Bryce Courtenay – biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

IntroAustralian novelist
Was Writer 

South Africa 

Type Literature 
Birth 14 August 1933, Johannesburg
Death 22 November 2012, Canberra
(aged 79 years)

Bryce Courtenay, AM (14 August 1933 – 22 November 2012) was a South African/Australian advertising director and novelist. He is one of Australia’s best-selling authors, notable for his book The Power of One.

Background and early years

Arthur Bryce Courtenay was born in the Lebombo Mountains, South Africa, the son of Maude Greer and Arthur Ryder. Ryder was married with six children, and lived with his family, but also maintained a relationship with Greer, with whom he already had a daughter, Rosemary. Maude Greer gave the surname Courtenay to both her children. Bryce Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in the Limpopo province. He later attended King Edward VII School.

In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita Solomon, and they emigrated to Sydney in 1958. They married in 1959 and had three sons – Brett, Adam and Damon.

Courtenay entered the advertising industry and, over a career spanning 34 years, was the Creative Director of McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson and George Patterson Advertising. His award-winning campaigns included Louie the Fly and the original Milkybar Kid commercial.

Along with Geoff Pike, Bryce Courtenay developed the concept behind the Cadbury Yowie, a chocolate that contained a children’s toy, typically an Australian or New Zealand native animal.

On 1 April 1991, Damon (who was born with the blood condition haemophilia) died at age 24 from AIDS-related complications, contracted through a blood transfusion.

Courtenay divorced Benita in 2000 and acknowledged sexual relationships with other women during their 42-year marriage. Benita Courtenay died on 11 March 2007, at the age of 72, four months after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. He later lived in Canberra with his second wife, Christine Gee.


His novels are primarily set in Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay’s fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling books by any living author. The story was made into a film, as well as being re-released in an edition for children.

Courtenay was one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors. He built up this success over the long term by promoting himself and developing a relationship with readers as much as marketing his books; for instance, he gave away up to 2,500 books free each year to readers he met in the street. However, only The Power of One has been published in the United States. Courtenay claimed that this was because “American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost. However, we receive many e-mails and letters from Americans who have read my books and I am hoping in the future that publishers will recognize that there is a market for all my books in the U.S.”


In September 2012, Courtenay announced that he was suffering from terminal gastric cancer and that his last book would be Jack of Diamonds. He died on 22 November at his Canberra home.

Awards and honours

  • Member of the Order of Australia (AM): 1995; in recognition of service to advertising and marketing to the community and as an author
  • Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) (honoris causa): 2005; from the University of Newcastle
  • Doctor of the University (D.Univ.) (honoris causa): 2012; from the University of Canberra
  • Australia Post Literary Legend: 2010; honoured on an Australian postage stamp
  • “COURTENAY, Arthur Bryce”. Australian Honours. Commonwealth of Australia. 12 June 1995. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  • “Honorary Degree Recipients” (PDF). Alumni – Corporate Development and Community Partnerships. University of Newcastle. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 March 2012. 
  • “Bryce Courtenay – Literary legends”. Priority (magazine). March 2010. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. 

External sources and further reading

  • Ayliffe, Tim (23 November 2012), Bryce Courtenay: Australia’s master storyteller, Australian Broadcasting Commission, archived from the original on 11 July 2013 
  • Cadzow, Jane (17 March 2012). “The world according to Bryce”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  • Courtenay, Bryce (2012). “Bryce Courtenay: Feature Interview”. The Bottom Line (Interview). Interview with Alex Malley. Canberra. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  • Stewart, Claire (23 November 2012). “Bryce Courtenay dies – larger than life to the end”. Australian Financial Review. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. 
  • Bryce Courtenay’s website