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Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Celebrating outstanding literary talent in Australia and the valuable contribution Australian writing makes to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

On Thursday 16 November, 2023, we announced the winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. The Awards are the richest literary prize in the nation, with a tax-free prize pool of $600,000 in recognition of the outstanding literary talents of established and emerging Australian writers, illustrators, poets, and historians. The winners were chosen by an independent panel of judges.

Many of this year’s winners have made their debut appearance in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Across six categories, the collected works explore themes of family, culture, Country, and belonging. From cattle stations to the halls of high school and from Country to the streets of Japan, the 2023 winners are a spectacular testament to the breadth of the Australian literary landscape, and the strength of Australian writing.

This is the first year that the awards have been delivered by Creative Australia, following the release of the Australian Government’s 2023 National Cultural Policy, Revive: a place for every story a story for every place. A total of 643 entries were received across six literary categories: fiction, non-fiction, young adult literature, children’s literature, poetry, and Australian history.

The National Library of Australia is the custodian and keeper of Australia’s literary achievements and as presenting partner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, it celebrates outstanding Australian literary work and culture.

2023 winners and shortlists

Fiction

WINNER
Cold Enough For Snow

Jessica Au

The Sun Walks Down
Fiona McFarlane

Losing Face
George Haddad

Other Houses
Paddy O’Reilly

The Lovers
Yumna Kassab

Children’s Literature

WINNER
Open Your Heart to Country
Jasmine Seymour

 

The Dunggiirr Brother and the Caring Song of the Whale

Aunty Shaa Smith

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Gabrielle Wang

11 Words for Love

Randa Abdel-Fattah, Maxine Beneba Clarke

 

My Strange, Shrinking Parents

Zeno Sworder

Non-fiction

WINNER
My Father and Other Animals
Sam Vincent

Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life

Brigitta Olubus

We Come With This Place

Debra Dank

Indelible City

Louisa Lim

A World in a Shell

Thom van Dooren

Young adult literature

WINNER
The Greatest Thing
Sarah Winifred Searle

Sugar

Carly Nugent

Ask No Questions

Eva Collins

The Upwelling

Lystra Rose

What We All Saw

Mike Lucas

Australian history

WINNER
Unmaking Angas Downs
Shannyn Palmer

Elizabeth and John

Alan Atkinson

Justice in Kelly Country

Lachlan Strahan

Saving the Reef

Rohan Lloyd

Black Lives, White Law

Russell Marks

Poetry

WINNER
At the Altar of Touch
Gavin Yuan Gao

Harvest Lingo

Lionel Fogarty

Exactly As I Am

Rae White

The Jaguar

Sarah Holland-Batt

Clean

Scott-Patrick Mitchell

The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards began in 2008. The Awards recognise individual excellence and the contribution Australian authors make to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

In 2008 and 2009, awards were given in fiction and non-fiction categories. In 2010, categories were introduced for young adult and children’s fiction. In 2012 the poetry category was added and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History was incorporated into the Awards. Previous winners of the award include Michelle de Kretser, Tara June Winch, Omar Sakr, Gerald Murnane, Nam Le, and Judith Brett.

On 30 January 2023 the Australian Government released its landmark National Cultural Policy—Revive: a place for every story, a story for every place. ‘Revive’ is a five-year plan to renew and revive Australia’s arts, entertainment and cultural sector, following the most difficult period for the sector in generations. ‘Revive’ is available at www.arts.gov.au/culturalpolicy.

One of the announcements in ‘Revive’ was the transfer of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (the Awards) to Creative Australia from July 2023 until Writers Australia is established in 2025. This move will ensure that the future delivery of the Awards aligns with the principles established under ‘Revive’ including that funding for the artists should be at arm’s length from the Government of the day.

Red Heaven (Winner)

Nicolas Rothwell

Shortlist year: 2022
Shortlist category: Fiction
Published by: Text Publishing

‘Red Heaven’ is the story of a child’s journey to adulthood, his loss of those he loves and his fixing of them in memory. It begins in the late 1960s in Switzerland, as the boy’s ideas about life are being shaped by two rival influences.

‘Red Heaven’ is about the people who make us what we are: how they come into our lives, affect us, then depart the stage. This fiction, alive to the elusive beauties and sadnesses of the world, is Nicolas Rothwell’s finest achievement.

Nicolas Rothwell

Nicolas Rothwell lives in Far North Queensland and is a former foreign correspondent. His award-winning books include ‘The Red Highway’, ‘Belomor’ and, most recently, ‘Quicksilver’. ‘Belemor’ and ‘Quicksilver’ were both awarded by the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Judges’ comments

Nicolas Rothwell’s ‘Red Heaven’ is a dazzling novel for the ages. Set mainly in the 1960s upheaval in Eastern Europe, it is as relevant today as it would have been then. It is an echoing reminder that history is the past, present and future. It is a romantic, dramatic, intelligent, cultured, political, cinematic, and, above all, human story that centres on the people who love us and who we love in return, regardless of the cost. It shows, via the main character, a parentless boy who becomes a solitary man, how deeply we are formed by the people closest to us.


Devotion

Hannah Kent

Shortlist year: 2022
Shortlist category: Fiction
Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia: Picador

Prussia, 1836
Hanne Nussbaum is a child of nature – she would rather run wild in the forest than conform to the limitations of womanhood. In her village of Kay, Hanne is friendless and considered an oddity . . . until she meets Thea.

Ocean, 1838
The Nussbaums are Old Lutherans, bound by God’s law and at odds with their King’s order for reform. Forced to flee religious persecution the families of Kay board a crowded, disease-riddled ship bound for the new colony of South Australia. In the face of brutal hardship, the beauty of whale song enters Hanne’s heart, along with the miracle of her love for Thea. Theirs is a bond that nothing can break.
The whale passed. The music faded.

South Australia, 1838
A new start in an old land. God, society and nature itself decree Hanne and Thea cannot be together. But within the impossible . . . is devotion.

Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent’s first novel, the international bestseller, ‘Burial Rites’ (2013), was translated into over 30 languages and won the Australian Book Industry Awards – Literary Fiction Book of the Year, the Indie Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year, the Australian Booksellers Association – Nielsen Bookdata Bookseller’s Choice Award, the Victorian Premier’s People’s Choice Award and the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christina Stead Award. It is currently being adapted for film by Sony TriStar. Hannah’s second novel, ‘The Good People’ (2016), was also translated into many languages and is currently being adapted for film by Aquarius Productions.

Judges’ comments

Hannah Kent’s ‘Devotion’ traces life in three parts through the eyes of Hanne. Religious bigotry at home (Prussia 1836) sees Old Lutherans – the Nussbaums, take to the seas (Ocean 1838) escaping persecution. South Australia 1838 was sold to them as a new start. Kent’s characters are always in place, the families, the land – its soil and trees, the animals – domesticated then wild, vividly evoked. Devotion is rooted in place and ethereal in rendition, it is the language of sound, light, and love that stays long after reading. Devotion between Hanne and Thea survives death and through Hanne’s spirit form we have panoptic vision of the colony encountering the original people – the Peramangk, without whom many of the newcomers would have died. There is magic here too. ‘Devotion’ demands attention and surrendering to it brings immense reward.


Night Blue

Angela O’Keeffe

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Transit Lounge

Potent, haunting and lyrical, Night Blue is a debut novel like no other, a narrative largely told in the voice of the painting Blue Poles. It is a truly original and absorbing approach to revisiting Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as artists and people, as well as a realigning our ideas around the cultural legacy of Whitlam’s purchase of Blue Poles in 1973.

It is also the story of Alyssa, and a contemporary relationship, in which Angela O’Keeffe immerses us in the essential power of art to change our personal lives and, by turns, a nation.

Moving between New York and Australia with fluid ease, Night Blue is intimate and tender, yet surprisingly dramatic. It is a glorious exploration of how art must never be undervalued.

Angela O’Keeffe

Angela O’Keeffe grew up on a farm in South East Queensland and now lives in Sydney. She completed a Master of Arts in Writing at University of Technology Sydney and has had short stories published in literary journals. Night Blue is her first book.

Judges’ comments

Angela O’Keeffe had a bold idea, to tell the story of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles from the perspective not of those who purchased or indeed gaze upon it, but that of the painting itself. It was unquestionably risky, and in our view, she has succeeded brilliantly.

O’Keeffe brings the artwork, Blue Poles, to glorious life in ‘Night Blue’ inviting the reader to journey with the masterpiece from its first home on the floor of an old barn in Long Island, New York, across the seas to Australia. It is a triumph of her own imagination, and an invitation to our own.

Purchased for a record price in 1973, Blue Poles generated much controversy and debate about art and cultural life in Australia, at a time of political and creative tumult. Today, the painting is considered both beautiful and tremendously satisfying; something to devour. So, too, this slim novel, in which O’Keeffe takes on important themes including the disturbing behaviour of famous artists across history; the Dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor General; and the purpose and the value of art. Blue Poles learns, as it journeys, much about itself; we learn, in this novel, as much about the country we once were, and still hope to be.


The Hands of Pianists

Stephen Downes

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Fomite

A neurotic freelance writer aims to prove that pianos kill elite pianists. For decades, he has grappled with the guilt that followed an accident in which he severed his talented sister’s fingers, ending her promising career at the keyboard. His investigations centre on the violent deaths at 31 of three great pianists, his detective work taking him from Melbourne to Geelong and Sydney, to the south of France, London, Sussex, and the Czech Republic.

Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes’s short story ‘Last Meal’ won the 2020 United Kingdom Fiction Factory’s prize, and five of his recent stories have been longlisted and shortlisted in prestigious UK competitions, including the Bridport and Fish prizes. A few of his food-themed non-fiction books have won Australian and international awards. A lifelong writer and journalist, he reviewed restaurants weekly over many years for some of Australia’s top newspapers, including The Australian Financial Review. Salaried at The Age, he was a section editor and leader and feature writer. He covered a Middle-East war for Agence France-Presse and a Pacific uprising for The Age.

Judges’ comments

Stephen Downes’ ‘The Hands of Pianists’ is an extraordinary piece of fiction which rehearses the shadows and startling insights of a quest to fathom the disturbing hypothesis of the talented pianist as the victim of a predestined doom. The book has a brilliant sense of darkness and an irresistible dramatic power. It is manifestly influenced by the great German re-animator of the actual W.G. Sebald but Downes’ use of Sebald’s fictional idiom and strategies is something he makes his own with a virtuoso assurance that actually brings to mind the great seventeenth century dramatists who were the peers of Shakespeare because they wore his influence like a glove from which they could achieve mighty things. ‘The Hands of Pianists’ is a patently mad book by a writer of the very first rank who can conjure multitudes of felt realities even as his narrator probes the darkest and most deranged reaches of self-scrutiny. This is a debut novel by a man of 74 who has spent a lifetime writing with great élan and authority about food. It may be far from everyday taste but it reminds us of why Thomas Bernhard and WG Sebald are among the greater writers since World War II because of the ways in which it equals them.


Dark as Last Night

Tony Birch

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: University of Queensland Press

Dark as Last Night’ confirms, once again, that Tony Birch is a master of the short story. These exceptional stories capture the importance of human connection at pivotal moments in our lives, whether those occur because of the loss of a loved one or the uncertainties of childhood.

