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August 21, 2012

Why believing in Bryce Courtenay is good for Australia

By Vanessa Stoykov

In my job, you get to meet some amazing people. Leaders from all walks of life, who are determined to make a difference.

One of my favourites was the late Bryce Courtenay. When we got to spend the day with Bryce at his home in Canberra, it felt like visiting an old friend. His house was warm and open – full of his pets and his love for his wife Christine. The gardens were lovely and Bryce got great pleasure in showing us his handiwork – he was passionate

While I was excited to be meeting an author of his stature, I did not expect to be so taken with him as a person. He was mischievous, silver tongued and charming, and showed no signs of the illness that was to take his life a few short months later.

Bryce was excited about life – about technology – he exclaimed his wished he was 35 again, so he could publish online and do more creatively, and marvelled at how the advertising world had been transformed with the move to branded content. He was generous of spirit and generous with his time; he even signed books for every member of our crew, which took him some time as his hands were affected by the pain of arthritis.

When you watch the interview Alex did with Bryce, you will understand why we were all captivated by him – Bryce was a showman, and he told the story of his life in an enthralling way. Above all, it was an emotional conversation which had all of us in tears at some stages, but in typical Bryce fashion, it was full of optimism and laughter.

As we were leaving Bryce stopped me and gave me a gift. I had been admiring his collection of frog figurines – a quirky collection that littered his bookshelves amongst a variety of his bestsellers. He pulled a regal looking frog off the shelf that was wearing a crown – the king. Bryce gave this to me without a thought, so I would have a keepsake of him and the day.

This kind of generosity really exemplified who he was. He did not seem in the least motivated by money, and had a strong social conscience – he wanted to help people, and he loved his adopted country Australia.

I know you will enjoy watching this interview as much as we did making it. It is rare to find someone so passionate about so many subjects, who has achieved so much, and endured more than their share of tragedy along the way.

It is with some sadness I view other media interviews with Bryce that go to lengths to prove Bryce was exaggerating, or not telling the truth about certain aspects of his life. Both in print and on TV, this line of questioning was followed, and has even been rewarded with a Walkley Award.

I have to say I find this both pointless and typical of the tall poppy syndrome that often happens in Australia. After all, Bryce was a fiction writer, not a politician. To throw into public question his integrity feels both wrong and cruel.

Australia needs to believe in people like Bryce Courtenay. Their intellect, passion and determination shape our culture, determine a global view toward Australia; and inspire the next generation of leaders to do great things. Bryce Courtenay was truly an Australian Icon.

Watch Bryce Courtenay’s interview with The Bottom Line – click here