Colin Thiele, South Australian History

Colin Milton Thiele,

AC, BA, Dip Ed, Dip T.


Sculpture of Thiele by Chris Radford,
commissioned by the Eudunda Business and
Tourism Association.
Unveiled at the Eudunda Memorial Gardens
on 9 November 1995.

Colin Thiele, Educator and Author of more than one hundred books, which have won him worldwide acclaim and admiration, was born at Mutter Knabe's Nursing Home at Eudunda on 16 November 1920. He was the fourth of five children of Carl Wilhelm and Amalie Anne, nee Wittwer and was baptised on 19 December 1920. His father died on 3 September 1954, aged 80 and his mother on 27 March 1983, aged 96. Both are buried in the Julia Creek Cemetery.

Members of the Thiele family had been among the first German migrants to arrive in South Australia. They were also among the first to swear the Oath of Allegiance in June 1839. They were Samuel, William and Johann Christian Thiele. One of the advantages was that they could now own land.

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For the first 16 years Colin Thiele lived just outside Eudunda, near the little settlement of Julia, overlooking the Murray Plains. Here he grew up in a Bi-lingual home where both English and German were used by his parents, except the nightly Bible readings which were always in German. His grandfather had migrated from Germany to South Auastralia in 1855.


Mutter Knabe's Nursing Home.

It was at nearby Julia Creek, named for Julia, daughter of Governor Gawler, where he attended the Primary School and with his family went to the Julia Lutheran Church on Sundays. Both his parents and grand parents are buried at the Julia Creek Cemetery. After completing his schooling at Julia he transferred to the Eudunda Higher Primary School. During this time he boarded with his two uncles, Fred and August.


Julia Creek Primary School.

When Thiele had finished his primary schooling he went to the Kapunda High School, catching the train at Hampden Road at six in the morning, after a bike ride of four kilometres, arriving home again at 8.30 pm. While at Kapunda High he had all the time to admire the Eringa Home, which had been donated by Sydney Kidman to the Education Department in 1921.


Julia Creek Lutheran Church.

After attending Teachers College and the University of Adelaide, Thiele started his career as a teacher and author. He spent much of his life as a teacher at Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels. He taught at several High Schools, including Unley, Port Lincoln, where he taught English from 1946-1955 and Brighton. During World War II he served with the RAAF in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea from 1942 until 1945. On 17 March 1945 he married Rhonda Gladys Gill in Adelaide. They had two daughters.

His first work, Progress to Denial, a book of poetry, also appeared in 1945. Many of his later works have been translated in different languages. His literary output have covered many different fields, among them poetry, biography, short stories, novels, drama, local history, radio scripts, children's literature and educational works. He contributed to other authors' books and numerous magazines. He was one of the first to have his work published in the Adelaide based magazine, Angry Penguins. A number of his books have been adapted for films or TV series.

During the 1960s Thiele started writing children's novels, often describing life in rural South Australia. His first being The Sun on the Stubble. Other well know novels were Blue Fin, The Fire in the Stone, Storm Boy, his most famous, The Valley Between, which earned him the Australian Book of the Year Award in 1982. In 1951 he was the South Australian winner in the World Short Story Quest. In 1967 and 1968 Thiele won the Hans Christian Anderson Award. In 1979 and again in 1986 he won the Austrian State Prize for Children's Books. Other awards included 2 Commonwealth of Australia Jubilee Federal Arts prizes, the Grace Levin Poetry Prize and the Dromkeen Medal in 1997.

In 1973, after eight years as Principal of Wattle Park Teachers College he became director of the Murray Park College of Advanced Education. He later returned to Wattle Park to develop its Teachers Centre. During his time at Wattle Park he, and A. Burfield, wrote The Benedictions of Benjamin Gates, recording their experiences while teaching at Unley High where Gates was headmaster for 25 years. Thiele was director of Wattle Park Teachers Centre from 1974 until his retirement.

Thiele has played an active role in many other fields such as the Australian Section of the International Board on Books for Young People, The Commonwealth Literary Fund, The Australian Society of Authors and Writers Week. Colin Thiele was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1977 for his services to Education and Literature. He retired in 1980 and moved to Dayboro in Queensland, in 1993, for health reasons. He died there on 4 September 2006 aged 85 with his wife and daughters by his bedside. His last book Fiery Salamander was published in 2007.

The South Australian Government has established the Colin Thiele Literature Scholarship to assist young South Australian writers, under 26 years of age, to further develop their professional development and training. The University of South Australia has named its Library after him. The 2008 Writers' Week was dedicated to Thiele, who had been associated with this event from its earliest days. At the start of 2008, two primary schools of the Aberfoyle Park Education Centre, Heysen and Spence, amalgamated to form the Thiele Primary School.

Near Tailem Bend there are Thiele's Landing and the Thiele Road. Lately he had one of South Australia's Highways named after him, as had Goyder and R.M. Williams. It has also been proposed to build a memorial to Thiele, on land donated by former Supreme Court judge Christopher Legoe, at the Coorong to honour Thiele's environmental concern for the area and other places in South Australia.

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