Famed author's disputed estate worth $1.9m

Roje Adaimy
A judge has urged parties fighting over author Colleen McCullough's estate to further negotiate

Nearly $2 million in cash and property - and possibly some gold bars - is at the centre of a bitter legal battle over the estate of famed Australian author Colleen McCullough.

The dispute is headed for trial in the NSW Supreme Court next week, but the parties on Wednesday were ordered to have further negotiations to potentially avoid at least seven days of costly hearings.

Dr McCullough's widower is accused of "unduly influencing" the late novelist to make a will in "suspicious circumstances" that left her entire estate to him 12 days before she died on Norfolk Island in late January 2015.

Friend and executor, Selwa Anthony, alleges Ric Robinson took advantage of his wife's poor health, isolation, fatigue and dependence "to dominate, overbear and overburden her", according to court documents.

"The deceased did not know and approve contents of the said will," the documents state.

The will, dated January 17, 2015, effectively revoked an earlier bequest to the University of Oklahoma Foundation.

In his defence, Mr Robinson - who married Dr McCullough in 1984 - claims the document was his wife's last will and he is the rightful sole beneficiary of the estate.

He argues a will executed in Sydney in July 2014 and deposited with the Supreme Court a year later was a "composite fabricated by a person or persons unknown".

The court heard on Wednesday that the net value of the estate was approximately $1.9 million.

It was made up of about $630,000 in cash and parcels of land valued between $1.2 million and $1.3 million.

There was also a safety deposit box with unknown contents, possibly some gold bars, as well as royalties that continue to flow, the court was told.

Dr McCullough was a neuroscientist before she shot to fame with her 1977 novel The Thorn Birds.

Justice Nigel Rein ordered the parties to meet on Monday morning, the day before the scheduled start of the trial, "with a view to progressing settlement negotiations".

He described the case as "complicated".

"It is not a tidy matter," Justice Rein said.