In this collection we witness a young girl struggling to protect her mother from her father’s violence, two teenagers clumsily getting to know one another by way of a shared love of music, and a man mourning the death of his younger brother, while beset by memories and regrets from their shared past.

Throughout this powerful collection, Birch’s concern for the humanity of those who are often marginalised or overlooked shines bright.

Tony Birch

Tony Birch is an Indigenous author of three novels: the bestselling ‘The White Girl’, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Prize; ‘Ghost River’, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and ‘Blood’, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. He is also the author of ‘Shadowboxing’ and four short story collections. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist.

Judges’ comments

‘Dark as Last Night’, a volume of short stories by an Aboriginal writer about marginal lives and working class people is likely to become an Australian classic. Tony Birch has been described as “more like Chekhov, than Carver”. He is sometimes brutal, sometimes tender, and always empathetic. Half in love with most of his characters, he is sharply insightful about those he doesn’t love: the husband and father who beats his wife and daughter; or the neighbourhood kids who steal a child’s much loved “shining red dragster bike”, and smash it up after they are confronted. Birch has a wonderful ability to bring his stories to life with a bizarre but telling detail. A short, pencil thin woman, known as “Little Red” befriends the young female narrator of the title story “Dark as Last Night”. Little Red recommends smoking to her young friend – “Cigarettes calm you down”. She lives in a house, where a previous inhabitant papered the walls with old newspapers, stretching back decades. The landlord had offered to paint over them. She said no. She tells the narrator why: “I now have all these stories from around the world. They give me company.” These stories will give us company for a long time. Birch is a master story teller.


Mina and the Whole Wide World (Winner)

Sherryl Clark, Briony Stewart

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Children’s literature

Published by: University of Queensland Press

Mina wants her own bedroom more than anything else in the whole wide world. And it’s almost ready! Just one more lick of sunny yellow paint and it’s hers.But when Mina’s parents take in an unexpected guest, they give her room away. At first, Mina is too upset to speak. She doesn’t care that this new boy, Azzami, needs a place to stay.At school, the other kids call Azzami names, and Mina wishes he’d stand up for himself. Then she sees his drawings, and for the first time really thinks about the life of the quiet boy in front of her.Here is a story about finding friendship where you least expect it and making room for everyone across this big wide world.

About the author: Sherryl Clark

Sherryl Clark is a writer, editor and writing teacher with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and a PhD in Creative Writing. She has been writing poems and stories for children for over twenty years. Her verse novel, ‘Farm Kid’, won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Children’s Books in 2005 and ‘Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!)’ was an Honour Book in the 2008 CBCA Awards. Sherryl worked in community writing for many years and taught professional writing and editing at Victoria University TAFE for over two decades. She now writes full-time.

About the illustrator: Briony Stewart

Briony Stewart was born in Perth back when Ninja Turtles were ‘the coolest’. With a father in Zoology and an artistic mother, Briony decided she was either going to grow up to be a traveling entomologist or a famous artist like Picasso.Briony’s first book, ‘Kumiko and the Dragon’ published soon after she graduated won the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children’s Short Fiction. Since then, Briony has received an arts grant for artists under 25 to develop as a children’s author and illustrator with the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust in Melbourne, has presented at libraries and festivals and has held three successful exhibitions of her illustrated work.
Judges’ comments
This deftly crafted verse novel tells a powerful story with depth and authenticity. We see and hear this story through Mina’s eyes and voice, a young girl who can’t wait to move into her own room. Her disappointment when her parents tell her that her long-awaited room will now be inhabited by a refugee boy, is acute, and stops Mina from engaging with Azzami. But gradually her resentment changes to curiosity as she starts to see things from Azzami’s point of view and wonders about his life and what has brought him here. Sherryl Clark evokes Mina’s family life, her parents’ values and attitudes, and Mina’s emotional struggles as she faces a situation where she needs to act, to right a wrong. Mina’s voice is poetic and well-pitched and Briony Stewart’s illustrations are a highlight, using marvelously expressive body language and unusual perspectives to eloquently express an important theme of this book: that pictures can be a profound form of communication when words are too hard to find. This is an outstanding example of a verse novel for younger readers; a slim yet satisfying story that opens up a world of ideas with plenty of space for children to imagine, empathise and ponder complex issues and feelings.

The Boy and the Elephant

Freya Blackwood

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Children’s literature

Published by: HarperCollins Publishers: Angus & Robertson

The boy lives in a city, where everything is fast and loud. But amidst the bustle and the noise, the boy has a secret…

In the overgrown lot next to his apartment building, deep within the green, he has a friend.

But one day progress arrives, bringing with it plans for something new, and the boy must find a way to save his friend before it’s too late…

From award-winning illustrator and storyteller Freya Blackwood comes a magical and tender wordless picture book about the world we live in and our ability to change it.

Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood is a multi-award-winning illustrator and writer. Her books are beloved for her warm and perceptive drawings. Freya has worked with writers such as Libby Gleeson, Margaret Wild, Jan Ormerod, Nick Bland and Danny Parker.

In 2010, Freya won the UK’s most prestigious prize for illustrators, the Kate Greenaway Medal, for her book ‘Harry and Hopper’. And in 2015 she did what no other creator has ever done, taking out three CBCA Book of the Year awards in a single year. ‘The Unwilling Twin’ was shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year in the 2021 CBCA Awards.

Judges’ comments

Freya Blackwood’s wordless picture book, ‘The Boy and the Elephant’, is a powerful testament to a number of ideas: that even the smallest and youngest of us can make a difference; that wonder and hope can be found in the most unexpected places; that the natural world is a precious and fragile thing; and the universal adage concerning pictures being worth more than their weight in words.

Blackwood’s unmistakable illustrative style is light and nimble, whilst reminding us, through her trademark sketch lines, that hers is a mind busy and driven with ideas, purpose and intent. Perhaps most impressive is her ability to convey such a broad range of body language and emotion in the space of a handful of frames, using little more than form and some carefully chosen yet simple facial features.

Blackwood’s inclusion of such subtle character and world details will reward the attentive young reader, and the thoughtful older reader. Along with the larger themes within the story, these details encourage conversation when shared with an adult, perhaps more-so because of the lack of written text. For all these reasons and more, this triumph of visual literacy will reward repeated and careful readings.


Exit Through the Gift Shop

Maryam Master, Astred Hicks

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Children’s literature

Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia

Anahita Rosalind Ghorban-Galaszczuk (yes, that really is her name but you can call her Ana) is discovering that life is absurd. As if dying of cancer at the age of 12.5 isn’t bad enough, she still has to endure daily insults from her nemesis, Alyssa (Queen Mean) Anderson.

Ana’s on a wild roller-coaster of life and death, kindness and cruelty, ordinary and extraordinary.

And she’s got a few things to do before she exits . . .

About the author: Maryam Master

Maryam Master was born in Iran and moved to Australia when she was nine. She is a screenwriter and playwright who loves creating shows for young audiences.

Maryam has adapted three of David Walliams’ books for the stage – ‘Mr Stink’, ‘Billionaire Boy’ and ‘The Midnight Gang’ – as well as Oliver Jeffers’ ‘The Incredible Book Eating Boy’, all of which premiered at the Sydney Opera House and toured across Australia. She also collaborated with Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs on ‘Horrible Harriet: Live on Stage’.

‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ is her first novel.

About the author: Astred Hicks

Astred is a Sydney-based freelance book designer who has worked with most of the publishers in Australia – and a few internationally – at some point in her 15-year career as a graphic designer.

Astred has had the pleasure of collaborating with many talented editors, designers, publishers, photographers, stylists, project managers and authors in the Australian publishing industry during her 11-year career as a book designer.

Judges’ comments

Twelve-and-a-half-year-old Anahita Rosalind Ghorban-Galaszczuk, has Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Her bestie Al likes to call it “the bad one”, even if it sends his mind into a spin. “Why call it a ‘non’ cancer when it’s actually worse than the original?”

This open hearted and generous book tracks the last year of Ana’s life; the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful and the challenging. Taking up space in her life are her super-supportive divorced parents, a blended family with multiple step-siblings, and her nemesis and tormentor “Butt Breath” Alyssa who crosses a line when she finds out about Ana’s cancer. Ana must decide how she wants to fight back, and what she’s willing to lose.

Ana copes by switching channels with the remote control of her brain. Her “mental dance breaks”, descriptions of nouns and adjectives, various lists, quirky illustrations and the humorous voice and wit throughout form a wonderful combination of storytelling that lifts the spirits in the darker moments and helps contextualise Ana’s plight.

Witty, vibrant and achingly beautiful, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ dissects the thin line between life and death with humour and hope, while asking important questions about what it means to live, what it means to forgive and perhaps most powerfully, “how to make ‘living’ a form of art.”


Common Wealth

Gregg Dreise

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Children’s literature

Published by: Scholastic Australia

A picture book for older readers, from multi award-winning author and artist, Gregg Dreise – a proud descendant of the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people.

This is a valuable resource for discussion about the importance of moving forward together as a nation, with truth and respect for our history and Traditional Custodians. It provides timely themes for National Sorry Day (26 May 2021) and NAIDOC Week including: First Nations history; Australian history; Australia Day; Australian anthem; unity; community.

A slam poetry persuasive and powerful vision of unity from award-winning First Nations creator Gregg Dreise. Passionate and peaceful, ‘Common Wealth’ is a compelling plea for a future of truth, togetherness and respect for our nation’s deep history.

All that I’m wishing,
Is that you take a moment to listen . . .
You see, I’m on a mission,
to spread unity – not division.

Gregg Dreise

Gregg Dreise is an award-winning author, artist and musician. He began writing poems as song lyrics for his band, and later developed a taste for telling old yarns, especially around a campfire. Gregg plays the didgeridoo and guitar in his lively performances at schools, libraries and festivals. He is a proud descendant of the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people of south-west Queensland and north-west New South Wales.

Judges’ comments

A beautiful tribute to the possibilities of a united future for our country; a new story, a new flag, a ‘Common Wealth’. Through Grieving, Believing, Achieving and Receiving, Dreise’s ‘slam poetry persuasive’ picture book for older readers proposes a unified intercultural nation and a culture of respect, listening and sharing.

Written in compelling, contemporary poetic language, ‘Common Wealth’ provides an honest overview of the past 200 years in Australian history. Drawing on the words of our national anthem and what they denote for Aboriginal people in particular, ideas are proposed for a better future.

Gregg Dreise illustrates his deftly woven poetry with traditional and contemporary iconography, presenting a plea for listening, respect, sharing, and togetherness across all cultural backgrounds. Inclusion, history, truth-telling, sustainability and care for each other in community are central themes.

Whilst acknowledging positive change and the values of mateship, and the spirit of ‘lending a hand’ for which Australians are known, this powerful work calls for a new paradigm, in a vision from the oldest culture in the world for a true Commonwealth.


Dragon Skin

Karen Foxlee

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Children’s literature

Published by: Allen & Unwin

How to save a dragon:

  1. Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
  2. Believe in everything.

