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Most sexist obituary ever?

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The author of the best selling Australian book of all time has been described as ‘plain’ and ‘overweight’ during the opening lines of her obituary in News Corp broadsheet The Australian.

Colleen McCullough, world famous for novel The Thorn Birds, died on Thursday at the age of 77 on Norfolk Island.

Rather than focussing on Ms McCullough’s many achievements, The Australian began its obituary with a scathing assessment of her appearance after describing her as a ‘charmer’.

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“Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth,” read the second sentence of the article.

The website Women’s Agenda compared the obituary on Friday to the opening line of the newspaper’s obituary for The Power of One author Bryce Courtenay.

The opening lines of the Bryce Courtenay restricted itself to his many accomplishments, with not a word spent on his weight or handsomeness.

His best known book sold millions fewer copies than The Thorn Birds, which sold 30 million copies worldwide and was translated into more than 20 different languages.

The New York Times took a very different approach in its tribute to Ms McCullogh.

It chose to mention first that the author was a former neurophysiological researcher trained at Yale who wrote novels in her spare time.

The Australian, conversely, spent some of its opening paragraphs describing the female author as disingenuous and “the supreme egotist”.

Women’s Agenda said it was “astonishing” that Ms McCullough’s physical appearance would provide the basis for the article’s opening commentary, saying the fact that The Thorn Birds is the best selling Australian book of all time would have been a far better starting point.

“Is this the most sexist obituary ever published?” the website asks.

The book was adapted into a TV miniseries, starring Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain, and became one of the most watched of all time.

If a quote from 2007 is any indication, Ms McCullough would have cared little for The Australian‘s harsh treatment.

“I think in their heart of hearts all these people know that I’m more secure than they are, more confident than they are and smarter than they are.”

Here are the first three lines of the obituary:

“Colleen McCullough, Australia’s bestselling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men’.

“In Australia one of the highest accolades given to a person of consequence is that she or he (dead or alive) is (or was) a very ‘private person’. In most cases this claim is manifestly untrue.

“McCullough was no exception. ‘I’m media shy,’ she told a reporter ingenuously after giving a thousand and one interviews to the press and appearing endlessly on television and radio. Colleen was the supreme egotist and talked about herself with unusual candour. Not that she was ever a bore. Far from it.”

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