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Who is Colin Roderick?
COLIN RODERICK, CBE
Author and academic
His life shaped a nation's writings
By Peter Pierce (Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday June 17, 2000)
Towards the end of May 2000, Colin Roderick, 88, received from his publisher a copy of his last book—the edited letters of Banjo Paterson's mother, Rose.
An exploration of a neglected tributary of the national life and its literature, it was yet one more work by Roderick that shaped the study of Australian writing. No other figure has been more influential in giving intellectual rigour and self-belief to Australian literature.
A sportsman in his younger days and physically active into old age, Roderick was a variable character, but never a dissembler. A mason, a political conservative, a memorable teacher, resolute and resourceful in debate, by turns irascible and kindly, Roderick left his mark in every place he worked and on every life he touched.
Born at Mt Morgan in central Queensland, he went to Bundaberg High School and the universities of Queensland and Melbourne. After war service and a stint of high school teaching, he began a long association with the then leading publisher of Australian literature, Angus & Robertson.
He worked there from 1945–65, first as an editor, then as a director. He was also prominent in the successful movement to establish, at Sydney University, the first chair of Australian literature.
In 1957 Roderick became a judge of the Miles Franklin Award, serving until 1991, when he resigned in acrimonious circumstances over the definition of what constituted a work of Australian fiction.
Roderick's remarkable career as an author began in 1945, with The Australian Novel. This was followed by critical and biographical works on Rosa Praed (1948), Miles Franklin (1982) and Banjo Paterson (1993). Roderick wrote one novel, The Lawyer and the Lady (1955), edited and investigated the publishing history of James Tucker's convict novel, Ralph Rashleigh (1952), and produced books on subjects as variable as the murderer John Knatchbull and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.
His greatest works were his multi-volume collections of Henry Lawson's verse and prose. These were complemented by three critical and autobiographical works on Lawson.
In 1965 Roderick was appointed foundation Professor of English literature at James Cook University in Townsville, where he worked until his formal retirement in 1976. He created the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, whose prestigious annual lecture series and literary prize bear his name.
He was the foundation's executive director and later its vice-patron. Made an emeritus professor, Roderick was a familiar, formidable, pith-helmeted figure in the town and at the university, to which he often returned as a donor of prizes in Australian literature and old English.
Made CBE in 1966, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Australian Literature Society in 1974. He is survived by his second wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1954, and by a daughter from his first marriage.