Patrick White, 78, the Australian novelist whose explorations of the human saga through epic narrative descriptions of the lives of pioneers in his country's lonely outback helped win him the 1973 Nobel Prize for literature, died yesterday at his home in Sydney. The cause of death was not reported.

The Swedish Academy, in awarding him the Nobel, said Mr. White "for the first time has given the continent of Australia an authentic voice that carries across the world."

The academy called his novel "Voss" (1957), the story of a tragic 19th-century German explorer of Australia, "an intensive character study against the background of the fascinating Australian wilds."

Perhaps ironically, Mr. White, who wrote of an Australia that was hard, unforgiving and at times downright vicious, was not particularly popular in his own country.

The academy also hailed his more recent works, "which show White's unbroken creative power, an ever deeper restlessness and seeking urge, an onslaught against vital problems that have never ceased to engage him and a wrestling with the language in order to extract all its power and all its nuances, to the verge of the unattainable."

Among his other best-known novels are "The Eye of the Storm," "The Aunt's Story" and "The Tree of Man." He also is the author of plays and poems as well as the 1981 autobiography "Flaws in the Glass."

Critics have long been divided by Mr. White's work. Some have hailed it as brilliant, comparing it to the work of Charles Dickens, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.

Others have found his style overly rich in cadence and imagery with overly complex structure and themes. One critic simply called his work "unreadable."

He wrote of seemingly ordinary people contending with enormous difficulties, often in small communities in the isolated outback. But these same works also were packed with symbols and allegory, as well as references to both eastern and western myths and folk tales. One critic referred to one of his works as containing "choking thickets of imagery."

South African novelist Nadine Gordimer said: "There is no other contemporary writer in English who uses the language with such conventional mastery and demotic flair."

Australian poet and critic A.D. Howe wrote of Mr. White's "pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge." David Tacey, a literature professor, said Mr. White, who was gay, could do virtually anything, write the most ordinary work, "and somehow it is all justified under the wondrous banner of gayness."

Mr. White's writing often took religious or philosophical turns. He wrote of a man's search for meaning in a meaningless world, of individuality and alienation from society, and ultimately, of loneliness. Although most of his novels took place in Australia, they were really set in what one critic called "the country of the mind."

"Happy Valley," the fourth novel he wrote but the first to be published, appeared in 1939. This was followed in 1941 by "The Living and the Dead," which was set among London's Bloomsbury set. His next novel, "The Aunt's Story" (1948), was the tale of a drab Australian spinster who achieves a kind of life through madness.

The first novel he wrote after returning to Australia after World War II was "The Tree of Man" (1955), which recounted the struggle of a pioneer couple in the outback. This novel brought him a degree of international fame.

His 1961 allegorical and religious novel, "Riders in the Chariot," baffled many critics. These novels were followed by "The Solid Mandala" (1966), another allegorical tale, and "The Eye of the Storm" (1974), the story of a vicious, predatory and egotistical woman on her deathbed. His later novels included "The Cockatoos" (1974), "A Fringe of Leaves" (1976), "The Twyborn Affair" (1979) and "Memoirs of Many in One" (1986).

Politically, he was an avowed member of the political left and a republican. He once called the British royal family "the royal goons," and attacked Australia's treatment of the Aborigines. In the 1980s, he began supporting the Australian Communist Party.

Patrick Victor Martindale White was born May 28, 1912, in London, where his Australian parents were vacationing.

He spent the early part of his youth on an Australian sheep ranch before being sent to boarding school in England. After graduating in 1935 from Cambridge University's King's College, where he read modern languages, he wrote and traveled.

During World War II, he was an intelligence officer in Britain's Royal Air Force. He served in the Sudan, Egypt and Greece.

He returned to Australia to make his home in 1946, settling on a six-acre duck farm in New South Wales, where he lived off produce he grew, cultivated olive and citrus trees, and raised Saanen goats and schnauzers.

Survivors include his companion of 45 years, Manoly Lascaris.

LUCILE 'TRANNY' BACH

Arlington Educator

Lucile Transou "Tranny" Bach, 79, a teacher and administrator with Arlington County schools for 27 years before retiring in 1972, died Sept. 26 at her home in Fairfax after a stroke.

She began her career in Arlington schools at Washington-Lee High School, where she was an English teacher and English department chairman. She retired as an assistant principal from Williamsburg Junior High.

Mrs. Bach, who came to the Washington area in the mid-1940s, was a native of Winston-Salem, N.C. She was a graduate of the College of William and Mary.

She was a member of Munson Hill Presbyterian Church in Falls Church and the Arlington Retired Teachers Association.

