Australian paper mocked for calling ‘The Thorn Birds’ author plain, overweight in obituary
Australia’s largest newspaper was facing sharp criticism over its obituary of the nation’s most famous author, whom it described as plain and overweight.
The Australian newspaper’s obituary of Colleen McCullough, whose novel “The Thorn Birds” sold 30 million copies worldwide and who died on Thursday at age 77 after a long illness, opened not with a list of her myriad accomplishments, but with a description of her appearance.
“Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer,” the obituary began. “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
Soon, the hashtag myozobituary was trending on Twitter, as people across the world mocked the publication for what many viewed as a blatantly sexist treatment of a lauded literary figure.
British author Neil Gaiman, who is married to singer Amanda Palmer, tweeted: “Although his beard looked like someone had glued it on & his hair would have been unconvincing as a wig, he married a rockstar. (hashtag)myozobituary”
Criticism of the obituary was twofold: One, that the paper chose to focus the top of its story on McCullough’s appearance rather than her achievements, which included spending 10 years working as a neuroscientist at Yale Medical School in the United States, establishing the neurophysiology department at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, and writing 25 novels.
The other critique was the implication that someone who was plain and overweight could “nevertheless” be witty and warm.
“A person of warmth and wit DESPITE being overweight? That’s incredible!!!! (also talent and stuff) (hashtag)everydaysexism,” tweeted Kerri Sackville, columnist for the rival Fairfax newspapers.
“I did not realize that this was how we were doing obituary ledes, now,” The Washington Post wrote. “Now that I know, here are some obituaries for men, updated lest we fall behind the new standard. Teddy Roosevelt: Resembling a fat walrus in little spectacles, he was, nevertheless, president at one point or another.”
The Australian declined to comment on Saturday.
McCullough died Thursday in a hospital on Australia’s remote Norfolk Island, and had continued producing books in recent years despite a string of health and eyesight problems by using dictation, HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said. Her final book “Bittersweet” was released in 2013.
Her second novel, “The Thorn Birds,” published in 1977, became a U.S. television miniseries in 1983 starring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Christopher Plummer. The Outback melodrama about a priest’s struggle between church and love won four Golden Globe awards.
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