Widower of Thorn Birds author Colleen McCullough wins legal battle over her estate

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The widowed husband of Australian author Colleen McCullough, whose 1977 best-selling novel The Thorn Birds became a smash hit television miniseries, has won a bitter legal dispute over her estate after a court found in his favor on Friday.

Barrister for Selwa Anthony, Kim Morrissey, is seen leaving the Supreme Court, Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2018. AAP/Peter Rae/via REUTERS

Ric Robinson, who had been battling McCullough’s executor over whether the author intended to leave her estate to him or to the University of Oklahoma, where she had been a board member, was the sole beneficiary, according to written summary of a judgment made in Sydney.

“Colleen McCullough intended to bequeath her entire estate to her husband,” the summary of New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Neil Rein’s judgment said.

Australian media have put the value of McCullough’s estate at A$2.1 million ($1.54 million).

McCullough, who died on Australia’s Pacific outpost of Norfolk Island in 2015, turned to writing after working as a neuroscientist and scored almost immediate success with The Thorn Birds, a family drama set on a sheep station.

Paperback rights sold for a then record $1.9 million and it was made into one of the most-watched miniseries of all time, starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. The book sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Six months before her death McCullough had written a will bequeathing her estate to University of Oklahoma. Three months later she changed her mind, awarding it to Robinson - a descendant of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian - instead.

McCullough’s executor, Selwa Anthony, had argued that Robinson pressured the author to make the change, but the court found the newer version reflected her wishes.

Neither Robinson nor Anthony were present at the Sydney courtroom where the judgment was delivered, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Anthony’s lawyer, Kim Morrissey, said by phone he was still reading through the judgment and had no immediate view. Robinson’s lawyer was not immediately available.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Eric Meijer