Pip never wants to go home. She likes to sit at the waterhole at dusk and remember Mika, her best friend. At home her mother’s not the same since her boyfriend moved in. They don’t laugh anymore and Pip has to go to bed early, turn off her light and pretend she doesn’t exist. When she finds a half-dead creature at the waterhole, everything changes. She knows she has to save this small dragon and return it to where it comes from. But how?

A story about surviving and saving those you love, by the multi-award-winning author of ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’.

Karen Foxlee

Karen Foxlee is an Australian author who writes for both kids and young adults. Karen’s second novel for younger readers, ‘A Most Magical Girl’, won the Readings Children’s Fiction Prize in 2017 and was CBCA short-listed the same year. Her next book was the internationally successful ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’, which has won multiple awards including the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, the Indies Book Award, the Queensland Literary Award, was a CBCA Honour Book and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Karen lives in South East Queensland with her daughter and several animals.

Judges’ comments

Pip and her mother live with her mother’s controlling boyfriend in an isolated mining town. Mourning the recent death of a close friend, Pip finds an injured baby dragon and decides to protect it. Doing so draws her into a small circle of unlikely allies. As Pip and her friends work together to save “little fellah”, and help him return to his own world, she and her mother also find courage and healing within themselves.

There is much to love about this elegant work. The writing is assured and evocative and the use of the outback landscape with its moods and mercurial nature as a mirror for the inner turmoil of the characters is beautifully evinced. What sets it apart is the deft way that the line between fantasy and reality is navigated, so that the reader is never entirely sure where the allegory of the dragon begins and ends. The result is a remarkable piece of Australian children’s writing.

‘Dragon Skin’ is a beautifully crafted, engaging and literary novel for middle school readers which will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Rogue Forces: An explosive insiders’ account of Australian SAS war crimes in Afghanistan (Winner)

Mark Willacy

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Simon & Schuster Australia

Mark Willacy, who won a Gold Walkley for exposing SAS war crimes, has penetrated the SAS code of silence to reveal one of the darkest chapters in our country’s military history.

Willacy’s devastating award-winning Four Corners program, ‘Killing Fields’ captured on film for the first time a war crime perpetrated by an Australian: the killing of a terrified, unarmed Afghan man in a field by an SAS soldier. It caused shockwaves around the world and resulted in an Australian Federal Police war crimes investigation. It also sparked a new line of investigation by the Brereton inquiry, the independent Australian Defence Force inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan. It was a game changer.

But for Willacy, it was just the beginning of a much bigger story. More SAS soldiers came forward with undeniable evidence and eyewitness testimony of other unlawful killings, and exposed a culture of brutality and impunity.

‘Rogue Forces’ takes you out on the patrols where the killings happened. The result is a gripping character-driven story that embeds you on the front line in the thick of the action as those soldiers share for the first time what they witnessed. Willacy also confronts those accused about their sides of the story.

At its heart, ‘Rogue Forces’ is a story about the true heroes who had the courage to come forward and expose the truth.

This is their story. A story that had to be told.

Mark Willacy

Mark Willacy has been a journalist for more than 25 years and reported for the ABC from more than 30 countries. Mark is a seven-time Walkley Award winner and in 2020 he was awarded Australia’s highest honour in journalism, the Gold Walkley, for exposing alleged Australian SAS war crimes in Afghanistan. His winning Four Corners report ‘Killing Field’ made headlines around the world and sparked a federal police war crimes investigation. Mark has twice been named Queensland Journalist of the Year and in 2019 he won a Logie Award for his Four Corners’ world exclusive on the Thai cave rescue.

Judges’ comments

In often-disturbing detail Mark Willacy chronicles a series of unlawful killings by elements within Australia’s elite Special Air Services Regiment during its long deployment to Afghanistan. Challenging deeply-held, laudatory views of Australia’s military tradition, Willacy explains that the crimes committed cannot be excused as a consequence of the fog of war. Rather, there was a serious, sometimes-fatal breakdown of military discipline that saw non-commissioned officers exercise unrestrained authority – and which complicated and even compromised the task of winning the hearts and minds of the very people the SAS was ostensibly defending.

In part, this breakdown of the chain of command reflected the nature of the SAS’s mission in Afghanistan, where small groups of special forces soldiers were deployed in remote areas, far from centres of command. As Willacy demonstrates, however, the crimes committed in Afghanistan had deeper origins, that were evident in the adulation heaped upon the SAS and which encouraged a corrupted warrior culture that was sharply at odds with the moral order the Regiment was ostensibly representing. Yet, crucially, Willacy’s account is only possible due to the courage of those members of the military who remained true to their principles and who spoke out against the wrongs that had been committed. Ostracized and sometimes fearful for their own safety, these whistle-blowers emerge as real heroes from Australia’s painful intervention in Afghanistan. This is a confronting, but important book.


Another Day in the Colony

Chelsea Watego

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: University of Queensland Press

In this collection of deeply insightful and powerful essays, Chelsea Watego examines the ongoing and daily racism faced by First Nations peoples in so-called Australia. Rather than offer yet another account of ‘the Aboriginal problem’, she theorises a strategy for living in a society that has only ever imagined Indigenous peoples as destined to die out.

Drawing on her own experiences and observations of the operations of the colony, she exposes the lies that settlers tell about Indigenous people. In refusing such stories, Chelsea narrates her own: fierce, personal, sometimes funny, sometimes anguished. She speaks not of fighting back but of standing her ground against colonialism in academia, in court and in the media. It’s a stance that takes its toll on relationships, career prospects and even the body.

Yet when told to have hope, Watego’s response rings clear: Fuck hope. Be sovereign.

Chelsea Watego

Chelsea Watego is a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman born and raised on Yuggera country. First trained as an Aboriginal health worker, she is an Indigenist health humanities scholar, prolific writer and public intellectual. When not referred to as ‘Vern and Elaine’s baby’, she is also Kihi, Maya, Eliakim, Vernon and George’s mum.

Judges’ comments

“Once we were massacred, now we are researched.” These six essays, written to Blackfullas from the embodied knowledge of an urban Indigenous woman, address the everyday and disavow double consciousness. The author discards being “a problem” for being “sovereign” and “funny”. She rejects the politics of politeness and writes in the tradition of Du Bois and Deloria. No one, White or Black gets a free pass except the Indigenous community of Inala, a Brisbane suburb. Police ask a white woman if her parents know she is with “him”, her Indigenous husband; they arrest a female member of a police liaison committee, and arrest and assault a female professor. Without permission, schools dress urban Aboriginal children in lap laps to entice female teachers to remote Queensland. The health sciences “bury the bodies of a dying race”. The humanities pillage graves. There is a speaking circuit of cannibalistic white writers, expert on Aborigines. “DNA Aborigines” perform indigeneity and are the new Native Police measuring themselves by proximity to whiteness. Professor Watego contests “consumable Aboriginal culture.” Hope, she says, is for Whitefellas; Blackfullas must turn up, tell the truth, and live in an Indigenous sovereign present – with joy.


‘Title Fight: How the Yindjibarndi battled and defeated a mining giant’

Paul Cleary

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Schwartz Books: Black Inc.

‘Title Fight’ reveals the real impact of industrial scale iron ore mining on Indigenous Australians and their ancient heritage. It tells how Fortescue Metals, one of Australia’s biggest businesses, has used Wild West tactics to mine more than $20 billion of iron ore despite having no agreement in place with the native title holders. It tells how small group of Yindjibarndi people, whose leader Michael Woodley left school in sixth grade, waged a tenacious 13-year battle to defend their Country and went all the way to the High Court to do so.

At a moment of national reckoning with our colonial and ancient past, with our relationship to the land, ‘Title Fight’ asks some critical questions: Who does the land belong to? Who gets to choose what it’s used for? And whose side are we on?

Paul Cleary

Paul Cleary began his career with the Fairfax press, leading to a decade of economic policy reporting in the Canberra press gallery. After studying in the UK as a Chevening Scholar, he became an adviser to Timor-Leste on resource negotiations. His work has focused on resource conflicts and policy, and his books include ‘Trillion Dollar Baby’, ‘Mine-Field’, ‘Shakedown’ and ‘Too Much Luck’, which The New Yorker described as a ‘fierce, concise book’ that investigated how the resources boom was being ‘classically mismanaged’. In recent years he has worked with and written about the First Peoples of Australia.

Judges’ comments

In the past 20 years Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has been associated with Aboriginal reconciliation, jobs for young Aboriginal workers, welfare reform and the cashless welfare card and now Green Hydrogen. Forrest, his Fortescue Metals Group and charitable Minderoo Foundation have waged a relentless public relations campaign through the Australian media. Now journalist Paul Cleary tells the other side of the story of the Fortescue miracle. In ‘Title Fight, How the Yindjibarndi Battled and Defeated a Mining Giant’, Cleary details the tough-minded tactics used by Australia’s richest man to exploit the iron ore resources of Western Australia’s Pilbara region by strong-arming Native Title holders and claimants. Fortescue Metals Group’s Pilbara operations pay royalties about a tenth of those of its Pilbara rivals, Rio Tinto and BHP. But things have not all gone Fortescue’s way. It ran into a 30-year-old, grade six educated traditional owner of the Yindjibarndi people, Michael Woodley. Financially and legally outgunned, Woodley led his people to victory over Fortescue Metals Group in a gruelling 13-year battle that culminated in a High Court ruling in 2020 supporting the 2017 Federal Court judgement by Justice Steven Rares finding in favour of the Yindjibarndi. Lawyers are now negotiating a settlement expected to run to hundreds of millions of dollars. Long before the national outcry over Rio Tinto’s destruction in 2020 of the Juukan Gorge, Woodley was fighting to defend his people’s spiritual connection to the Pilbara. And he won.


‘The Case that Stopped a Nation: The Archibald Prize controversy of 1944’

Peter Edwell

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Halstead Press

A thorough telling of the 1944 Archibald prize scandal involving William Dobell’s winning portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith, and the court case that ensued. Features a who’s who of the Australian arts scene in the first half of the 20th century.

Peter Edwell

Peter Edwell lectures in history and archaeology at Macquarie University. His previous book was ‘Rome and Persia at War’. Honing his skills as an ancient historian was ideal training for writing ‘The Case that Stopped a Nation’. He lives in Wollongong with his young family.

Judges’ comments

When the Archibald Prize was awarded to William Dobell for his portrait of Joshua Smith in 1944, it sparked huge controversy. Was it art or caricature? The modernist painting not only shocked Australians but made international news. Australians, many who had never visited the Art Gallery of NSW, lined up in huge numbers to see the painting for themselves. In this compelling book, Peter Edwell takes readers into the art world, the corridors of power, examines media coverage and the subsequent dramatic court case that captivated a nation. The book examines the controversy from multiple angles: the artist and his subject, the trustees of the Art Gallery and the wider artistic community, and the court case that put Dobell and his art on trial initiated by artists Mary Edwell-Burke and Joseph Wolinski, assisted by counsel Garfield Barwick. Edwell reveals unknown aspects of this story, including a previously unpublished oil on paper study of Smith by Dobell. It is the only complete study of the dispute that echoes to this day. Accordingly, this book about the portrait that shocked and stunned a nation and the impact it had on Dobell, makes a substantial contribution to Australian art history.

