Colin Roderick was a writer, editor, academic and educator. He is perhaps best remembered for promoting the study of Australian literature (at a time when it attracted little academic interest), and also for his biographical and critical studies of Henry Lawson.
Roderick was educated at Bundaberg State School, and gained a BA in 1936, via the University of Queensland's external studies program, whilst working as a school teacher. He then went on to obtain a BEd, and following a brief period in the Australian Army, a MA and MEd, and some years later, a PhD (conferred by The University of Queensland in 1954, for a dissertation on Rosa Praed). After World War II, Roderick took up a position with Sydney publisher Angus and Robertson, where he remained until the 1960s, eventually becoming editor-in-chief of the firm's educational division.
During the 1950s, as convenor and then honorary secretary of the Australian Literature Committee, Roderick was instrumental in having a chair of Australian literature established at the University of Sydney, and in this period he also helped Miles Franklin establish the Miles Franklin Award for the best Australian novel. (He served as a Miles Franklin Award judge from 1957 to 1991.)
In 1965 Roderick was appointed Professor of English at the later-named James Cook University, Townsville, where he became an energetic teacher. He started the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, as well as inaugurating a lecture series and an annual book award (both of which were subsequently named in his honour). Following retirement from James Cook University in 1976, Roderick continued his research and writing, producing authoritative biographies of Miles Franklin, Banjo Patterson, and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. As Emeritus Professor he also continued his occasional lectures on Australian literature at European universities (he spoke French, German and Italian).
The National Library of Australia holds a significant collection of Roderick's papers in its manuscripts collection.
In April 2021 James Cook University recognised Mrs Margaret Roderick's outstanding work in and support for the development of Australian literary studies with a posthumous award of Honorary Doctor of the University.
James Cook University posthumously recognises Mrs Margaret Roderick for her outstanding work in, and support for, the development of Australian literary studies at James Cook University.
Mrs Margaret Roderick was a central and defining figure in the development of the Foundation of Australian Literary Studies at James Cook University in 1966 – then a College of the University of Queensland – and the annual Colin Roderick Literary Award, founded in 1967.
One of the most prestigious and longest extant literary prizes in the country, the $20,000 Roderick Literary Award is presented each year by the Foundation of Australian Literary Studies through James Cook University, and recognises the best original book, in the judges’ opinion, that is published in Australia in the previous calendar year. Mrs Roderick was instrumental in establishing the Colin Roderick Literary Award and organised the annual Awards Dinner over many years. Dr Roderick was appointed Vice Patron of the Foundation of Australian Literary Studies in 2000, the Patron being the Governor General. A key component of the Foundation’s work continues to be to bridge the gap between “the Gown and the Town” in the form of annual public lectures and a suite of other activities, of which the Roderick Literary Award has been a key feature and one of the most anticipated events in the cultural calendar of the University.
Both the Foundation and the Roderick Award were made possible through donations and bequests by Margaret, and her late husband, Emeritus Professor Colin Roderick CBE. Further benefactions by Mrs Roderick, in keeping with the Deeds of Trust vested in the Roderick Estate, led to the establishment of James Cook University’s Margaret and Colin Roderick Chair of Literary Studies, the Margaret and Colin Roderick Scholar in Comparative Literature, and the Margaret and Colin Roderick Fellow in Literary Studies. These positions continue to be fully funded by the Roderick Trust, without which they would not exist.
Although Mrs Roderick’s primary degree was in science, she was always keenly interested in and knowledgeable about literature. Mrs Roderick undertook much of the extensive research that underpinned the production of Emeritus Professor Roderick’s numerous books on Australian literature, including major works on Henry Lawson, A.B. Paterson, Rosa Praed, and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. What is now referred to as co-creation, the convention at the time was not to credit this essential work in the author’s publication details. Indeed, Emeritus Professor Roderick’s published acknowledgements simply referred to “my wife” and included thanks for “her continued help.” In fact, Mrs Roderick spent a great deal of time undertaking research in libraries and archives from which her husband was able to produce his monographs. She also prepared and edited Emeritus Professor Roderick’s hand-written texts, and not infrequently advised on the placement of material and development of arguments. Unquestionably, Emeritus Professor Roderick was a prodigious intellect and exemplary literary scholar. However, there should be no doubt about the significance of Dr Roderick’s research during Emeritus Professor Roderick’s time as James Cook University’s Professor of Literature (1966-1976) and subsequently Emeritus Professor (1976-2000), which continue to bring distinction to James Cook University.