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Posted on 28 Sep 2018 in The Godfather: Peter Corris | 6 comments

Tributes to Peter Corris

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Peter Corris - Newtown Review of BooksPeter Corris, the ‘Godfather of Australian crime fiction’, died in his sleep on 30 August 2018. His Godfather columns have been part of the Newtown Review of Books from the beginning, and we feel his loss keenly.

Following are some tributes that were given at his funeral and at the subsequent wake at the Toxteth Hotel, favoured watering hole of Peter’s much-loved character Cliff Hardy. As Cliff once observed: ‘Glebe is one of those places where if you can’t see a pub by looking both ways down the street, then you must be standing outside one.’ We welcome your memories in the comments.

From the eulogy delivered on behalf of the family by Peter’s daughter Sofya Gollan:

Hello, I’m Sofya, one of Peter’s daughters; Miriam and Ruth are here also, and Jean, our mother and Peter’s wife, who he considered the love of his life… Peter always said he wanted to be around long enough to be remembered by his grandchildren. We would have bought him a few more tolerable years so that the youngest two, Ecky and Laidy, could have known him the same way the older kids do …

Peter had an ability to lighten serious situations… He had a quadruple bypass some years ago and had felt generally slower and older beforehand, but after the operation he declared, ‘I’m much funnier now, but no-one has noticed.’ You always made us laugh.  We miss you. We all loved you.

From the eulogy given by Bill Garner, Peter’s friend and collaborator on the Ray Crawley spy novels that began with Pokerface:

Peter wasn’t competing with the literary writers but was carving out an entirely separate path. It was the serious novelists who increasingly came over to the dark side. But he was a competitive person in other ways. Even throwing hoops was serious business. And while we never did get to play that game of golf, he was highly competitive at a family level. Whenever in recent years we spoke on the phone he would always ask me how many grandchildren I had now. While I got stuck on three, his tally kept mounting and it gave him enormous pleasure to crow about it. I’d like to let him know today that I have a fourth on the way, but I guess it’s too late. Too late.

From the eulogy given by Peter’s friend, the writer Michael Wilding:

… there was always a basic decency and humanity about his writing. His books were focussed, firmly paced, economical, easy to read and, in a word, enjoyable.

And he achieved something only a few writers ever manage. He imprinted his vision of Sydney onto the city. When you look for somewhere to park in the side streets of Glebe or Newtown, or when you drive down the coastal road south of Sydney to Wollongong, you are spontaneously reminded of the settings of Peter’s novels. You can’t go to Bondi without thinking of the empty beach. Not many writers achieve this.

From the eulogy given by his friend and long-time publisher, Patrick Gallagher:

Few writers have been as versatile and as professional, and few writers have been as constructive and responsive for a publisher to work with. ‘Could we have a little danger and, er, spice to liven up the first 50 pages?’ I once asked and by return came a memorable scene with a well-endowed little vixen trying to lead Cliff into temptation and worse. Oh yes, Peter was always fun to work with.

From the eulogy given by Peter’s agent, Gaby Naher:

When I lunched with Peter at the end of July, at Thai Potong in Newtown, I was profoundly struck by how content he seemed with his life. He could no longer read, he could barely see the food on his plate, was in all sorts of pain, but spoke with such love and pride of his grandchildren. As always, Peter entertained me with his stories and observations, and when we finished he asked me to stroll down King Street with him to a bottle shop. Apparently Peter still enjoyed a finger or two of Scotch of an evening. When we went outside and tried to hail a cab, a young man approached us, greeting Peter warmly as ‘Mr Corris’. He told us he was a cabbie and had driven Peter a number of times. He said he would be honoured if he could help Peter get home that day. I realised, then, that every time I had lunched with Peter in Newtown someone had approached him on the street, greeted him as Mr Corris, and had a friendly chat.

From NRB editor Linda Funnell’s welcome at Peter’s wake:

We are here to mourn a great loss but also to celebrate a great life and to share our memories of Peter. And there are so many things worth remembering: his love for and pride in his family; his extraordinary talent as a writer; his friendship; his generosity and his wit.

Peter’s Cliff Hardy had a fine line in wisecracks from his very first outing. In The Dying Trade Cliff decides, ‘Mr Gutteridge didn’t look as if he’d be nice to work for, but I felt sure I could reach an understanding with his money.’