‘Puff Piece’

John Safran

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Penguin Random House Australia: Hamish Hamilton

The folks that bring you Marlboro – Philip Morris – are wheezing, slowly dying. Cigarettes are out of favour with everyone, from world governments and investors to, increasingly, smokers. So, what’s their plan?

Prepare to be dazzled. Or, at the very least, befuddled.

Philip Morris has announced they will shut down as a cigarette company, and relaunch as a health enterprise, dedicated to convincing the one billion smokers of the world to quit.

The ever-curious John Safran leaves his apartment to find out what on God’s green earth is going on. As he starts digging away he discovers a company up to brand new shenanigans, wangling their way into unexpected places, desperately trying to keep their tobacco business alive by brandishing a mysterious new doohickey called an IQOS.

And not only that, now they’re upending language itself, changing the meaning of words. Will they slip past bans by convincing governments they don’t sell ‘cigarettes’ but rather ‘HeatSticks’, and that these don’t emit ‘smoke’ but ‘aerosol’? Can John get the real story out of them without his life catching fire?

Wild, hilarious and thought-provoking, ‘Puff Piece’ is a probing look into Big Tobacco and the vaping industry, and how words can be literally a matter of life and death.

John Safran

John Safran is a writer and filmmaker who always gets in too deep for his own good. His debut book, ‘Murder in Mississippi’, won the Ned Kelly Award for best true crime. His follow up, ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist’, found him lost among radicals and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards. His wild and hilarious documentaries, such as ‘John Safran vs God’ and ‘Jedis & Juggalos’, have received accolades from the Australian Film Institute and Rose d’Or Festival. His latest book is Puff Piece: How Philip Morris set vaping alight (and burned down the English language)’.

Judges’ comments

In ‘Puff Piece’, John Safran skewers the “sneaky” strategy of Fortune 500 company Philip Morris to keep smokers addicted to its cancer-causing cigarettes in a future consumer and investment environment more logically highly toxic for the prospects of Big Tobacco. In this slippery David and Goliath epic nothing is as it first seems. Under Philip Morris’s ‘unsmoke the world’ scenario, smokers switch to its new IQOS HeatStick, a tobacco heating device it claims produces aerosol rather than smoke, Nicotine Free Dry Particulate Matter rather than tar and fewer chemical hazards than traditional cigarettes. In compelling, fluent, and always entertaining prose, Safran demonstrates that this is nothing more than amoral Big Tobacco puffery designed to evade tightening regulation of smoking. The HeatStick is indeed a smoke and tar producing cigarette, he shows, one just as addictive as Marlboros. With something like 8 million people a year dying from smoking, according to his tally, Safran is justified in demanding to know why the tobacco giant’s deadly manipulation of language and science to secure its future profit share is being allowed to pass (virtually) unremarked. Is it because our attention has shifted from corporate misbehaviour to hotter issues such as Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and climate change? “Philip Morris is committing double homicide,” Safran concludes. “They’re killing us with cigarettes, but they’re also lulling us into apathy – we’re bored to death by the matter.” If we “zone out” as a result, “that’s not on Philip Morris, that’s on us”.


‘The Gaps’ (Winner)

Leanne Hall

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Text Publishing

When sixteen-year-old Yin Mitchell is abducted, the news reverberates through the whole Year Ten class at Balmoral Ladies College. As the hours tick by, the girls know the chance of Yin being found alive is becoming smaller and smaller.

Everyone is affected by Yin’s disappearance – even scholarship student Chloe, who usually stays out of Balmoral dramas, is drawn into the maelstrom. And when she begins to form an uneasy alliance with Natalia, the queen of Year Ten, things get even more complicated.

A tribute to friendship in all its guises, ‘The Gaps’ is a moving examination of vulnerability and strength, safety and danger, and the particular uncertainties young women face in the world.

Leanne Hall

Leanne Hall is an author of young adult and children’s fiction. Her debut novel, ‘This Is Shyness’, won the Text Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing, and was followed by a sequel, ‘Queen of the Night’. Her novel for younger readers, ‘Iris and the Tiger’, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature at the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Leanne works as a children’s and YA specialist at an independent bookshop.

Judges’ comments

This complex and absorbing dual narrative psychological thriller begins with the news that Yin Mitchell, a Year 10 student from the exclusive private girls’ school Balmoral, has been abducted. Rumours swirl, as suspicion and fear spread amongst the girls and their families

Scholarship student Chloe has been at Balmoral for six months, and still feels like an outsider, caught between her old life at the local high school, and the privileged, high achieving culture of Balmoral. Natalia is the queen of Year 10, haughty, commanding, fierce and outspoken. As time goes on, and hope that Yin will be found safe starts to dwindle, Chloe and Natalia are drawn together through Chloe’s art project, with Natalie agreeing to be photographed. This act of self-expression is motivated by Chloe’s desire to critique how society fetishises teenage girls, and has unexpected consequences not only for Chloe and Natalia, but for the whole school community. As Natalia’s invincible façade starts to unravel, Chloe learns of Natalia’s long connection to Yin, and both girls have to face the reality of Yin’s fate.

Chloe and Natalia’s evolving friendship is portrayed with aching authenticity, as is the depiction of their families and the school environment. Each, in distinct and perfectly drawn voices, confronts their own vulnerability, rage, fear, guilt, grief, somehow finding resilience in the face of a world that seems to want “their teenage girls ruined”. Readers will find this book confronting yet compelling, and parents of teen girls would do well to process the truths contained and prosecuted therein.


‘Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s immigration detention system’

Safdar Ahmed

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Twelve Panels Press

In early 2011, Safdar Ahmed visited Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre for the first time. He brought pencils and sketchbooks into the centre and started drawing with the people detained there. Their stories are told in this book.

Interweaving journalism, history and autobiography, ‘Still Alive’ is an intensely personal indictment of Australia’s refugee detention policies and procedures. It is also a searching reflection on the redemptive power of art. And death metal.

Safdar Ahmed

Safdar Ahmed is a Sydney-based artist, musician and educator. He is a founding member of the community art organisation Refugee Art Project, and member of eleven, a collective of contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and writers. He is the author of ‘Reform and Modernity in Islam’ (2013) and the Walkley Award–winning documentary web-comic ‘Villawood: Notes from an immigration detention centre’ (2015). He also sings and plays guitar with the anti-racist death metal band Hazeen.

Judges’ comments

This confronting work of graphic non-fiction stands as a powerful statement about the impact of Australia’s refugee politics in recent decades. Both the writing and the art are unadorned – the images and text work together to illuminate the lived reality of life under Australia’s refugee system. It is uncompromising in its account of the forces and agendas which have seen attitudes towards refugee communities manipulated for various ends.

‘Still Alive’ does not shy away from uncomfortable and difficult questions; bringing together the voices and art of refugees and their advocates with a forensic account of Australian refugee policy. It evokes the idea of horror in art and music as a motif to convey the idea of abjection and to portray the impact it has upon the mental and physical health of those caught in the system.

The work is illustrated in black and white, however it refuses to take a similarly binary approach to its subject matter. Instead, the moral and ethical questions raised are treated with nuance; refugees are neither valorised nor demonised but are portrayed as humans; messy, complex and lost as they struggle to maintain their connections and a sense of self in a system designed to silence and conceal their stories.

Towards the end of the work, Ahmed asks the reader; “As an Australian citizen, aren’t I implicated in the abuses of my government? Aren’t we all?” It is this feature of the book – the way it raises significant questions of culpability without didacticism or judgement, and asks the readers to carefully consider their own standpoint – that makes it an important and powerful piece of cultural memory. As a work of literature ‘Still Alive’ is a significant contribution to the ongoing national conversation.


100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze

Clayton Zane Comber

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: HarperCollins Publishers: Angus & Robertson

Xander Maze loves lists, and his grandmother is #1 on his list of People I Love Most in the World. But now that Nanna has stage 4 cancer, can a new list of 100 Remarkable Feats really save her?

Particularly when his list contains difficult things like #2 Make a Friend and #3 Make a Best Friend – plus #10 Kiss a Girl (preferably Ally Collins, the girl of Xander’s dreams).

Funny, moving and with a protagonist you can’t help but fall in love with, ‘100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze’ is a book about:

  1. never accepting the unacceptable
  2. the power of lists
  3. one boy’s unconditional love for his nanna.

Clayton Zane Comber

Clayton Zane Comber is a writer from the South Coast of NSW who has held many varied roles, including a lawyer, optical dispenser, club DJ, creative writing tutor and saxophonist in a Chinese restaurant.

He received his MA from Sydney University, before studying in the UK and graduating from Oxford University with distinction for his Master’s in Creative Writing.

In 2017, Clayton’s varied roles eventuated in him opening Bouquiniste Bookstore Cafe Wine Bar, where he is the licensee, book curator, occasional DJ and head dishwasher.

His debut novel, ‘Shooting Stars’, was published by Odyssey Books in 2011.

Judges’ comments

Fifteen-year-old Xander Maze has a unique understanding of the world and struggles with small talk “– talk which has no guidance or purpose”. He also needs his grandmother, who has terminal cancer, to live. So, when his grandma suggests that Xander should compile a list of one hundred acts, big or small, to help her and enhance his life, Xander believes his list will save her life.

He dives in, adding things like “assist police with an investigation, drive a car, stand up to Tyson Hunt and Corey Timms, remember something about dad, add memories to my memory list”, a clever technique that provides the reader with both story direction and clues to who Xander is, and who he wants to be. When his grandma posts the list publicly, Xander’s structured and literal world is blown wide open and two wonderfully smart and quirky outcasts are invited in. With their help, and with every feat Xander ticks off his list, he inches ever closer to being himself in a world where he is easily misunderstood. And the path to get there is much more remarkable than just a list. Like the book itself, it is full of heart, kindness and compassion, and celebrates the courage one must find to stand up for oneself, and for what is right.

Tell Me Why for Young Adults

Archie Roach

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Simon & Schuster Australia

 

‘There are many Australian stories, and mine is just one about what happened to me and other First Peoples of this country. It’s important for me to tell my story – because it’s not just part of my healing but of this country’s as well. We all have a story and as you read this book I would like you to think of your own story, what that means and who is also a part of your story.’

In his inspirational, highly acclaimed memoir – and including reflections from First Nations Elders and young people – Archie Roach tells the story of his life and his music. Only two when he was forcibly removed from his family, and brought up by a series of foster parents until his early teens, Archie’s world imploded when he received a letter that spoke of a life he had no memory of. It took him almost a lifetime to find out who he really was.

‘Tell Me Why’ is an unforgettable story of resilience, strength of spirit and hope.

Archie Roach

Archie Roach’s song ‘Took the Children Away’ won an International Human Rights Achievement Award and his first album Charcoal Lane featured in US Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 in 1992, going gold in Australia and winning two ARIA awards. Archie’s recording history – including 12 albums, soundtracks, film and theatrical scores – has been hugely successful, hitting ARIA charts and winning awards, year in, year out. (Since publication of ‘Tell Me Why’ the author has passed away).

Judges’ comments

‘Tell Me Why for Young Adults’ is the heart-wrenching abridged version of Archie Roach’s highly acclaimed memoir. Archie Roach relates the experience of what happened to him and other First Nations People in our contemporary times. He implores us to think of our own story as he tells of his, both tragic and uplifting, through his life and music.

The book is framed by his musical lyrics and, opening with ‘Took the Children Away’, each chapter is a tribute to his resilience in overcoming trauma that is still being felt by his children and grandchildren – shared with his great love, musician Ruby Hunter. In this edition he asks both elders and young people to tell their own stories of stolen generations.

It takes almost a lifetime for Archie Roach to discover who he is. Throughout his journey, he questions why he and other children were forcibly taken (stolen) from their families and put into mission and foster homes. ‘Tell Me Why’ is a story of intergenerational trauma, resilience, strength of purpose, consequence and connection, that ultimately speaks of hope, belonging, and healing.

In this edition, Archie Roach has gifted us a deeper yet accessible understanding of the impact of colonial policy on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, and on the lives of young people in particular. Told with grace and dignity, his story shares how these challenges can be addressed by connection to country, people and family through music, storytelling, conviction and love.

Tiger Daughter

Rebecca Lim

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Allen & Unwin

What I feel most days is that nothing is ever going to change. That my life won’t even start, and that I’ll be stuck like this forever.

Wen Zhou is the daughter and only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be not so lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao – whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants – both dream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.

‘Tiger Daughter’ is a novel that will grab hold of you and not let go.

Rebecca Lim

Rebecca Lim is an Australian writer, illustrator, editor and lawyer. She is the author of over twenty books, including ‘The Astrologer’s Daughter’, a Kirkus Best Book of 2015 and CBCA Notable Book for Older Readers, ‘Wraith’ and the internationally bestselling ‘Mercy’. Rebecca is a co-founder of the Voices from the Intersection initiative to support emerging young adult and children’s authors and illustrators who are First Nations, People of Colour, LGBTIQA+ or living with disability, and is a co-editor of ‘Meet Me at the Intersection’, a groundbreaking anthology of YA #OwnVoice memoir, poetry and fiction.

Judges’ comments

Wen is the only child of Chinese immigrants. In many ways her family’s move to this country has been a disappointing experience, especially for Wen’s father who, unable to practice medicine in Australia, is now forced to “make do” as the maitre-d at a Chinese restaurant. His frustration, humiliation and bitterness manifests itself as domestic tyranny, with Wen and her mother living in constant fear of his anger, sullenness and iron-fisted control. So, when Wen and her mother try to bring some comfort to Wen’s friend Henry and his father, who have suffered unthinkable loss, something has to make way – either Wen’s fealty to her father and his rage, or the deeply held sense of human kindness that she shares with her mother.

At first glance, it may be tempting to categorise this compelling and assured book by a writer with strong pedigree as another insight into the immigrant experience told through the eyes of a young adult. However, it is more than that. It is at once a tense account of a family in crisis, a touching depiction of friendship and empathy, and a moving celebration of personal courage, and its conclusion leaves the reader with a sense of optimism that no one ever need be seen as a lost cause.

Semut: The untold story of a secret Australian operation in WWII Borneo (Winner)

Christine Helliwell

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Penguin Random House Australia: Michael Joseph

March 1945. A handful of young Allied operatives are parachuted into the remote jungled heart of the Japanese-occupied island of Borneo, east of Singapore, there to recruit the island’s indigenous Dayak peoples to fight the Japanese. Yet most have barely encountered Asian or indigenous people before, speak next to no Borneo languages, and know little about Dayaks, other than that they have been – and may still be – headhunters. They fear that on arrival the Dayaks will kill them or hand them over to the Japanese. For their part, some Dayaks have never before seen a white face.

So begins the story of Operation Semut, an Australian secret operation launched by the organisation codenamed Services Reconnaisance Department – popularly known as Z Special Unit – in the final months of WWII. Anthropologist Christine Helliwell has called on her years of first-hand knowledge of Borneo, interviewed more than one hundred Dayak people and all the remaining Semut operatives, and consulted thousands of military and other documents to piece together this astonishing story. Focusing on the operation’s activities along two of Borneo’s great rivers – the Baram and Rejang – the book provides a detailed military history of Semut II’s and Semut III’s brutal guerrilla campaign against the Japanese, and reveals the decisive but long-overlooked Dayak role in the operation.

But this is no ordinary history. Helliwell captures vividly the sounds, smells and tastes of the jungles into which the operatives are plunged, an environment so terrifying that many are unsure whether jungle or Japanese is the greater enemy. And she takes us into the lives and cavernous longhouses of the Dayaks on whom their survival depends. The result is a truly unique account of the encounter between two very different cultures amidst the savagery of the Pacific War.

Christine Helliwell

Christine Helliwell is a New Zealand-born anthropologist, author and academic, currently Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University. She has been carrying out research on Borneo’s indigenous Dayak peoples – including living with them in their communities for months at a time – for almost forty years, and has written widely on Dayak social and cultural life.

Christine lives in Canberra. Her book ‘Semut’ – on the most important of the Borneo ‘Z’ operations – took her almost four years to write.

Judges’ comments

‘Semut’ is a work of great narrative power that goes directly to the heart of Australia’s place and identity in the Southeast Asian region. Helliwell marries military history and anthropology to bring to vivid life the secret guerrilla campaign Australia’s Z Special Unit launched against the Japanese in Borneo in March 1945. In particular, she documents the neglected but crucial role played by Borneo’s Dayak peoples, who risked devastating retribution to take up arms against the Japanese and to shelter, protect and guide Australian operatives.

Without this support, Helliwell makes clear, Semut would have failed at the outset, its operatives perishing quickly in the island’s rugged jungle interior.

‘Semut’ is a deeply researched work, harnessing a forensic interrogation of existing reports and thousands of official records, new interviews with Dayak and Allied survivors, and expert knowledge of Dayak culture acquired over decades. The result is a seamless, gripping, and visceral narrative history that transports the reader between Borneo’s punishing jungle environment, the capacious Dayak longhouses located along its majestic rivers, and the atmosphere of fear, tension and rivalry surrounding the Australian operation. Helliwell’s revelations regarding the role of headhunting in securing Dayak support for guerrilla campaign are among the most remarkable in a work that illuminates our enduring debt to all who contributed to the wartime Allied cause.


Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu debate

Professor Peter Sutton FASSA, Dr Keryn Walshe

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Melbourne University Press

Australians’ understanding of Aboriginal society prior to the British invasion from 1788 has been transformed since the publication of Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ in 2014. It argued that classical Aboriginal society was more sophisticated than Australians had been led to believe because it resembled more closely the farming communities of Europe. In Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe ask why Australians have been so receptive to the notion that farming represents an advance from hunting and gathering. Drawing on the knowledge of Aboriginal elders, previously not included within this discussion, and decades of anthropological scholarship, Sutton and Walshe provide extensive evidence to support their argument that classical Aboriginal society was a hunter-gatherer society and as sophisticated as the traditional European farming methods. ‘Farmers or Hunter-gatherers?’ asks Australians to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal society and culture.

About the author: Professor Peter Sutton FASSA

Professor Peter Sutton FASSA is a social anthropologist and linguist who has, over more than 50 years, contributed to learning and recording Aboriginal languages, promoting Aboriginal art, mapping Aboriginal cultural landscapes, increasing understanding of contemporary Aboriginal societies and land tenure systems, and the successes of native title claimants.

About the author: Dr Keryn Walshe

Dr Keryn Walshe is an archaeologist with more than 35 years of experience in recording, analysing and interpreting Australian Indigenous heritage sites and objects. She has lectured in archaeology, managed Indigenous heritage museum collections and undertaken site assessments for corporate and government agencies. Walshe continues to write for academic journals, advise heritage managers and give public presentations.

Judges’ comments

While many Aboriginal Australians were appalled by Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ it took seven years for a full response from the Academy. Anthropologist Professor Peter Sutton and archaeologist Dr Keryn Walshe last year responded to a publishing phenomenon with hard facts, life-times of expertise and science. Although ‘Dark Emu’ won literary awards and garnered a place on some school curricula for its children’s version, ‘Young Dark Emu’, many Aboriginal people saw the flaw in Pascoe’s development of earlier works by Bill Gammage and Rolf Gerritsen that had examined Aboriginal land management techniques. Sure, the Old People may have known more about how to manage their land than earlier generations of white Australians understood. But the Old People were of the land. They were part of it through their Dreaming stories. Their traditional increase ceremonies had nothing to do with European attitudes to the creation of wealth and the taming of the land. Yet Pascoe’s was a world where Aboriginal people were judged more kindly because they too seemed to have the need of Europeans to master their environment and create prosperity. ‘Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate’ is a rigorous take-down of a work that has somehow made white Australians feel good about themselves by making Aboriginal life seem more European. Sutton is a highly respected anthropologist and his earlier work on Aboriginal Australia, ‘The Politics of Suffering’, is a classic. In this book he and Walshe challenge their disciplines in the academy, correct ‘Dark Emu’s’ misuse of the historical record of the early explorers and, most importantly, explain Aboriginal life as it really was without using Pascoe pejoratives such as “primitive” to describe the complexity of the Aboriginal world.


Return to Uluru

Mark McKenna

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Schwartz Books: Black Inc.

A killing. A hidden history. A story that goes to the heart of the nation.

When Mark McKenna set out to write a history of the centre of Australia, he had no idea what he would discover. One event in 1934 – the shooting at Uluru of Aboriginal man Yokununna by white policeman Bill McKinnon, and subsequent Commonwealth inquiry – stood out as a mirror of racial politics in the Northern Territory at the time.

But then, through speaking with the families of both killer and victim, McKenna unearthed new evidence that transformed the historical record and the meaning of the event for today. As he explains, ‘Every thread of the story connected to the present in surprising ways.’ In a sequence of powerful revelations, McKenna explores what truth-telling and reconciliation look like in practice.

Return to Uluru brings a cold case to life. It speaks directly to the Black Lives Matter movement, but is completely Australian. Recalling Chloe Hooper’s ‘The Tall Man’, it is superbly written, moving, and full of astonishing, unexpected twists. Ultimately it is a story of recognition and return, which goes to the very heart of the country. At the centre of it all is Uluru, the sacred site where paths fatefully converged.

Mark McKenna

Mark McKenna is one of Australia’s leading historians, based at the University of Sydney. He is the author of several prize-winning books, including ‘From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories’, ‘Looking for Blackfellas’ Point’ and ‘An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark’, which won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for nonfiction and the Victorian, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian premiers’ awards.

Judges’ comments

This book interweaves an inseparable history. In 2017, a descendant of an escapee from a killing gave permission to use the name Uluru for the ‘Statement from the Heart’, which is pictorially embraced by the Dreaming story of Kuniya (python) and Liru (snake). In 1934 at the sacred cave in the rock face depicting the shield of Liru, McKinnon, a policeman shot and killed Yokununna, an Anangu man. At the enquiry he said he shot without taking aim. When White Australians first came to Uluru they recognised its transcendence comparing it to the great European cathedrals, though not understanding its sacredness for the Anangu. By the 1950s tourists visited the ‘red heart’ and the remaining Anangu integrated with a tourist economy. Visitors climbed the rock as a pilgrimage. The Anangu contested this desecration by ‘ants’. Uluru returned to Aboriginal ownership in 1985, and in 2019 the climb up the rock was prohibited. Remarkably, McKinnon’s original journal, found by the author in a garage, said he fired to hit. He had lied. McKinnon’s family ‘are on board for reconciliation’. While Anangu respect Yokununna’s bravery, they are sad and angry at the fact that McKinnon killed him and that his remains were taken away. More importantly, they are inspired by the sacredness of the land where it occurred.


