Colleen McCullough Biography


Colleen McCullough (muh-KUHL-uhk) was born in Wellington, New South Wales, Australia, of Irish Catholic stock. Her mother was a New Zealander of Maori ancestry, her father a cutter of cane. She was educated at Holy Cross College and the University of Sydney. Excelling in science and widely read in the humanities, McCullough worked as a teacher, a library worker, and a bus driver. Economic realities and a soap allergy prevented a career in medicine; instead, she studied neurophysiology and became a neurology researcher in Sydney, in England, and at Yale University’s School of Internal Medicine. In 1993 Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, awarded McCullough the D.Litt. degree. On April 13, 1984, at age forty-six, McCullough married Ric Robinson, a housepainter who would later be a planter. She settled on Norfolk Island, Australia, about one thousand miles east of the mainland.

McCullough began writing seriously while at Yale, where, in the evenings, she wrote her first novel, Tim, and the novel that would establish her reputation and her professional career as a writer, The Thorn Birds. Planning, often for years, before actually writing contributed to her speedy composition.

McCullough writes in a variety of genres. Tim, set in Sydney, can be only loosely labeled a romance, or a novel of awakenings. Tim Melville, a mentally retarded but handsome man of twenty-five, marries a woman of forty-three in order to gain future security for himself after his mother dies. In the end, both partners grow and mature in different ways. Two important themes concern emotional and social growth and the response by society to people who are...

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Colleen McCullough (muh-KUHL-uhk) was born in Wellington, New South Wales, on June 1, 1937. Her father, James McCullough, was an Irish emigrant who arrived in Australia in the 1920’s. His wife was a New Zealander with Irish Catholic roots. The family lived primarily in Sydney, Australia. The father, who was a sugar cane cutting contractor, was often absent. Colleen later described him as cold and disinterested in family. The household was expanded by Colleen’s mother’s nine brothers, who often lived with them during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

McCullough was educated as an Irish Catholic, attending parochial school for twelve years, then going on to Holy Cross College, and she graduated with honors in English, chemistry, and botany. She then intended to ensure her future financial well-being by attending the University of Sydney to study medicine. This plan was abandoned because of a lack of funds. After a stint away from school working as journalist, teacher, library worker, and bus driver, McCullough returned to the University of Sydney and obtained a degree as a medical technician specializing in neurophysiology. She worked in neurophysiology in Australia, London, Birmingham, and finally in the United States at the Yale University School of Internal Medicine.

While at Yale, McCullough decided to supplement her income by writing a novel. Using her evenings to work at a characteristically feverish pace, she finished ten drafts in three months and emerged with Tim (1974). The next year she began to write The Thorn Birds (1977). At this time McCullough was still working full time at Yale and writing in the evenings. She spent such long hours at the typewriter that she wore surgical gloves to keep her arms from rubbing against the desk and support hose to relieve her legs and feet from...

(The entire section is 751 words.)


Colleen McCullough’s works contain meticulously researched worlds that envelop the reader in detail. Her characters are ordinary people who possess a recognizable humanity. They are compelled by old-fashioned concepts of duty and adherence to convention to the exclusion of personal happiness.