Her husband, Edmond F. Bach, died in 1978. Survivors include two stepsons, Ronald and James Bach, both of South Carolina; and her stepmother, Barbara Transou of Petersburg, Va.

MARY P. FAWCETT

Boat Chandlery Owner

Mary Phelps Fawcett, 89, the former co-owner of a boat supply store in Annapolis who was active in volunteer work, died Sept. 28 at Prince George's Hospital Center after a heart attack. She lived in Mitchellville.

She and her husband founded Fawcett Boat Supplies in 1948 and operated it until 1965, when they sold it and retired.

Over the years, Mrs. Fawcett had done volunteer work for the Episcopal Church, the Red Cross and the Annapolis YWCA. She served on the first board of the Fairfield nursing home in Anne Arundel County and was a member of the vestry of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

A native of New Jersey, she came to Washington during World War II, then moved to Annapolis in 1947. She lived there until moving to Mitchellville in 1988.

Survivors include her husband, Arthur H., of Mitchellville; a son, Arthur Jr., of Washington; two daughters, Pauline F. Spofford of Salem, Ore., and M. Temple Fawcett of Fairhaven, Mass.; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

JANE F. SPILLANE

State Department Cook

Jane F. Spillane, 83, a retired State Department cook who worked at Blair House, died of heart ailments Sept. 27 at the Clark Manor Nursing Home in Worcester, Mass.

Mrs. Spillane was born in Ireland. She came to the United States in 1922 and lived in Worcester before moving to Washington in 1940.

She went to work for the State Department in the early 1940s and was assigned to Blair House, the government guest house across Lafayette Square from the White House.

About 1972 she retired to West Dennis, Mass., where she lived until a few weeks ago.

In Washington she was a member of the parish of St. Matthews Cathedral and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Her husband, Timothy Spillane, died in 1980.

Survivors include three sisters, Mary E. Henry of Worcester, and Rose Ann Bohan and Mary Catherine Farrelly, both of Ireland; and three brothers, Stephen Farrelly of London, and Phillip and Patrick J. Farrelly, both of Dublin.

LUCILLE H. WARD

Civic Activist, Volunteer

Lucille Henson Ward, 73, an Annandale resident who was active in civic and volunteer groups in Arlington and Fairfax County, died Sept. 29 at her home. She had cancer.

Mrs. Ward, who came to the Washington area in 1936, was born in Greensboro, N.C. She was a founding member of the Rocky Run Garden Club in Fairfax County and worked with Cub and Boy Scouts in Arlington in the 1940s and 1950s.

She also was a member of the North Arlington Civic Association.

Her husband, Jesse L. Ward Jr., died in 1987.

Survivors include two sons, Jesse III, of Myersville, Md., and Alfred Henson Ward of Annandale; two brothers, Jack Henson of Shreveport, La., and Clarence Henson of Greensboro; a sister, Edna Wyrick, also of Greensboro; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

EDWARD R. STETTINIUS

Steamship Line Official

Edward R. Stettinius, 65, a retired U.S. Lines steamship company executive who had lived in Middleburg since 1975, died of cancer Sept. 30 at his home.

He spent 20 years with the line before retiring in 1970. He spent 17 of those years in Europe, where he became European traffic and operations manager. From 1970 to 1985, he was a consultant to steamship companies.

Mr. Stettinius, who was a native of Baltimore, served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

He was a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club.

His marriage to the former Elizabeth Merriman ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, the former Mary Hall, of Middleburg; four children by his first marriage, Elizabeth Scott of Annapolis, William C. Stettinius of Norfolk, Josephine Murray of Baltimore and Edward T. Stettinius of New Orleans; two stepdaughters, Daphne Dunning and Catherine Zimmerman, both of Middleburg; three sisters, Achsah O'Donovan of Upperco, Md., Carol Gorman of Owings Mills, Md., and Elizabeth Young of Marion, Miss.; and nine grandchildren. An uncle, Edward R. Stettinius Jr., was a secretary of State under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

MURIEL F. ROSENBERGER

Capitol Hill Secretary

Muriel Frances Rosenberger, 89, a retired secretary and legislative aide to then-Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy (D-Minn.), died of congestive heart failure Sept. 29 at Fairfax Hospital. She lived in McLean.

She joined McCarthy's staff in 1958, when he was a member of the House of Representatives, and retired in 1965 from his Senate office.

Mrs. Rosenberger, who came here in the 1930s, was born in New Jersey and grew up in Minnesota. She attended the University of Minnesota before becoming a secretary in Los Angeles.

In the late 1920s, she moved to Chicago and became a secretary with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. She also worked for the union in Washington until joining McCarthy's staff.

Her husband, Robert C. Rosenberger, whom she married in 1945, died in 1978. She leaves no immediate survivors.