Winner of some 16 literary awards, popular with children and adults alike and famously attached to his home in Western Australia, Tim Winton is one of this country’s finest novelists. Perhaps only second to Peter Carey in putting contemporary Australian literature on the international stage, Winton remains a beloved, if somewhat enigmatic figure.
He was born in 1960 in Perth WA, and his early years were spent in the city’s beachside suburbs. At age 12, the family moved to Albany, on the south coast of WA. During that year, Winton says he “re-invented” himself. That move, he says, didn’t please his teachers all that much. He went from being a model student to something of a rebel in his teenage years.
According to his publisher, Winton had however already decided by that stage that he wanted to be a professional writer; a desire fuelled he says by “a sudden and lasting fear of employment”. The storytelling seed was planted, it seems, by his father. His father was a policeman, and he would come home and relate the events of the day (some of them horrific) to his wife. Although he thought the children were all asleep, young Tim would listen through the wall. As he told Andrew Denton on Enough Rope in 2004:
By the age of 18, Winton had stories published in national magazines, and at age 19 (while a student at Curtin University) he wrote his first novel, An Open Swimmer. Success followed immediately, with the book winning the 1981 Vogel Award. He followed that up with Shallows in 1984, which took out the Miles Franklin Award.
New books followed biennially for the next few years, with That Eye, the Sky in 1986 and In the Winter Dark in 1988; both of which would later be made into feature films by John Ruane (1995) and James Bogle (1998) respectively. These were interspersed with two short story collections: Scission and Other Stories in 1985, and Minimum of Two in 1987.
In 1991, Winton published Cloudstreet, his epic novel of life in Western Australia. The book won him his second Miles Franklin Award, and catapulted him to international recognition. The novel missed out on short-listing for the Booker Prize, although many thought that an injustice. The ledger was squared to some extent three years later when The Riders was short-listed for the prestigious prize.
Blueback (sub-titled “a fable for the ages) followed in 1997, although it didn’t reach the heights of either Cloudstreet or The Riders. But the world fell back in love with Winton in 2001 with the release of Dirt Music. Again short-listed for the Booker Prize, the novel snared Winton his third Miles Franklin Award in 2002; as well as winning the WA Premier’s Literary Award and the Christina Stead and NSW Premier’s Awards the same year.
In many of his novels, the sea features prominently; which is perhaps a little surprising given that at age 9, he nearly drowned when the family boat was swamped by a wave (a similar incident appears in the early part of Cloudstreet). The author however notes one of the great seafaring books – Moby Dick by Hermann Melville – as an influence.
And despite the near-drowning incident, he soon returned to the sea, as he explained to Denton:
Winton still lives in Western Australia. He divides his time between Perth and a small coastal village where he does much of his writing. He follows the Fremantle Dockers with a passion.
He’s married with three children. Family has obviously had an influence on him, as he’s also written six children’s books, including the immensely popular The Bugalugs Bum Thief and the Lockie Leonard books. He also published a collection of travel writings titled Land’s Edge in 1998.
Send us your feedback on this article or anything else in The Blurb
Tim Winton - a profile
book: The Turning
Read our reviews of other Tim Winton books: