Centenary of Patrick White’s birth

Patrick White was born on 28th May 1912 in London to a family of Australian graziers. He and his parents returned to Australia when White was six months old. His childhood was an unhappy one. White was sent to boarding school in England at the age of 13. Here he developed an interest in writing and theatre. After school White worked as a jackaroo in Australia then went to Cambridge University. He wrote plays and poetry and in 1939 his first novel Happy Valley was published.

During the war White served in the RAF in a variety of locations, including Greece and Egypt. During this time he met his life partner Manoly Lascaris and they returned to live in Australia, on a small farm at Castle Hill. In 1948 he published The Aunt’s Story and in 1955 The Tree of Man. This was followed in 1957 by Voss. This received the Miles Franklin Award and the W.H Smith award. Another novel Riders in the Chariot also won the Miles Franklin Award.

In 1964 White moved to Centennial Park. His social circle included Sidney Nolan, Kate Fitzpatrick and other literary figures. He was critical of suburbia in Australia and created a suburb called Sarsaparilla as a setting for various works – The Burnt Ones, The Season at Sarsaparilla and The Solid Mandala. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1965 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, he is the only Australian prize winner in this category. White was then named Australian of the Year in 1974. he was involved in politics, conservation and the antinuclear movement. White died in Sydney on September 30, 1990.

White published an autobiography Flaws in the Glass: a self portrait in 1981 and David Marr wrote a biography in 1990. A collection of White’s letters were published in 1994; although White had wished that “anything unfinished when I die is to be burnt”.

The National Library of Australia is holding an exhibition The life of Patrick White until July 8 and it will be at the State Library of NSW from August 20-October 28. See http://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/the-life-of-patrick-white

Sources: 1001 Australians you should know –Toby Cresswell and Samantha Trenoweth; Great World Writers: Twentieth Century editor Patrick O’Neil Vol 12; A new chapter by Rosemary Neill in The Weekend Australian Review, May 12-13, p8-9

Parramatta Library holds many of White’s works as well as biographical information.