White Russians, Red Peril: A Cold War history of migration to Australia

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: La Trobe University Press in conjunction with Black Inc.

A gripping account of the paths that led postwar Russian migrants to Australia – and what they found when they arrived.

More than 20,000 ethnic Russians migrated to Australia after the Second World War – yet we know very little about their experiences. Some came via China, others from refugee camps in Europe.

Many of the refugees who came from Europe preferred to keep a low profile in Australia, and some tried to ‘pass’ as Polish, West Ukrainian or Yugoslavian. They had good reason to do so: to the Soviet Union, Australia’s resettling of Russians amounted to the theft of its citizens, and undercover agents were deployed to persuade them to repatriate. Australia regarded the newcomers with wary suspicion, even as it sought to build its population by opening its doors to immigrants.

Making use of newly discovered Russian-language archives and drawing on a lifetime’s study of Soviet history and politics, acclaimed author Sheila Fitzpatrick examines the early years of a diverse Russian-Australian community and how Australian and Soviet intelligence agencies attempted to track and influence them. While anti-communist ‘White’ Russians dreamed a war of liberation would overthrow the Soviet regime, a dissident minority admired its achievements and thought of returning home. This is immigration history at its vivid, grounded best.

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is the multi-award-winning author of ‘My Father’s Daughter’, ‘Mischka’s War’, ‘On Stalin’s Team’ and ”The Russian Revolution, among other titles. She is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Judges’ comments

This book tells the story of Russian migration from Europe and China to Australia in the aftermath of World War II. It delves into archives, recounts family histories and memoirs, draws on journals and newspapers, and uses fresh interviews. The result is a fascinating look into an overlooked period of Australian history as the new migrants looked for jobs, purchased houses, raised families, joined social clubs and the church, and (often) became Australian. Fitzpatrick, who has written extensively on the Soviet Union, and accesses archives around the world, uses individual lives to tell a larger story of Cold War fear, hostility, suspicion and everyday experiences. Some were prisoners of war and displaced persons, or Nazi collaborators, while others were anti-communists eager to flee the Soviet Union or China. These new migrants aroused the interest of Soviet diplomats who pressured them to return. Australian Security Intelligence Organisation also took an active interest in this emerging immigrant community. Fitzpatrick estimates that Russian migrants to Australia numbered around 25,000 between 1945 and 1960 yet their stories have too often been overlooked.


Harlem Nights: The secret history of Australia’s Jazz Age

Deirdre O’Connell

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Melbourne University Press

The 1920s were a time of wonder and flux, when Australians sensed a world growing smaller, turning faster-and, for some, skittering off balance. American movies, music and dance brought together what racial lines kept apart. A spirit of youthful rebellion collided with the promise of racial perfectibility, stirring deep anxieties in white nationalists and moral reformers. African-American jazz represented the type of modernism that cosmopolitan Australians craved-and the champions of White Australia feared. Enter Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea. Snuck in under the wire by an astute promoter, the Harlem-style revue broke from the usual blackface minstrel fare, delivering sophisticated, liberating rhythms. The story of their Australian tour is a tale of conspiracy – a secret plan to kick out and keep out ‘undesirable’ expressions of modernism, music and race. From the wild jazz clubs of Prohibition-era Los Angeles to Indigenous women discovering a new world of black resistance, this anatomy of a scandal-fuelled frame-up brings into focus a vibrant cast of characters from Australia’s Jazz Age.

Deirdre O’Connell

Deirdre O’Connell is an historian, teacher and author of ‘The Ballad of Blind Tom’. She has a background in environmental journalism and music documentary and lives in the Blue Mountains on Gundungurra and Darug land.

Judges’ comments

‘Harlem Nights’ begins almost innocuously. “This is a story,” writes Deidre O’Connell, “of an Australian political conspiracy.” While that is certainly true – in rich detail she uncovers the political controversy precipitating the expulsion from Australia of Sonny Clay’s African American jazz orchestra – ‘Harlem Nights’ is so much more. Clay’s arrival in Sydney in January 1928 set alarm bells ringing immediately. For ten weeks Clay and his troupe were at the centre of a political storm that exposed the cultural chasm between Australians determined to defend the prevailing order and those intent on challenging what they regarded as the stifling influence of Victorian-era values. To its local detractors, jazz represented decadence, moral decay and the pernicious influence of American culture – about which Australians were already deeply ambivalent. The debate over jazz was thus part of a much deeper contest between tradition and modernity. This book is a historical ‘tour-de-force’, highlighting both the heady excitement of the 1920s and the racial and sexual tensions that were never far from the surface in a still-resolutely White Australia. Asking big questions in small places, O’Connell has written a wonderfully textured history of an Australia deeply uncertain of both its own identity and its place in the world.


Human Looking (Winner)

Andy Jackson

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: Giramondo Publishing Company

The poems in ‘Human Looking’ speak with the voices of the disabled and the disfigured, in ways which are confronting, but also illuminating and tender. They speak of surgical interventions, and of the different kinds of disability which they seek to ‘correct’. They range widely, finding figures to identify with in mythology and history, art and photography, poetry and fiction. A number of poems deal with unsettling extremes of embodiment, and with violence against disabled people. Others emerge out of everyday life, and the effects of illness, pain and prejudice. The strength of the speaking voice is remarkable, as is its capacity for empathy and love. ‘I, this wonderful catastrophe’, the poet has Mary Shelley’s monstrous figure declare. The use of unusual and disjunctive – or ‘deformed’ – poetic forms, adds to the emotional impact of the poems.

Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson’s first collection, ‘Among the Regulars’, was shortlisted for the 2011 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry; in 2020 his collection ‘Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold’ was shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award; and in 2022 his collection ‘Human Looking’ was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. He has featured at literary events and arts festivals in Ireland, India, the USA and across Australia, and has co-edited disability-themed issues of the literary journals Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal. Andy Jackson works as a creative writing teacher and tutor for community organisations and universities.

Judges’ comments

In ‘Human Looking’ Jackson shows he has a highly distinctive poetic voice, and writes with great technical skill and variety. Starting with its ambiguous title, Jackson’s book is an extraordinary poetic exploration of his own disability – Marfan’s syndrome, which is disfiguring and distorts the shape of his face and body. His poems are blistering in their power, wonderfully subtle, objective and with no self-pity. The first poem in this book ‘Opening’ plunges straight in to the main subject, and deals with corrective surgery – the long incision, which his condition required. But Jackson does not stop with the physical incision. He confesses “the long suture ruptures/ in my head – the scar remaining open.” What happens to our bodies becomes our mind. Astonishingly he takes this yet one step further. Through his poem, Jackson tells us, you the reader “are becoming/ this unstitching, this sudden opening.” Jackson does not falsely valorise suffering – suffering is suffering – but it opens us. He is able to rise above it, feel love and empathy, and accept himself. In his poem ‘Borne away by distance’, referring to Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, he writes of “I, this wonderful catastrophe . . . turning toward/ tremendous being.” Tremendous indeed. And beautiful.


Homecoming

Elfie Shiosaki

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: Magabala Books

‘Homecoming’ pieces together fragments of stories about four generations of Noongar women and explores how they navigated the changing landscapes of colonisation, protectionism, and assimilation to hold their families together.

This seminal collection of poetry, prose and historical colonial archives, tells First Nations truths of unending love for children—those that were present, those taken, those hidden and those that ultimately stood in the light.

‘Homecoming’ speaks to the intergenerational dialogue about Country, kin and culture. This elegant and extraordinary form of restorative story work amplifies Aboriginal women’s voices, and enables four generations of women to speak for themselves. This sublime debut highlights the tenacity of family as well as First Nation’s agency to resist, survive and renew.

Elfie Shiosaki has restored humanity and power to her family in this beautifully articulated collection and has given voice to those silenced by our brutal past.

Elfie Shiosaki

Elfie Shiosaki is a Noongar and Yawuru writer. She is an Associate Professor at the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Her research and teaching explores Indigenous desires for human rights and self-determination. She was the Editor of Indigenous Writing at Westerly from 2017 to 2021.

Judges’ comments

To tell the story of her Noongar ancestors over several generations, Shiosaki’s ‘Homecoming’ movingly combines eloquent short prose poems with archival material, including recorded oral histories and letters, deftly excerpted in short extracts that read like poems. She has described how some of the stories in her book “are held in my imagination”. Others “are fragments of the many stars in my grandmothers’ constellations. I track my grandmothers’ stars to find my bidi home.” (“Bidi” is a Noongar word meaning “track”.) Shiosaki’s narrative line shifts backwards and forwards through time, evoking her ancestors’ dispossession, their love for the children who were forcibly removed from them, and reproducing extracts from their remarkable letters protesting about the “brutality” of “inhuman whites” who had authority over them. ‘Homecoming’ has a quiet, deeply involving power and beauty, with the various parts coming together as a poetic ‘libre composé’. Convincing with its restraint, it avoids ready-made answers. The final prose poem ‘Which Way’ describes Koorlang (the child) wading into water, shaded by paperbarks, and immersing herself more deeply, so that she was “gently cradled . . . in loving arms”. The poem concludes: “Unafraid, she remained still, not knowing which way was the light, and which way was the darkness.”


Dancing with Stephen Hawking

John Foulcher

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: Pitt Street Poetry

This new collection of poems from magisterial Australian poet John Foulcher celebrates his recent transition from a busy working life in Canberra to the rural tranquillity of a new home — a rescued church in a tiny village south of Braidwood.

In the transition his writing takes on new depth, new breadth, new worlds, as from that quiet corner he contemplates an extended, brooding photographic sequence first encountered in London, a brief visit to a Greek island and an even briefer trip to the moon. As always in his work: aging, death, the conundrums of faith. And the transcendent importance of a momentary frenetic boogie with a quantum physicist in a wheelchair:

…I thought of the atoms in my eye,
spinning and spinning, and the torrent of light
surging through me, soaking me to the bone
as I stood looking up, with my bloodied knees.

John Foulcher

John Foulcher graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours and a Diploma of Education. He has been a teacher in NSW and the ACT.

His work has been widely anthologised and published in national newspapers and journals including The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, Quadrant, Heat, Poetry Australia and Meanjin.

His poetry is described by the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature as ‘simple, direct and convincing’.

Judges’ comments

John Foulcher’s ‘Dancing with Stephen Hawking’ has all the wild comedy its title suggests. Foulcher is acrobatically comic, with a sense of the ludicrous that touches sublimity—because there is such a reviving deployment of craft to take the mickey out of the grand signposts of the popular culture inside which we dwell.

