About Mavis Thorpe Clark: 1960-1999

Mavis Thorpe Clark began looking to widen her horizons:

"It was around the middle of 1960 when I voiced to (a friend, Evelyn Darwin) that I had written a great deal about Victoria, pioneering, squatting, gold rushes, but that there must be something more out there . . . out there . . . and I want to know about it! But with a non-adventurous husband and a wife the product of her time, how could I find out?

Evelyn said: "I'll write to a cousin - he takes a mobile library around the outback. Perhaps you could go with him."

She told me about her cousin, Harold Theodore Darwin, who for nine months of the year, took his mobile library van over some 1500 miles of South Australia's lonely and arid north-west, visiting 57 outback sheep and cattle stations, and travelling roads that were not on the map."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 80-81.

This request was followed by an answer in the affirmative:

"Dear Mrs Latham

After studying the calendar and remembering that I am booked in for van service at Whyalla on the last full business day of each month and that early September will be most likely to give us Sturt peas in full bloom ... (we should plan to leave Adelaide) on August 29th…

Weather may be warm to very warm in the daytime, but could also be very cold. Nights too, are uncertain...

I carry, counting what I wear, an overcoat, two coats, 3 pairs pants, 4 shirts, a change of winter undies and a change of summer ditto, dungaree overalls, 3 changes of sox, two bath towels, a change of pyjamas...

The dust is reddish-brown, penetrating and affectionate. Fawns and reddy-browns show it least...

Yours sincerely,

Harold T. Darwin"

- Letter dated 19th May 1960.

In September 1960, Mavis and her husband Harold Latham left in their Holden to accompany Harold Darwin on his 3-week outback library run.

"Starting from Adelaide, Harold D. deliberately went a little off track and gave me my first sighting of the gateway to outback Australia by leading us over the Flinders Ranges ... We emerged at the end of Horrocks Pass on to the treeless north-western slopes of the Ranges, to look down with unrestricted view on what I had always known, subconsciously was out there…

A great excitement took hold of me. I stood and looked and absorbed, and gave myself, surrendered myself, unaware at the time, to the red earth; and the red earth, having brought me here, accepted me…

Now we started out on the first 1500 miles of journeying with this man of the north-west; here, with him, I found my min-min and my country. Harold D. changed my whole life."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 82-83.

Mavis Thorpe Clark travelled to the South Australian desert with Harold Darwin again in 1963 and 1966. She returned to Coober Pedy in 1967 with her brother Bob and together they spent several months mining for opal. In 1968 she travelled again to Coober Pedy, this time with her daughter, Ronda.

"Our accommodation in Coober Pedy (in 1967) was a tin shed, the size of a garage, set in isolation in the middle of a stony hill at the back of the town. There was no roof on the little room up the hill and the warped tin door of this edifice always stood 6 inches open, refusing to fasten closer."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 196.

Mavis Thorpe Clark gathered material for several novels for teenagers during her journeys to remote South Australia, including The Min-Min, Spark of Opal, The Sky is Free and A Stranger Came to the Mine.

In 1963, Mavis Thorpe Clark was invited to write the biography of Pastor Doug Nicholls and describes this as "the most important and rewarding experience" of her writing life.

"The writing of Pastor Doug occupied two years, two years of constant labour; satisfying labour, long hours every day of the week. It was not a simple straightforward story of a man; it was the story of a people."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 169-170.

Mavis Thorpe Clark was an active contributor in writers' organisations of the time. In 1946 she was a founding member of The Quill Club, a small group of Melbourne authors who met monthly to share their work.

"There were also other widely known organisations in which I participated - the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Australian Society of Authors, the National Book Council, International PEN. I served on the committees of each of these organisations: FAW for many years, ASA Management Committee for 17 years, the National Book Council for 7 years, and about 20 years on the Committee of International PEN, Melbourne Centre, with two periods as president."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 267.

Mavis Thorpe Clark continued to write teenage fiction, biography, "readers" for primary school students and magazine articles into her late eighties. Her final work was Trust the Dream: The Autobiography of Mavis Thorpe Clark, Author of 'The Min-Min' (1999).

Describing her life richly lived, she wrote:

"Many of my novels are set against some particular Australian background.... I have travelled thousands of miles in search of material, criss-crossing this vast country from east to west and north to south. I've travelled to Europe and Asia but the spell of my own wide red land lures me continually and sets me on the lonely dusty Outback track. There is the tremendous reward of friends in out-of-the-way places and glimpses of lives that are lived so simply yet so richly with the earth of the world's oldest continent. These intangible joys are the real reward of the writer."

- Something About the Author: Volume 8 (1976) page 28.

Continues ... Awards and Recognition

Family happy snap.

(From left to right) Mavis' elder daughter Beverley, Mavis holding first grandchild Debra, younger daughter Ronda, and husband Harold Latham, December 1959.

Family happy snap with Mavis, daughter, grand daughter and great grand daughter.

Four generations - Mavis (right) with daughter Beverley (left), grand daughter Debra and great grand daughter Melissa, 1981.

Photo of MTC sitting at her electric typewriter, surrounded by notes, books and paperwork.

Mavis at her desk, February 1982.

Photo of MTC shaking hands with Sir William McGarvie.

Mavis receiving the Order of Australia (AM) from the Governor of Victoria, Sir William McGarvie, at Government House in 1996, "For service to the arts as the author of children's literature and as an active member of writers' organisations in Australia".

Photo of MTC enjoying drinks with her daughters after receiving her AM.

Mavis (centre) with her daughters, Beverley (left) and Ronda, after receiving the Order of Australia (AM) at Government House in 1996.

Photo of MTC in the middle of a small crowd.

Mavis Thorpe Clark (centre) between her two daughters and surrounded by her descendants and family, 1998.

Photo of MTC wearing blue jacket with orchid corsage.

Mavis Thorpe Clark celebrating her 90th birthday in 1999.