What's on the mind of Colleen McCullough?

By Graeme Barrow

It's billed as an autobiography, but it's actually an eclectic mix - although none the worse for that. Indeed, it's probably for the better.

The autobiographical content is made up of chapters on each of McCullough's parents, of whom she has little good to say, one on her rather harrowing childhood, and an interesting chapter on her career as a writer. This obviously includes her views on the phenomenal success of The Thorn Birds, for parts of which she drew on her own early life experiences.

There are a few chapters of a lighthearted nature, which I didn't think really worked. The highlights are her essays, polemical and stimulating, and a fascinating history of Norfolk Island, showing its maltreatment at the hands of British and Australian administrations. An interesting snippet from this is that New Zealanders were not the first nation to give women the vote.

The essays are excellent. There is a searing attack on bureaucrats - unelected but with a lot of power; and a passionate argument on overpopulation. Is uncontrolled breeding going to lead to a Malthusian future, or even the end of the human race? She certainly thinks so, pointing out that the large Catholic and Muslim religions both forbid contraception and abortion.

Best of all is her thesis on the Crucifixion. Why, she asks, was Christ executed this way, which was the method reserved for slaves? Was he a slave, or a high-born person whom followers wanted to anoint king of the Jews? It was fear of this coming to pass which caused entrenched politicians to choose crucifixion is her conclusion. Her research here is excellent.

Life Without the Boring Bits

by Colleen McCullough, HarperCollins, $50, hardback

- The Aucklander

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