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The family moved to Sydney, where she began studying medicine at Sydney University – until she discovered that she had an allergy to the antiseptic soap surgeons use to scrub up.She switched to neuroscience, establishing the neurophysiology department at the city's Royal North Shore Hospital.It was while there that she wrote her first two books.Tim was published in 1974, and became a film five years later starring Mel Gibson, in one of his first roles, as the young, intellectually disabled handyman who has a love affair with a middle-aged woman, played by Piper Laurie.Much to her publisher’s frustration, she refused to consider a follow-up to The Thorn Birds and diversified mostly into “true historical fiction”, including a seven-novel series on the history of Rome.She did not pick up a copy of her most famous book for 25 years.In the early 1980s she married one of those descendants, Ric Robinson; she was 46, he was 33 ("the lovely thing about being 40 is that you can appreciate 25-year-old men more," she had said).

In her first year, however, she developed an allergy to surgical soap and was advised to give up her studies.

Her mother was a New Zealander of Maori ancestry, her father an Irish immigrant who worked as a cane cutter.

She recalled how she started writing, buying a typewriter with money her mother had given to her to buy an overcoat.

She followed it with The Thorn Birds and was able to become a full-time writer.

She lived in the US and London again before settling on Norfolk Island, the former British penal colony in the Pacific Ocean which became home to descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers.

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