John Foulcher is everywhere aware of the absurdity inherent in the mythologies without which we cannot live. He is an effortlessly urbane poet, dry when he is not hilarious. He has a scathing honesty which gives equilibrium to a technical expertise that emphasises with an enviable smoothness of effect the kind of jokes and poignancies that language can achieve (rather than what can be done to language).

‘Dancing with Stephen Hawking’ is a companionable book—because it is so inward with the world of collective experience that its shocks of recognition are laugh-aloud when he’s playfully parading an infatuation with rockstars, and have a telling truth when he touches on grief and destruction with such a poker face.


Fish Work

Caitlin Maling

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: UWA Publishing

At the Bottom of It, Pain
Callie tries to give the fish a good death,
short and sharp, severing the brain stem.
Pithing – like the sound a cherry makes
when you extract the pip. Some things
are instinct like spitting out
what cracks, hard, against your teeth,
or how a fusilier in the net arches
its whole body like a rictus grin
when the fruit is sour.

‘Fish Work’ brings the great barrier reef into poetic focus, exploring not just the fish that occupy the reefs but that vast variety of life-forms – including human – that make the reef a uniquely diverse environment. Developed over three years of field-work, during which time the poet lived and worked alongside marine researchers, ‘Fish Work’ asks us to reconsider what it means to live with other beings, human and extra-than-human.

Blending the language of scientific research with the language of popular culture and her familiar conversational register, ‘Fish Work’ is unlike any other book of poetry available in Australia.

This collection represents the first dedicated poetic investigation into the Great Barrier Reef in a time a climate change, paying particular attention to the far northern Great Barrier Reef, specifically Lizard Island Research Station where the poet spent several months over several years undergoing fieldwork with the scientific researchers in residence.

Caitlin Maling

Caitlin Maling is a Western Australian poet with three previously published collections of poetry out through Fremantle Press. In 2019 she was awarded her doctorate in literature from University of Sydney. Her poetry and non-fiction has been published widely through Australia, the US and the UK. She is the previous recipient of the Marten Bequest in poetry and grants from the Australia Council and the Department of Culture and the Arts, Western Australia.

Judges’ comments

‘Fishwork’ by Caitlin Maling is simply a charmer of a work which makes it a singular book of poetry because it discloses the world of the Barrier Reef and all the fish that surround it and swim in it and give it the vibrant quality of a living and beautiful thing even as it is imperilled. This is a neat and highly skilled piece of poetry as documentary just as it is a lyrically articulated chronicle of attractive things and shifting things in the kaleidoscope of an exotic but pictorially precise representation of a world. It is a book that will command a large readership because it is flawlessly written and it has such an easy, beautifully phrased and lightly coloured sense of the lilt and colour of life. Typical of Maling’s friendly and ironical lyricism is ‘For Once There is Not a Sunset of Some Beauty’ – note the paradoxical title of her poem. Maling is walking along the beach at twilight, preceded by two thick-knees (wading birds with spotted plumage who are especially active at dawn and dusk):

Some would call them pretty
as the dusk descends
but I say
what they are
is almost a
language of shadows.


Fifteeners

Jordie Albiston

Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: Puncher & Wattmann

The sonnet is a classic lyric form that has beguiled and perplexed poets for over seven hundred years. In ‘Fifteeners’, award-winning poet Jordie Albiston re-invents the sonnet structure, trading meter for syllabics, and employing fifteen lines in lieu of the traditional fourteen. Themes of destruction and loss, hope and wonder, and the pressing fate of an unstable world, are coded like enduring questions into the machinery of these extraordinary poems. ‘Fifteeners’ is Albiston’s thirteenth collection of poetry.

Jordie Albiston

Jordie Albiston published thirteen poetry collections and a handbook on poetic form. Two of her books have been adapted for opera, both enjoying seasons at the Sydney Opera House. Albiston’s poetry has been recognised by prizes including the Mary Gilmore Award, the NSW Premier’s Prize, the John Bray Award and the Patrick White Literary Award. She has worked under Fellowships at the State Library of Victoria, the National Library (Canberra) and the Jamieson Library (Cornwall, UK).

Albiston works within formal boundaries: traditional, experimental, or self-imposed. She seeks the musical cadence while endeavouring to exact a mathematical sense of existence. (Since publication of ‘Fifteeners’, the author has passed away).

Judges’ comments

Jordie Albiston’s ‘Fifteeners’ is an exceptionally accomplished series of mutated sonnets which are dextrous and formally elaborated to an exceptional degree with a marvellous intricacy of patterning and extraordinary feats of internal rhyme. To say the book is masterly in technique is, however, if left to stand alone, a distortion of the intensity Albiston gets from her virtuosity and the way in which a book that begins with very patterned and recursive quotations from the mystic Julian of Norwich manages to be a rigorous and meditative examination of selfhood and its transcendence. This is a poetry whose lyricism is so powerfully and elaborately patterned that it comes across with the blinding power of great devotional poetry, even though it encompasses motherhood and fears of a material apocalypse. This is a poetry of great cumulative force in which the self-possession of the poet would seem absolute were it not for the interventions of every encroaching opposite: bearing a child, mayhem and the mystery of the darkness beyond. But this is a poetry of tremendous sensuous embodiment which is haunted at every point by the yearnings of the spirit.


2021

Young adult literature

[Winner] Metal Fish, Falling Snow – Cath Moore

When Rain Turns to Snow – Jane Godwin

The F Team – Rawah Arja

Loner – Georgina Young

The End of the World is Bigger than Love – Davina Bell

Poetry

[Winner] The Strangest Place, New and Selected Poems – Stephen Edgar

Homer Street – Laurie Duggan

Change Machine – Jaya Savige

Shorter Lives – John A Scott

Nothing to Declare – Mags Webster

Children’s literature

[Winner] How to Make a Bird – Meg McKinlay, Illustrator: Matt Ottley

[Winner] Fly on the Wall – Remy Lai

The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst – Jaclyn Moriarty, Illustrator: Kelly Canby

The January Stars – Kate Constable

The Year the Maps Changed – Danielle Binks

Fiction

[Winner] The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey – Amanda Lohrey

The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld

In the Time of Foxes – Jo Lennan

Lucky’s – Andrew Pippos

A Treacherous Country – Gabriel Fox

Non-fiction

[Winner] The Stranger Artist: Life at the Edge of Kimberley Painting – Quentin Sprague

Flight Lines: Across the Globe on a Journey with the Astonishing Ultramarathon Birds – Andrew Darby

The Details: On Love, Death and Reading – Tegan Bennett Daylight

Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse – Cassandra Pybus

The Altar Boys – Suzanne Smith

Australian history

[Winner] People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia – Grace Karskens

The Convict Valley: The Bloody Struggle on Australia’s Early Frontier – Mark Dunn

Representing Australian Aboriginal Music and Dance 1930–1970 – Amanda Harris

Pathfinders: A History of Aboriginal Trackers in NSW – Michael Bennett

Ceremony Men: Making Ethnography and the Return of the Strehlow Collection – Jason M Gibson

2020

Young adult literature

[Winner] How it Feels to Float – Helena Fox

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – Wai Chim

The Honeyman and the Hunter – Neil Grant

This Is How We Change the Ending – Vikki Wakefield

When the Ground is Hard – Malla Nunn

Children’s literature

[Winner] Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines – Jasmine Seymour. Illustrator: Leanne Mulgo Watson

Catch a Falling Star – Meg McKinlay

Winter of the White Bear – Martin Ed Chatterton

Cheeky Dogs: to Lake Nash and Back – Dion Beasley and Johanna Bell

One Careless Night – Christina Booth

Poetry

[Winner] The Lost Arabs – Omar Sakr

The Future Keepers – Nandi Chinna

Empirical – Lisa Gorton

Birth Plan – LK Holt

Heide – π.o.

Australian history

[Winner] Meeting the Waylo: Aboriginal Encounters in the Archipelago – Tiffany Shellam

Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform – Marilyn Lake AO

The Oarsmen: The Remarkable Story of the Men Who Rowed from the Great War to Peace – Scott Patterson

Sludge: Disaster on Victoria’s Goldfields – Susan Lawrence and Peter Davies

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting – Judith Brett

Non-fiction

[Winner] Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia – Christina Thompson

The Enchantment of the Long-haired Rat: A Rodent History of Australia – Tim Bonyhady

See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse – Jess Hill

Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice – Jessica White

Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country through Songlines – Gay’wu Group of Women

Fiction

[Winner] The Yield – Tara June Winch

Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

The Death of Jesus – J. M. Coetzee

The Weekend – Charlotte Wood

Exploded View – Carrie Tiffany

2019

Australian history

[Winner] The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History – Meredith Lake

Deep Time Dreaming—Uncovering Ancient Australia – Billy Griffiths

The Land of Dreams: How Australians Won Their Freedom, 1788–1860 – David Kemp

Dancing in Shadows—Histories of Nyungar Performance – Anna Haebich

You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote – Clare Wright

Non-fiction

[Winner] Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955–1964 – Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire – Chloe Hooper

Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up – Gabrielle Chan

Axiomatic – Maria Tumarkin

A Certain Light: A Memoir of Family, Loss and Hope – Cynthia Banham

Young adult literature

[Winner] The Things That Will Not Stand – Michael Gerard BauerCicada – Shaun Tan

Lenny’s Book of Everything – Karen Foxlee

The Art of Taxidermy – Sharon Kernot

Between Us – Clare Atkins

Children’s literature

[Winner] His Name was Walter – Emily Rodda

Waiting for Chicken Smith – David Mackintosh

The Incredible Freedom Machines – Kirli Saunders, Illustrator: Matt Ottley

Sonam and the Silence – Eddie Ayres, Illustrator: Ronak Taher

The Feather, Margaret Wild, Illustrator: Freya Blackwood

Fiction

[Winner] The Death of Noah Glass – Gail Jones

Saudade – Suneeta Peres da Costa

Too Much Lip – Melissa Lucashenko

Beautiful Revolutionary – Laura Elizabeth Woollett

A Stolen Season – Rodney Hall

Poetry

[Winner] Sun Music: New and Selected Poems – Judith Beveridge

Viva the Real – Jill Jones

Newcastle Sonnets – Keri Glastonbury

Click Here for What We Do – Pam Brown

Blakwork – Alison Whittaker

2018

Australian history

[Winner] John Curtin’s War: The coming of war in the Pacific, and reinventing Australia, volume 1 – John Edwards

