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Patricia Wrightson

Death of Patricia Wrightson

June 19, 1921 - March 15, 2010
New South Wales | Age 88

Internationally acclaimed Australian author dies at 88

Obituary

By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press Writer

CANBERRA, Australia

Patricia Wrightson, the internationally acclaimed Australian children's author who attracted praise—and then criticism—for entwining Aboriginal mythology into her writing, has died at age 88.

In 1986, Wrightson was awarded the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Medal—the highest accolade for a writer of children's fiction—given by the Swiss-based International Board on Books for Young People for an author's body of work.

She died of natural causes on March 15 in northern New South Wales state several days after being hospitalized, her son Peter Wrightson said Thursday.

The two spent the last 32 years of her life living on a wooded property in nearby Bonalbo, a village 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of Sydney.

Federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett described Wrightson as a talented and prolific writer who would continue to inspire new generations of readers.

Maurice Saxby, author of "History of Australian Children's Literature," described Wrightson and Ivan Southall, who died in 2008, as the pioneers of modern Australian children's literature. "Her contribution was immense," he said.

Saxby and publisher Mark Macleod said Wrightson's use of Aboriginal mythology and folklore in her fantasy stories became more prone in recent decades to be branded exploitation and misappropriation of Aboriginal culture.

"She was trying to create a kind of pan Australia—a whole new Australian mythology which was part non-indigenous and part indigenous," said Macleod, who edited three of her books in the 1990s.

Peter Wrightson said his mother was always careful to avoid legends that were regarded by Aborigines as sacred or secret.

"Things have changed now, but at the time, a lot of Aboriginal leaders were saying keep doing it because she treated Aboriginal culture with respect," he said.

The four-time winner of Australia's top award for children's literature was born on a farm near the New South Wales town of Lismore in 1921. She moved to Sydney to work in a munitions factory during World War II.

She married in Sydney, but the marriage lasted only a few years and she moved to Bonalbo with her two children, Peter and Jenny, to live with her parents, her son said.

She wrote the first of her 27 books, "The Crooked Snake," by watching her children's reaction to pages read by her father as soon as they were typed.

That book was named the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year in 1956.

She first found large audiences in the United States and Britain with her 1968 book "A Racecourse for Andy," which was published in Australia under the title "I Own the Racecourse!"

Her books have been published in 16 languages.