In the short story ‘Mother’s Boy’ he has Cliff explain to a nervous client: ‘… I’m no good at blackmail, I can never find the right words in the newspapers to make up the threatening letter.’

I would have first met Peter in 1980 or 81, not long after The Dying Trade was published by McGraw Hill. I was working with Lyndsay Brown, the publishing director of Pan Books, who bought the paperback rights to The Dying Trade and published the second and third Cliff Hardys, White Meat and The Marvellous Boy, as paperback originals. I remember the excitement those books caused, to have our own hardboiled hero to walk Sydney’s mean streets.

During the early 1990s as a freelance editor I edited half a dozen or so of Peter’s books – a mere drop in the ocean for a writer who produced over 90 volumes – and more recently I have copyedited his Godfather columns in the Newtown Review of Books.  Peter always delivered his columns on time – in fact he only missed on a couple of occasions when he was in hospital. He always had something interesting to say and he always said it well. When it came to editing he was particular – he knew what he wanted to say and the effects he wanted to create – but not precious, and he had great respect for his long-term editor, Jo Jarrah.

For me, knowing Peter and working with Peter has been a privilege and a pleasure.

From David Gaunt of Gleebooks:

I’ve only fond personal memories, and immense pride in Peter’s (and Cliff Hardy’s) Glebe connection. Gleebooks has been referenced in books a lot, but none better than Hardy’s reminder to his client about the timing of a secret rendezvous (it’s in an early book, can’t remember which one). Their phones are tapped, so she’ll only know it’s him calling when she gets a message ‘It’s Gleebooks calling, your special order has arrived and is ready for collection.’

And, for international context of Peter’s popularity, we sent, over a couple of years, lots of Peter’s books to a retired librarian in Florida. She was a passionate fan, and wrote to the ‘Glebe Bookshop, Glebe’, hoping such a shop existed. We sent lots to her, and she was so delighted that she sent us gifts from the Florida State University football shop. Such was Peter’s international impact that we ended up with FSU football socks, beanies and monogrammed stadium cushions. He was a marvel, loved by crime fiction aficionados the world over.

From the writer Rupert Thomson:

When I flew to Sydney in 1987, I had a Picador paperback of Cliff Hardy novels with me. I thought of it as a kind of guide book to the city. I didn’t know who Peter was then, and had no idea that our paths would ever cross, but I loved those books. And what a thrill it was to meet him too, when that finally happened. I had so many wonderful moments with him over the years – in Coledale, in Byron Bay, and more recently in Newtown. He even dedicated a book to me once – Lugarno, which was published in 2001. That really touched me. I can’t now remember what I did to deserve such a thing.

From Kristin Williamson:

He was a fine writer and one of the nicest people in the whole profession. Every year on our son Jonathan’s birthday from the time he was 13 we had to seek out the latest Cliff Hardy book. He was a huge fan.

From David Williamson:

Peter was a fine writer and a gentleman and it wasn’t just son Jon who enjoyed Cliff Hardy. I did too. I didn’t talk to Peter all that often but when I did it was a real pleasure.

From publisher Jane Palfreyman:

When I was young and eager student, wastrel, obsessive detective fiction reader (Stephen Knight!)  and budding journalist, Peter was my first-ever interview for a groovy new magazine called Satellite. I took my unwieldy boom-box tape player to his house in Reservoir Street, interviewed him for HOURS, then sent him the article in which I referred to him as ‘looking like Mick Jagger’s clean-living younger brother’. He was kind enough to actually write back and thank me and say he thought I would make a good journo! What a lovely man he was, and a mighty writer.

From John Kerr, publisher of Fred Hollows: an autobiography:

It was always easy spending time with Peter, and often fun. And oh what fun, to be number one on the bookselling charts when his pen produced Fred Hollows: an autobiography with Peter Corris for Kerr Publishing’s list at Christmastime 1991.

Apparently, one night long before, Pat Fiske invited Peter to a party at Fred’s. Peter explained to Fred he had had cataract surgery, a necessity arising from his diabetes, and Fred said, ‘You don’t bloody deserve Hugh Taylor’s surgery, you prick. Get that weight off. Go easy on the grog, don’t smoke…’ This kind of advice was a Fred speciality.

