Internationally acclaimed Australian author Colleen McCullough has died in hospital on Norfolk Island, aged 77.
Ms McCullough, widely known for her best-selling novel The Thorn Birds, died on Thursday afternoon.
She wrote 25 novels throughout her career with her last book, Bittersweet, published in 2013.
McCullough was born in Wellington, New South Wales and spent most of her childhood in Sydney.
Her mother Laurie was a New Zealander of Maori ancestry and her father Jim was an Irish immigrant who worked as a cane cutter and spent long periods away from the family.
As a child she buried herself in books to try to escape her “jockstrap” family.
Before becoming a best-selling author Ms McCullough turned to neuroscience, established the neurophysiology department at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney and the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
She spent 10 years in the US as a teacher and researcher in neurology at the Yale Medical School.
Towards the end of her time there she wrote her first two novels, Tim (1974) and The Thorn Birds (1977).
The book was turned into a popular television mini-series in 1983, and following its success, she moved to Norfolk Island where she met her husband, Ric Robinson.
She was also awarded the Order of Australia for “service to the arts and to the community”.
Publisher Harper Collins Australia said on Twitter her contribution to Australian writing “has been immense”.
Colleen McCullough’s contribution to Australian writing – and to readers around the world – has been immense. She will be greatly missed.
— HarperCollins Aus (@HarperCollinsAU) January 29, 2015
She suffered health problems most of her life.
At 32 she was found to have hypothyroidism, which caused depression and weight gain.
But she said that although she’d always looked like the back of a bus, she’d always had boyfriends because “men love a funny woman”.
Later she endured severe joint pain and failing eyesight.
– with ABC