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April 2008 Up From Down Under




Great Australian Writers:


Patrick White


1912 - 1990


In 1973, Patrick White became the first Australian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The citation reads: "for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature".* To date he remains the only Australian to have won the prestigious award.




Patrick Victor Martindale White was born in London on 28 May, 1912. His Australian parents returned to Sydney six months later and settled into two apartments. Patrick shared one with his sister, nanny and maid, his parents lived in the adjoining one. That separation seemed to set the tone for his life - always remaining distant from his parents. He suffered from chronic asthma most of his life, which precluded many childhood activities. Young Patrick lived within his imagination.


He boarded at a school in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, before being sent to England in 1924. White finished school at age eighteen, wanting to become an actor. His parents agreed on condition he return to Australia first and give life on the land a try. From 18-20 years, he worked as a jackaroo on family properties in southern and northern New South Wales.


From 1932-1935, back in England, he attended Kings College, Cambridge, and received his BA. He studied French and German literature, and spent holidays travelling in Europe to improve language skills. White's first homosexual love affair occurred during this time.


After the death of his father in 1937, White received a legacy of 10,000 pounds, which enabled him to write full-time.


White joined the RAF after the outbreak of WWII and worked as an intelligence officer in the Middle East. There in Cairo he met the "love of his life", Manoly Lascaris, a Greek army officer.


After the war, Patrick and Manoly took up residence at Castle Hill on the outskirts of Sydney. There they spent 18 years on a small farm selling flowers, vegetables, milk and cream, and raising dogs and goats. In 1963, they moved to an inner suburb, Centennial Park.


Patrick White died on September 30, 1990, after long illness.




White was a prolific writer. He left a legacy of poetry, plays, novels, short fiction and non-fiction, plus an autobiography. The following list is not all-inclusive:


1939 "Happy Valley"

1941 "The Living and the Dead"

1948 "The Aunt's Story"

1955 "The Tree of Man"

1957 "Voss"

1961 "Riders in the Chariot"

1966 "The Solid Mandala"

1970 "The Vivisector"

1973 "The Eye of the Storm"

1981 autobiography – "Flaws in the Glass: A Self Portrait."

1986 "Memoirs of Man in One"




1957 "Voss" won the inaugural Miles Franklin Literary Award.


1961 "Riders in the Chariot" - second Miles Franklin Literary Award.


1968 White declined the $10,000 Britannia Award and Miles Franklin Award, stating he would no longer accept awards for his work.


1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.


1973 Australian of the Year.





In 1973, White established the Patrick White Award. This annual award, $25,000 cash, is for writers who have been highly creative over a long period without significant recognition.






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