Peter Goldsworthy

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Peter David Goldsworthy AM (born 12 October 1951) is an Australian writer and medical practitioner. He has won awards for his short stories, poetry, novels, and opera libretti.

Goldsworthy has been described in A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry as "one of the most skilled and satisfying poets in Australia".[1]


Goldsworthy was born in Minlaton, South Australia, and grew up in various Australian country towns, finishing his schooling in Darwin in the Northern Territory.[2] He graduated in medicine from the University of Adelaide in 1974, and worked in alcohol and drug rehabilitation for several years, but, with his poetry being published in Westerly and the Friendly Street Poetry Reader, he started dividing his working time equally between general practice and writing.[2][3]

Goldsworthy's eldest daughter Anna is a successful concert pianist and also an accomplished writer. They worked together on a stage adaptation of Goldsworthy's novel Maestro.

Writing career[edit]

Goldsworthy's novels have sold over 400,000 copies in Australia alone, and, with his poetry and short stories, have been translated into many European and Asian languages.[2][4] He has won major literary prizes across most genres: for poetry, the short story, the novel, plays and opera.


His first novel Maestro was reissued as part of the Angus & Robertson Australian Classics series, and was voted one of the Top 40 Australian books of all time by members of the Australian Society of Authors.[5]

Poetry and short stories[edit]

His New Selected Poems were published in Australia and the UK in 2001; and his Collected Stories appeared in Australia in 2004.

The Poetry Archive describes his poetry as follows:

There's a pressing sense of mortality in his work and a desire to ask the big questions, even as he satirises them. Drawn to the discipline of science, Goldsworthy's poems are full of the language of the laboratory —matter, evidence, elements, chemicals— the stuff we are made of, but at the same time frustrated by these limitations into asking what else we might be. He's interested in 'The Dark Side of the Head', the things we can only know in flashes, like glimpsing a skink, but he also retains a rationalist's scepticism of the ecstatic – that "thoughtlessly exquisite" evening sky in 'Sunset' won't fool him into rapture.[1]

The Australian expatriate writer Clive James comments that Goldsworthy's poetry is often seen as a sideline, but argues that it is "at the centre of his achievement". James writes:

His precise wit operates on every level, from the sonic (a concealed dove really does say hidden here, hidden here) to the conceptual (the human body really is packed tight like an attempt on the record of filling a Mini). The general impression is of a fastidious insistence that the particular comes first, and any general comment that follows had better be particular too.[6]


Goldsworthy also writes opera libretti. He wrote the libretto for the Richard Mills operas, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Batavia,[7] the latter winning Mills and Goldsworthy the 2002 Helpmann Award for Best Opera and Best New Australian Work. The premiere at the Sydney Opera House on 19 August 2006 was conducted by the composer and attended by the librettist.

Film writing[edit]

Goldsworthy wrote or co-wrote the script to several films:[8]

Adaptations of his works[edit]

His novels Wish, Honk If You Are Jesus, and Three Dog Night have been adapted for the stage. Honk, was premiered by the State Theatre of South Australia in its 2006 season. It won the 2006 Ruby Award for Best New Work, and the 2006 Advertiser Oscart Award for Best Play.

In 2009 Honk If You Are Jesus was adapted as a radio play by Mike Ladd for ABC Radio National and was broadcast by the BBC World Service. The novella "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" has also been adapted as a radio-play by Mike Ladd for the ABC.[11]

Goldsworthy's poetry has been set to music by leading Australian composers including Graeme Koehne, Richard Mills, and Matthew Hindson.

In 2008 Ashlee Page was working on the short film The Kiss adapted from the short story of the same name from the collection The List of All Answers.[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1979: Western Australian Sesquicentenary Literary Prize for the short-story Memoirs of a small 'm' marxist.
  • 1982: Commonwealth Poetry Prize Readings from Ecclesiastes
  • 1982: FAW Anne Elder Poetry Award, joint winner for Readings from Ecclesiastes
  • 1982: South Australian Premier's Award, for Readings from Ecclesiastes
  • 1984: Government Biennial Literature Prize (South Australia), for Readings from Ecclesiastes
  • 1988: Australian Bicentennial Literary Prize for Poetry
  • 1991: NBC Banjo Awards, NBC Turnbull Fox Phillips Poetry Prize, shortlisted for This Goes with That
  • 1998: ABC / ABA Bicentennial Literary Award, Poetry Australia Literary Award
  • 2002: Robert Helpmann Award for Best Opera and Best New Australian Work for Batavia[13]
  • 2002: Green Room Award for Special Creative Achievement for Batavia
  • 2003: Colin Roderick Award, shortlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2004: Miles Franklin Award. Shortlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2004: FAW Christina Stead Award for Three Dog Night
  • 2004: The Courier-Mail Book of the Year. Shortlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2004: Queensland Premier's Literary Awards. Shortlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2004: New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards. Shortlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2005: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, longlisted for Three Dog Night
  • 2009: Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Shortlisted for Everything I Knew
  • 2010: Member of the Order of Australia. (AM) Citation: "For service to literature as an author and poet, through arts administration, and to the community."



Poetry collections[edit]

  • Readings from Ecclesiastes, (1982)
  • This Goes with That: Selected Poems 1970–1990, (1991)
  • After the Ball, (1992)
  • If, Then: Poems and Songs, (1996)
  • New Selected Poems (2001)
  • Tattered Joys (2002)
  • The Rise of the Machines and other love poems (2015)

Short story collections[edit]

  • Archipelagoes (1982)
  • Zooing (1986)
  • Bleak Rooms (1988)
  • Little Deaths (1993)
  • The List of All Answers (2004)
  • Gravel (2010)
  • One of my best friends (1994)

Collected works[edit]

  • Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam (1999)

Critical studies and reviews[edit]

  • Gilling, Tom (June 2014). "Peter Goldsworthy". Celebration. Australian Authors Past & Present. Australian Author. 46 (1): 28–31. 


  • The Kiss (2010), short film by Ashlee Page adapted from the short story The Kiss (2008)[11][14]
  • Three Dog Night (2011)[15]


  1. ^ a b "Peter Goldsworthy". The Poetry Archive. Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Brief bio in Penguin Edition (2003) of Three Dog Night
  3. ^ "Goldsworthy, Peter". Austlit. Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  4. ^ "Peter Goldsworthy, Author". Penguin. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  5. ^ "Your Favourite Australian Book" (PDF). ABC. Retrieved 8 July 2008. 
  6. ^ Clive James. "Peter Goldsworthy". Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  7. ^ "Overview of notated art music in Australia: Opera, operetta and song". Music Council of Australia. Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  8. ^ Peter Goldsworthy on IMDb
  9. ^ Ebbtide (1994) on IMDb
  10. ^ Passion (1999) on IMDb
  11. ^ a b "Airplay". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. August 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  12. ^ "June 2008 Funding Approvals" (PDF). South Australian Film Corporation. June 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  13. ^ "Helpmann Award Winners (2002)". Live Performance Australia. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2008. 
  14. ^ The Kiss (2010) on IMDb
  15. ^ Three Dog Night (2011) on IMDb

External links[edit]