Thank you Bryce Courtenay

Kaya Strehler makes her Something You Said debut by paying tribute to an author and legend:

If you are unaware of who Bryce Courtenay is, hang your head in shame. IN SHAME, I SAY.

He was one of Australia’s best storytellers and wordsmiths. Though born in South Africa, Australia adopted him and the adoption was reciprocated. Courtenay created characters that you loved to hate, hated to love or merely wanted to embody. He forever brought out emotions. His books were like a Simpsons episode; you endured with feverish glee and passion yet encountered a few educational stops along the way without realising it (for those who are ignorant let me clarify, The Simpsons has been dropping references, quotes and storylines from just about anything and everything of importance since its birth in 1987).

Bryce Courtenay and his books played an important part in my youth, as I think they did in many people, and not just Australians. Four books in particular have remained in my top 10 for countless years, fighting off all the Twilights, Fifty Shades and any other somecareer-come-author’s attempt at a book.

The first book I mention was the first adult-fiction novel I ever read. In retrospect, The Power of One may have been a bit daunting for a 10-year-old, what with all the racism and brutality and its close look at apartheid, but that’s the beautiful thing about Bryce Courtenay novels, you can read it as an eager 10-year-old and absorb some aspects, then come back a few years later and appreciate it for other aspects. I kept returning to it because, with every few years passed, it was like reading a new book. I began to understand circumstances within the story that, as a 10-year-old, I would have had no chance.

That’s the kind of author Courtenay was, one that helped you grow and took you on a journey, enlightened you, yet left it up to you to fill in the blanks. The other three books sitting high and mighty in my eyes are Tandia (sequel to Power of One), which again is based on racial injustice; Jessica, the beautiful recount set in the Australian outback and comes from a true story about a family member of a Courtenay fan who approached him with her family history; and finally April Fools Day. The only non-fictional piece in Courtenay’s bibliography is the story of his relationship with his son, Damon, as he battles with HIV/AIDS. As a self-proclaimed anti-crying individual it was almost too much, as I sat on the train from Sydney to Byron, blubbering with no ability to maintain any composure with an elderly woman cautiously glancing.

If you need any more convincing of just how epic Bryce Courtenay was, I’ll give you this, Power of One was made into a movie, a movie with Morgan Freeman. Yes Morgan Freeman. Need I say more?

Bryce Courtenay was such an amazing man who told stories with heart, history and culture. I have been using past tense as, last week (22/11/12), he passed away after a battle with gastric cancer. As a final gesture for to his vehemently devoted fans, he posted a final thank you video on his longtime publisher’s (Penguin) YouTube channel.

I never knew the man, but oh how I wish I did.


Words by Kaya Strehler