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Awarded for service to the Arts
23 December 1874
Entered on roll: 2009
Marie Caroline Bjelke Petersen was born in Jagtvejen near Copenhagen, on 23 December 1874. She migrated to Tasmania with her family, arriving in Hobart on 13 October 1891.
A talented artist, Marie initially pursued a career in art to please her father, but without a ready outlet for her work she did not enjoy much success. Her real passion was writing, a profession of which her father disapproved.
Marie’s brother, Christian, was a physical education teacher. He recognised the benefit of physical education for women and asked Marie to join him teaching. Together they taught at The Friends’ School and also gave private lessons at Christian’s newly established Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture. Ill health eventually forced Marie to abandon this career, allowing her the opportunity to pursue her long-held ambition to write for a living.
A devoted Christian, Marie’s first published books were the religious tracts The Mysterious Stranger (1913) and Before an Eastern Court (1914) followed by Muffled Drums (1914). This genre of books only appealed to some segments of society and Marie turned her talent to writing romance novels.
Her first romance novel, The Captive Singer (1917), was set in Tasmania and was highly successful. Marie was one of the first authors to include vivid descriptions of the majestic Tasmanian scenery in her novels, providing excellent publicity for the State. Her other books set in Tasmania included Dusk (1921), Jewelled Nights (1923), Moon Minstrel (1927) and The Rainbow Lute (1932). Jewelled Nights was turned into a film in 1925, another great promotion for Tasmania. Over 250,000 copies of Marie’s books were sold world-wide.
Marie Bjelke Petersen lived an independent and successful life full of achievements that were rare for a woman of her era. She remained a proud Tasmanian until her death on 11 October 1969.