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Popular South African born Australian writer, Bryce Courtenay (1933-2012), was in an orphanage as a child. Bryce Courtenay was born in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains of South Africa. He was the ‘illegitimate’ child of Maude Greer, a dressmaker, and a salesman who was already married, Arthur Ryder.

At the age of five, I was sent to a boarding school which might be better described as a combination orphanage and reform school, where I learned to box – though less as a sport and more as a means to stay alive (Courtenay).

There was later questioning of Courtenay’s assertion that he spent years in an orphanage, however, his sister did not deny the orphanage experience, only the length of time spent in it. She said it was for a “few weeks or months” because their mother “was subject to nervous breakdowns”.

Courtenay’s response to the claim was that he and sister “barely grew up together.”

I saw my mother about six times in fifty years…My mother was unquestionably bi-polar, there’s no disputing that…I don’t know my sister terribly well…we don’t have a great deal in common, in fact we’ve never had a great deal in common. We didn’t spend a lot of our childhood together, some but not a lot (Courtenay).

According to Courtenay, storytelling was another survival strategy he used.

I remember in the orphanage, I was about five or six years old, I had an English name. I was an Englishman and therefore I had to be beaten up regularly. I was also the smallest kid in the school and one of the kids…would come up and say ‘I’m gonna beat you up’. And I’d say, ‘don’t hit me, don’t hit. If you don’t hit me, I’ll tell you a story’. And they’d all gather around…So I have in a sense been telling stories since I was six years old (Courtenay).

Bryce Courtenay was a bestselling author, best known for his Power of One which was published in 1989 when he was still working in the advertising industry and fifty-six years of age.

Bryce Courtenay moved to Australia—after a sojourn in London—with his Australian-born wife, Benita, in 1958 and was a highly successful advertising executive.

Courtenay loved Australia. He loved what it had given him. ‘It’s the only country where you’re entitled to reinvent yourself,’ he once said. Look at me – I’ve reinvented myself as an author (Steger & Dow).

For twenty years Courtenay wrote a bestselling novel every year, gaining the reputation for being the most commercially successful Australian writer. Furthermore, he “was the author of five of the top ten most borrowed titles in Australian public libraries since surveys began more than forty years ago” (The Telegraph).


“Bryce Courtenay.” The Telegraph, 29 November 2012.

“Bryce Courtenay Biography.” The Famous People Website.

“Modern day Dickens: Interview with Bryce Courtenay (with Karina Carvalho).” Youtube, posted by ABC News (Australia), 2012

“Penguin Presents Bryce Courtenay.” Youtube, posted by Penguin Books Australia, 2009.

Steger, Jason. and Dow, Steve. “Bryce Courtney writes his final chapter.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 November 2012.

Image available here.