Peter wrote crime fiction, so it was weird to hear him say, ‘I don’t do good villains. I prefer writing about people I like.’ It never occurred to me that a crime writer had a choice… But readers liked the people Peter liked. He was a lovely guy.

From Peter’s friend Tom Kelly

Peter’s health had been problematic for as long as any of us can remember. In very recent times it had gone way beyond problematic.

His capacity to always accept this situation was truly amazing. A broken leg when he failed to see a truck in Newtown; an amputated toe; he took it all in his stride, figuratively speaking.

He rarely complained, as he moved from blowing up print font on his computer, eventually to 36 point, then moving to large print books; and then to talking books.

A highly competitive trivia contest aficionado, he was disappointed that about 10 years ago his hearing problems prevented attending trivia contests, as he could not hear the questions. So, he and the family settled into a weekly contest of the Saturday’s SMH trivia quiz with Linda and me. He reverted to his original profession of teaching, by regularly composing and administering historical and cultural questions to his grandchildren, whose general knowledge must now be quite superior.

And he could easily laugh at the occasional funny situations that flowed from his incapacities.

About 20 years ago, when he and Jean were living at Byron Bay, my partner and I were visiting there and arranged to have dinner with them, at the seafood restaurant that had previously been part of the local swimming pool. It was summer time and we settled into to having a few drinks before ordering food, on the principle that one should never eat on an empty stomach.

Peter then said he wished to use the toilet. The restaurant’s patrons had to use the toilet that was situate in the pool’s changing sheds, which were around and behind the restaurant. As it was dusk and darkness was descending, Peter asked for my assistance to walk him there. With Peter wearing one of his finest silk shirts, we set off, arm in arm.

I observed that swimming lessons for the kiddies had finished and a number of them were frolicking in the pool, under the supervision of their mothers.

I can still remember the look of collective horror on the faces of the mothers, as we entered the male changing sheds. I informed Peter of this, requesting him to piss quickly before the police arrived. He was mightily amused and was quick to finish the task. We were soon safely seated back in the restaurant, in the bosom of our women folk.

The police did not arrive. We would not have got away with it so easily these days, with every mother now being armed with a mobile telephone. Now they would presume that we were a couple of holidaying priests.

And I am pleased to say that four days before he died, Peter and his team had a resounding win over Linda and me in the Saturday Herald’s trivia quiz.

From Kyrsty Macdonald:

I was a child of rural Australia who started written life with Blackfriars Correspondence School. My addiction to the power of letters from virtual strangers may have started then. By 10, care of the Australian Women’s Weekly, I followed Oxalis Cottage where Ross Campbell lived with his family: Theodora, Lancelot, Little Nell and another child whose name escapes me. I found it very funny.  My mother loved it too.

In the 1960s there was Charmian Clift in the SMH. Clift’s essays sang to my imagination like the sirens did to sailors. Later again Alistair Cooke and his Letter from America defined Sunday night. That audio letter distilled America for millions, and for me.  Like Peter he wrote almost to the end.

While I was still in mourning for him, Peter turned up in the Newtown Review of Books.  He, like the others, had his very own take on this wonderful tradition. In Peter’s case it was reflections on his past, which he plundered and served up as they occurred to him – chronologically random, often intimate, musing and amusing observations plucked from the cityscape and personal obsessions.  While I knew Peter, I didn’t really know him well until his Godfather columns, and that’s when our one-sided intimacy started.

They were always good, though I had favourites. I particularly loved that last column, for instance, offering us The Daughter of Time. I loved Peter’s segue to Zelman Cowen and the story of the student who had difficulty passing constitutional law. It made me laugh out loud and I immediately sent the piece to an old judge I knew.  And the next week Peter was dead.

His Newtown Review of Books essays were such a pleasure: reflective, funny and always worth reading.  It was lovely learning about him backwards. So this is to confess – Peter knew me hardly at all, but I will miss him every week.

From writer and journalist David Marr:

He could write like a dream and he was funny and sharp and he taught me a lot a long time ago and he was a great presence in the literary life of this country and unbelievably courageous in fighting to stay alive – but he was really just a lovely man.

