Henry Handel Richardson

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“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”  – Proverbs, iv, 7 (from the dedication to The Getting of Wisdom)

In its annual Honouring Australian Writers series, the NSW Writers’ Centre pays tribute to writers who have made an important contribution to our literary culture.

In 2016 we honoured Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946), the pen name of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson. The author of nine novels including The Getting of Wisdom and The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, she is considered to be one of our great foundation novelists.

Speaking on the significance of Henry Handel Richardson’s writing were director Bruce Beresford (The Getting of Wisdom, Driving Miss Daisy), author Sophie Cunningham (Melbourne, Bird), historian Anna Clark (Private Lives, Public History; History Wars), and Professor Michael Ackland (Henry Handel Richardson: A Life).

Henry Handel Richardson was born in Melbourne, Victoria, to a prosperous family that later fell on hard times. Her novels The Getting of Wisdom and Maurice Guest were both adapted into films after her death and have recently been released in new editions by Text Publishing. She was also the author of three short story collections and a memoir, Myself When Young.

More resources on Henry Handel Richardson can be found here.

Photos of the event


Anna Clark holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship and is Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. She has written extensively on history education, historiography and historical consciousness, including: Teaching the Nation: Politics and Pedagogy in Australian History, History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom, Private Lives, Public History, the History Wars with Stuart Macintyre, as well as two history books for children, Convicted! and Explored! Reflecting her love of fish and fishing, she has also recently finished a history of fishing in Australia, which will be published later this year.

Bruce Beresford has directed an adaptation of Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom, and is currently developing a script of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. He worked for the British Film Institute and directed his first feature film, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, in the 1970s. Since then, he has directed over 25 more feature films, including Breaker Morant, Don’s Party, The Club, Puberty Blues, Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy, Bride of the Wind, Paradise Road, Black Robe and Mao’s Last Dancer.

Michael Ackland is the Roderick Professor of English at James Cook University. He has written numerous monographs, biographies and editions and is the author of Henry Handel Richardson: A Life.




Sophie Cunningham is the author of two novels, Geography and Bird and two non-fiction works, Melbourne and Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy. She is a former editor of Meanjin and was until recently the chair of the Australia Council’s Literature Board. Warning was longlisted for the 2014 Walkley Book Award and the 2015 Kibble Literary Award. Sophie was awarded the 2015 Calibre Prize for her essay, ‘Staying with the Trouble.’




The Honouring Australian Writers series is made possible with support from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and the State Library of NSW.

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