. Here is yet another lesson in conservation, conveyed through the burning indignation of Storm Boy against hunters, the indignation of a boy used to freedom and accepting the right of his fellow animals to enjoy it also. The narrative is openly, warmly emotional, with a sense of place developed within the framework of a boy's experience. (pp. 3361-62)

Margery Fisher, "'Storm Boy'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 17, No. 2, July, 1978, pp....

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Zena Sutherland

[The Shadow on the Hills] has, despite some incidents rife with action and drama, less story line than most of Thiele's fiction, but the lack of sustained plot is compensated for more than adequately by the vivid evocation of place—a small town in Australia—and of time—a depression year in which financial stress creates a tension that is a catalyst for dramatic events. Yet the chief appeal of the book is probably in the immediacy of a boy's involvement in the pattern of rural life, the mores of a German-Australian community, the humorous predicaments … or the more serious ones….

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'The Shadow on the...

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Zena Sutherland

[Storm Boy] is not as convincing as Thiele's more recent books for older readers, but it's well written, it has the allure of a dramatic setting, an appeal to young conservationists, and the perennial appeal of a tender, if sad, pet story.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Storm Boy'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1979 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 32, No. 8, April, 1979, p. 146.

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