From film director Stephen Wallace:

It made me sad, seeing what we’d lost. I was really sorry I couldn’t say goodbye to Peter but then maybe, if he died in his sleep, nobody could… I realised how supportive Peter was, how good a friend, what good company, how generous he was. He invested $500 in my film. No other friend did that. I was more upset than I thought I should be.

From writer John Dale:

I liked Peter a lot as a person and as a very important Australian writer. We shared an interest in crime writing, boxing and Essendon. He was a great guy and I’ll miss him. He was something special.

From Joel Becker

I am so very sad to hear about Peter’s death.  I have so many fond memories of walking, talking and golfing at the Marrickville Golf Course with Peter, our rousing Ned Kelly debate, and his friendship and generosity.

From crime writer Marele Day:

Peter was the first published writer I ever met. He introduced himself to me at an event at Bray’s bookshop when The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender had just been published. It felt like a welcome to the world of crime writing. It was a privilege to have known him.

An extract from reviewer Karen Chisholm’s tribute in the Australian Crime Fiction blog in response to the news of Peter’s death, which we think sums up the feelings of a lot of Peter’s readers and was read at the wake:

The Dying Trade was my first Cliff Hardy novel. It was the first non-purely-pulp styled Australian novel I read, and I was hooked.

Mind you, since that day I’ve quietly blamed Peter Corris for a lot of things [including] the sheer weight of books that I have to cart with me whenever I move house … [and] for creating an unattainable world – slightly cool, slightly grotty, slightly dangerous, slightly edgy, frequently sad, always tough, populated by determined, square jawed men in old cars – preferably with column shifts and foot-controlled dimmer switches …

He was a prolific writer, who knew how to build a character, a place and a style that was unmistakeable.

In the early days there is no doubt whatsoever that he was a trailblazer… Back in the early 1980s it wasn’t actually that easy to get your hands on good, tightly written, entertaining local crime fiction. When Cliff Hardy arrived on the scene he was like a breath of welcome, slightly beery air…

In recent years a new Cliff Hardy at Christmas had become a tradition. On the couch, Boxing Day, with the Test in the background, reading the latest Cliff Hardy was something that made Christmas bearable. When Kerry O’Keefe retired, there was Cliff. When Jim Maxwell had a stroke, there was Cliff. And when Cliff was retired, there was a hole which will remain for years to come – although there is that wonderful back catalogue, and a re-read will be the new tradition in these parts.



  1. Such beautiful and moving tributes. Thank you for sharing with the nrb.

  2. God bless the Godfather. Peter’s presence here gave us all so much. Vale Cliff Hardy’s creator.

  3. Thank you NRB for sharing these tributes to Peter. I only met him twice but was an avid and dedicated reader of his Godfather musings. (Again thank you NRB for providing this platform) Apart from the wonderful book reviews, one of the joys of clicking on the NRB web page was the anticipation of what I would find this time penned by the Godfather. He never disappointed. I especially loved his nostalgic musings which often triggered memories of my own. During his life he gave – and received much. And best of all was love.

  4. I mourn Peter’s departure. I have spent so many happy hours reading of Cliff Hardy’s adventures. The books were so evocative of time, place and a real Australian character. I also looked forward to Peter’s articles in NRB. Never long enough and always with something interesting to say.He was clearly a much loved man and my sympathy to his family and many friends and colleagues. Interestingly, or spookily, my husband and I were walking back from the cinema (this was in South Yarra) and passed Brian Brown- sadly I was window gazing and missed eye contact dammit) on the very night that Peter died. I can’t remember which book was made into a film but Brian Brown was the perfect fit for Cliff Hardy and his the face in my imagination whenever I read the books. Vale Peter Corris

  5. Thank you for posting these tributes. I attended Peter’s wake to pay my respects to Jean but didn’t stay, as I knew Peter only through an interview I conducted with him 5 years ago. But those 3 hours left an indelible print on my memory of a magnificent raconteur, a spirited larrikin soul with a heart of gold. He didn’t need to give me that much time but we sat and talked about everything that interested us. He made Sydney his backdrop and has given it to the reading world. A wonderful man.

  6. Cliff Hardy novels have been an integral part of Aussie Crime fiction for decades.He has been a great historian,researcher and biographer.His best works should be a significant part of Australian Studies and Literary Studies courses.
    The Australian Literary establishment (especially outside Sydney) failed to give him due credit for both his fiction and non-fiction
    Vale Peter