• Armistice
  • My Gallipoli
  • An Anzac Tale
  • Captain Congo and the Crocodile King
  • Captain Congo and the Maharajah's Monkey
  • Captain Congo and the Klondike Gold
  • Fill Out This Application and Wait Over There
  • Captain Stella
  • Thorpey
  • Noodle Pie
  • Catland
  • Orphans of the Queen
  • Stella by the Sea
  • Muck-Up Day
  • NIPS Go National

Vale Ruth Starke

Dr Ruth Starke

b. 15 May, 1946

d. 5 September, 2022

Dr Ruth Starke was a writer, critic and academic. She had a national reputation for her writing and for her clear-sighted criticism, while playing a vital role in South Australia’s literary community as a writer, a teacher and a mentor, as well as Chair of Writers SA.

Born in 1946 to Edith and Jeff Toolin, Ruth spent her childhood in a multi-generational home in Wayville with her grandparents, her parents, younger brother Russell, and her uncle, aunt and cousins. She attended Unley Primary School and later Marion High School, where she was a Prefect and state tennis champion. Books, reading and writing were an early obsession.

When she left school, Ruth enrolled in an arts degree but left at the end of first year wanting to see the world. She would soon leave for London, but before that, London came to Ruth. When the Rolling Stones came to Adelaide Ruth talked her way into the press conference by pretending to be from Adelaide Uni’s paper On Dit. As a glamorous, charismatic young woman, Ruth stood out from the crowd of suited, male journalists and she was invited first to come backstage at the concert that night, then to the after party. Ruth was often asked whether this was a defining experience, but she would answer that no, it wasn’t, because she always found the future much more exciting than the past.

Arriving in London in the mid-1960s, Ruth worked in Harrod’s before moving to Italy, and working in Milan and Rome. She learned Italian and loved the elegant and sophisticated attention to detail that Italians paid to food and to clothes. Across her many travels it was these visceral and sensual experiences that she would continue to seek out and to treasure.

Returning to Adelaide in the early 1970s Ruth met her future husband, media and arts identity, Russell Starke. Together, they embarked on a high-profile career in public relations and the media with Ruth hosting her own cooking show on Radio 5AD and publishing a cook book “Cooking for Cheats”, writing a column for The Advertiser, and handling publicity for major brands, the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and for visiting movie stars including Douglas Fairbanks and Bette Davis. Besides working on The Starke Stable, Ruth worked at the American Chamber of Commerce, PanAm, Prix Editions magazine, for which she interviewed Formula One champions such as Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda, and American Express Travel, where she loved leading tours to India, always bringing home new cooking techniques.

In the 1990s recession, Ruth was made redundant. Following a difficult divorce from Russell, this marked a distinct change as the time when she fully embraced her writer’s life. She enrolled at Flinders University, publishing four novels while completing her degree and then not only completing her PhD within two years but also publishing her book, the history of Adelaide Writers’ Week, Writers, Readers and Rebels all while bringing up her two daughters as a single parent.

Writing primarily for children and young adults, Ruth published over 25 novels, picture books, graphic novels and non-fiction titles including NIPS XI, My Gallipoli, An Anzac Tale, Orphansof the Queen and the Captain Congo series. Her fiction was translated into many different languages and won or was shortlisted for numerous awards and honours, including the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the WA, NSW and Queensland Premiers' Awards, the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award, the 2015 NSW Premier's Young People's History Prize, and a United Nations Prize for promoting cultural tolerance which was presented to her at the Australian Embassy in Paris. Ruth was writing to the end, making the final edits to her final Captain Congo serial just days before she died.

Ruth’s contribution to literature was not only as a writer. She was a teacher, a mentor, a critic, an advocate and, just as importantly, a reader. She was a university lecturer, editorial adviser, board member and chair of multiple institutions, such as Literacy Australian and Writers SA. Leading by example, she taught not only the craft and technique of writing, but also about what it is to live a writer’s life—the importance of application to your task, to reading widely, to contributing to your community.

At her funeral, friend and colleague, writer Sean Williams spoke of dedicating his latest book to Ruth “in thanks for being such a formidable exemplar and friend”. Ruth had asked: “Was I really such an influence and inspiration?” There are many South Australian writers who would answer, “Yes, absolutely”.

Ruth died as a result of a rare, vulval cancer diagnosed in late 2020. She is survived by her daughters, Miranda and Petra, and her grandson Hugo.

Our Land Our Stories hits Australian middle schools

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Primary school students around Australia will get to know the incredible life stories of journalist Stan Grant and ballerina Ella Havelka thanks to a new educational series featuring Ruth's writing.

Our Land Our Stories by Cengage Learning Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is a new reading series for middle primary classes that focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories.

Ruth has written the cards for Grant, an award-winning journalist and television personality, and Havelka, the first indigenous dancer to join the Australian ballet.

The series is in schools now.

Bonjour La Suisse! An Anzac Tale gets translated into French

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Exciting news: Ruth's book An Anzac Tale has been translated into French and is now being sold in Switzerland through publisher Kramiek.

Check out the sample page to the left with French text and illustrations by Greg Holfeld.

You can read more about the Swiss release on Kramiek's website or on their Facebook page.

Ruth visits St Johns Concordia Junior College

Ruth visited St Johns Concordia Junior College in Highgate on Monday and was delighted to receive this terrific collage they'd made of characters from her books! 

The collage includes Captain Congo and Pug, Stella by the sea, Rose from Catland and even Thorpey the fish.

Thanks, guys!

My Gallipoli shortlisted for WA Premier's Awards

Just months after it was named a notable book for 2016 by the Children's Book Council, Ruth Starke's My Gallipoli has been shortlisted in the 2016 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards.

My Gallipoli has been listed in the non-fiction category, which carries a prize of $15,000. It will also be eligible for the major Premier's Prize which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book overall.

The winners will be announced on Monday, October 3 2016.

View the full shortlist here.