Up Close with Australian Author Tim Winton


The public sees him as a prolific author; to some friends, he’s like a morose donkey. He can live with that – sort of.

What is your greatest strength?

Determination. It’s necessary in my game, which is a long-haul activity.

What is your greatest weakness? 

Same same but different. The thing is, determination often spills into tunnel vision.

What scares you?

Malice. The kind of hatred people tend and curate over time. Random violence and illness is like bad weather: there’s no intent behind it. But when you come upon genuine malice, it’s chilling.

What quality do you most admire in people?

Imagination. Without it, there’s no kindness and no charity. People mistakenly think imagination is the province of the artist but it’s the bedrock of a civil society. 

What other job would you choose to do?

I would have liked to have been a painter, I think. Mostly because I could play music while I worked. That always seemed like a civilised way of going about your labours. Though now that I mention it, I’m reminded of all the high-decibel FM radio I’ve had to endure at the hands of tradies – all those worksite broadcasters who require the rest of us to hear their music. See, I’m having second thoughts about this music-at-work thing.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise people?

What a snarky old bugger I really am.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My privacy. I still have the receipt.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?

I like the sound of the butcherbirds in the morning. It’s not absolute happiness but I don’t set my sights very high. It’s a hesitant call but it says, “I’m still here” and I find that reassuring. If I can hear them, it means I’m still here, too.

If you could have dinner with two famous people, who would you choose? 

Desmond Tutu and George Pell. I realise this is not a charitable thought but I’d love to be in the room for that. I’d even pick up the bill.

What travel experience is on your bucket list? 

I’d settle for a fortnight in Sicily, drinking wines from Mount Etna. Actually, I’d be pretty content having the wine couriered to my front door. Hell, I can cook Italian.

How do you switch off?

I don’t think I do. It’s not much of a mind but it chugs away, even when I’m sitting out in the surf or fishing in the boat.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Saying terrible things about newsreaders and AFL commentators. I shout at the TV a bit. It’s like meditation.

If you could turn back time, what would you change in your life?

I would have said some kind things I left unsaid. And unsay some things that were true but not worth saying. 

What is your greatest achievement?

Getting married and having kids too young. It should have been a disaster. But it was the making of me.

Who is your personal hero?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian. He was the moral force behind the plot to kill Hitler. A pacifist who saw, in the end, that circumstances outstripped his ideals. It’s not just his martyrdom that distinguishes him; true courage came from his capacity to relent, to change his mind.

What’s the most Australian thing about you?

My devotion to the double plugger [thongs].

Where would we find you at a party? 

Out in the car, explaining once more why I don’t want to go in. Two hours later, out by the back fence, laughing like a drain.

If you were an animal, what would you be?

Well, I fancy myself as a sea eagle. But some unkind friends call me Eeyore. Not just for my mulish qualities but also because I tend to be a glass-half-empty sort of creature. 

If you were down to your last $20, what would you spend it on?

You can’t even buy a sixpack for that any more. You’d be battling to get fish and chips. I think I’d give it away; I’d do it out of sheer disgust because if I was down to $20, I’d know I was cactus.

How would you like to be remembered?

With exasperated affection – by my wife, kids, grandkids, friends and family, at least. I don’t think about anything beyond that. 

Top image: Hank Kordas

SEE ALSO: Catching up with Ricky Gervais

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