The Enigmatic Mr Deakin – Judith Brett

Indigenous and Other Australians since 1901 – Tim Rowse

Beautiful Balts – Jayne Persian

Hidden in Plain View – Paul Irish

Fiction

[Winner] Border Districts – Gerald Murnane

First Person – Richard Flanagan

Taboo – Kim Scott

The Life To Come – Michelle de Kretser

A Long Way From Home – Peter Carey

Poetry

[Winner] Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria – Brian Castro

Archipelago – Adam Aitken

Transparencies – Stephen Edgar

Domestic Interior – Fiona Wright

Chatelaine – Bonny Cassidy

Children’s literature

[Winner] Pea Pod Lullaby – Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

Storm Whale – Sarah Brennan and Jane Tanner

Figgy Takes the City – Tamsin Janu

Hark, It’s Me. Ruby Lee! – Lisa Shanahan. Illustrator: Binny Talib

Feathers – Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie

Young adult literature

[Winner] This Is My Song – Richard Yaxley

the ones that disappeared – Zana Fraillon

ruben – Bruce Whatley

My Lovely Frankie – Judith Clarke

Living on Hope Street – Demet Divaroren

Non-fiction

[Winner] Asia’s Reckoning – Richard McGregor

Unbreakable – Jelena Dokic and Jessica Halloran

Mischka’s War: a European Odyssey of the 1940s – Sheila Fitzpatrick

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders – Stuart Kells

No Front Line: Australia’s Special Forces at War in Afghanistan – Chris Masters

2017

Non-fiction

[Winner] Quicksilver – Nicolas Rothwell

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art – Sebastian Smee

Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead – Thornton McCamish

Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow – Dr Suzanne Falkiner

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft – Tom Griffiths

Poetry

[Winner] Headwaters – Anthony Lawrence

Painting Red Orchids – Eileen Chong

Year of the Wasp – Joel Deane

Fragments – Antigone Kefala

Content – Liam Ferney

Fiction

[Winner] Their Brilliant Careers – Ryan O’Neill

Extinctions – Josephine Wilson

The Easy Way Out – Steven Amsterdam

Waiting – Philip Salom

The Last Days of Ava Langdon – Mark O’Flynn

Young adult literature

[Winner] Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

One Would Think the Deep – Claire Zorn

Forgetting Foster – Dianne Touchell

The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Stars at Oktober Bend – Glenda Millard

Children’s literature

[Winner] Home in the Rain – Bob Graham

[Winner] Dragonfly Song – Wendy Orr

My Brother – Dee Huxley, Illustrator: Oliver Huxley

Figgy and the President – Tamsin Janu

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite – Janet A. Holmes, Illustrator: Jonathan Bentley

Australian history

[Winner] Atomic Thunder – Atomic Thunder – Dr Elizabeth Tynan

A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off – Charlie Ward

Evatt: A Life – Professor John Murphy

Valiant for Truth: The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent – Neil McDonald

A passion for exploring new countries – Matthew Flinders and George Bass

Author: Josephine Bastian

2016

Fiction

[Winner] The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

[Winner] The Life of Houses – Lisa Gorton

Forever Young – Steven Carroll

The World Repair Video Game – David Ireland

Quicksand – Steve Toltz

Children’s literature

[Winner] Sister Heart – Sally Morgan

The Greatest Gatsby : A Visual Book of Grammar – Tohby Riddle

Adelaide’s Secret World – Elise Hurst

Perfect – Danny Parker, Illustrator: Freya Blackwood

Mr Huff – Anna Walker

Non-fiction

[Winner] On Stalin’s Team: the Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics – Sheila Fitzpatrick

Tom Roberts and the Art of Portraiture – Julie Cotter

[Winner] Thea Astley: Inventing her own Weather – Karen Lamb

Island Home – Tim Winton

Second Half First – Drusilla Modjeska

Poetry

[Winner] The Hazards – Sarah Holland-Batt

The Ladder – Simon West

Waiting for the Past – Les Murray

Cocky’s Joy – Michael Farrell

Net Needle – Robert Adamson

Young adult literature

[Winner] A Single Stone – Meg McKinlay

Green Valentine – Lili Wilkinson

Inbetween Days – Vikki Wakefield

Becoming Kirrali Lewis – Jane Harrison

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files _01 – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Australian history

[Winner] The Story of Australia’s People. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia – Geoffrey Blainey AC

[Winner] Let my people go: the untold story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959–89 – Sam Lipski AM & Suzanne D Rutland OAM

The War with Germany: Volume III—The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War – Robert Stevenson

Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose – Peter Monteath and Valerie Munt

Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life – Doug Morrissey

2015

Children’s literature

[Winner] One Minute’s Silence – David Metzenthen, Illustrator: Michael Camilleri

Withering-by-Sea – Judith Rossell

Two Wolves – Tristan Bancks

My Dad is a Bear – Nicola Connelly, Illustrator: Annie White

My Two Blankets – Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

Young adult literature

[Winner] The Protected – Claire Zorn

Tigers on the Beach – Doug MacLeod

The Minnow – Diana Sweeney

The Astrologer’s Daughter – Rebecca Lim

Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth

Australian history

[Winner] Charles Bean – Ross Coulthart

Descent into Hell – Peter Brune

Menzies at War – Anne Henderson AM

[Winner] The Spy Catchers—The Official History of ASIO Vol 1 – David Horner

The Europeans in Australia—Volume Three: Nation – Alan Atkinson

Poetry

[Winner] Poems 1957–2013 – Geoffrey Lehmann

Exhibits of the Sun – Stephan Edgar

Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems – Alex Skovron

Earth Hour – David Malouf

Devadatta’s Poems – Judith Beveridge

Non-fiction

[Winner] Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall – Michael Wilding

[Winner] John Olsen: An Artist’s Life – Darleen Bungey

This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial – Helen Garner

Private Bill – Barrie Cassidy

Encountering the Pacific: In the Age of Enlightenment – John Gascoigne

Fiction

[Winner] The Golden Age – Joan London

To Name Those Lost – Rohan Wilson

Golden Boys – Sonya Hartnett

Amnesia – Peter Carey

In Certain Circles – Elizabeth Harrower

2014

Non-fiction

[Winner] Moving Among Strangers – Gabrielle Carey

[Winner] Madeline: A Life of Madeleine St John – Helen Trinca

Rendezvous with Destiny – Dr Michael Fullilove

The Lucky Culture – Nick Cater

Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 – Philip Dwyer

Australian history

[Winner] Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War – Joan Beaumont

[Winner] Australia’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II – Hal G.P. Colebatch

Arthur Phillip: Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy – Michael Pembroke

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka – Clare Wright

First Victory: 1914 – Mike Carlton

Fiction

[Winner] The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Coal Creek – Alex Miller

The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

[Winner] A World of Other People – Steven Carroll

Belomor – Nicolas Rothwell

Young adult literature

[Winner] The Incredible Here and Now – Felicity Castagna

Life in Outer Space – Melissa Keil

Girl Defective – Simmone Howell

The First Third – Will Kostakis

Pureheart – Cassandra Golds

Poetry

[Winner] Drag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call – Melinda Smith

Eldershaw – Stephen Edgar

Chains of Snow – Jakob Ziguras

Tempo – Sarah Day

1953 – Geoff Page

Children’s literature

[Winner] Silver Buttons – Bob Graham

My Life As an Alphabet – Barry Jonsberg

Song for a Scarlet Runner – Julie Hunt

Kissed by the Moon – Alison Lester

Rules of Summer – Shaun Tan

2013

Children’s literature

[Winner] Red – Libby Gleeson

Today We have No Plans – Jane Godwin, Illustrator: Anna Walker

The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge – Marianne Musgrove

Young adult literature

[Winner] Fog a Dox – Bruce Pascoe

Everything Left Unsaid – Jessica Davidson

Friday Brown – Vikki Wakefield

Grace Beside Me – Sue McPherson

The Children of the King – Sonya Hartnett

Poetry

[Winner] Jam Tree Gully – John Kinsella

Liquid Nitrogen – Jennifer Maiden

The Sunlit Zone – Lisa Jacobson

Burning Rice – Eileen Chong

Crimson Crop – Peter Rose

Australian history

[Winner] Farewell, Dear People – Ross McMullin

Gough Whitlam: His Time (vol. 2) – Jenny Hocking

The Sex Lives of Australians: A History – Frank Bongiorno

The Censor’s Library – Nicole Moore

Sandakan – Paul Ham

Non-fiction

[Winner] The Australian Moment – George Megalogenis

Uncommon Soldier – Chris Masters

Bradman’s War – Malcolm Knox

Plein Airs and Graces: The life and times of George Colingridge – Adrian Mitchell

Bold Palates: Australia’s gastronomic heritage – Barbara Santich

Fiction

[Winner] Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Lost Voices – Christopher Koch

Floundering – Rommy Ash

Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany

The Chemistry of Tears – Peter Carey

2012

Australian history

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia – Peter Grammage (Winner)

1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia – James Boyce

Indifferent Inclusion: Aboriginal People and the Australian Nation – Russell McGregor

Immigration Nation: The Secret History of Us – TV series

Breaking the Sheep’s Back – Charles Massy

Young adult literature

[Winner] When We Were Two – Robert Newton

A Straight Line to My Heart – Bill Condon

Alaska – Sue Saliba

Being Here – Barry Jonsberg

Pan’s Whisper – Sue Lawson

Fiction

[Winner] Foal’s Bread – Gillian Mears

Autumn Laing – Alex Miller

Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville

All That I Am – Anna Funder

Forecast: Turbulence – Janette Turner

Poetry

[Winner] Interferon Psalms – Luke Davies

Armour – John Kinsella

Southern Barbarians – John Mateer

New and Selected Poems – Gig Ryan

Ashes in the Air – Ali Alizadeh

Children’s literature

[Winner] Goodnight Mice! – Frances Watts, Illustrator: Judy Watson

Father’s Day – Anne Brooksbank

The Jewel Fish of Karnak – Graeme Base

Come Down, Cat? – Sonya Hartnett, Illustrator: Lucia Masciullo

Evangeline, Wish Keeper’s Helpe – Maggie Alderson

Non-fiction

[Winner] An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark – Mark McKenna

When Horse Became Saw – Anthony Macris

Michael Kirby Paradoxes and Principles – A J Brown

Kinglake-350 – Adrian Hyland

A Short History of Christianity – Geoffrey Blainey

2011

Children’s literature

[Winner] Shake a leg – Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod

Flyaway – Lucy Christopher

April Underhill, tooth fairy – Bob Graham

Now – Morris Gleitzman

Why I love Australia – Bronwyn Bancroft

Young adult literature

[Winner] Graffiti moon – Cath Crowley

The three loves of Persimmon – Cassandra Golds

The piper’s son – Melina Marchetta

The good oil – Laura Buzo

About a girl – Joanne Horniman

Fiction

[Winner] Traitor – Stephen Daisley

When Colts RanRoger McDonald

Roger McDonald – David Musgrave

That deadman dance – Kim Scott

Notorious – Roberta Lowing

Non-fiction

[Winner] The hard light of day: An artist’s story of friendships in Arrernte country – Rod Moss

Claude Levi-Strauss: the poet in the laboratory – Patrick Wilcken

Sydney – Delia Falconer

How to make gravy – Paul Kelly

The party – Richard McGregor

2010

Fiction

[Winner] Dog Boy – Eva Hornung

The Book of Emmett – Deborah Forster

Ransom – David Malouf

Summertime – J.M. Coetzee

The Lakewoman – Alan Gould

As the Earth Turns Silver – Alison Wong

Lovesong – Alex Miller

Non-fiction

[Winner] The Colony: A History of Early Sydney – Grace Karskens

The Life and Death of Democracy – John Keane

Strange Places: A Memoir of Mental Illness – Will Elliott

The Water Dreamers – Michael Cathcart

The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir – Mark Tredinnick

The Ghost at the Wedding – Shirley Walker

Children’s literature

[Winner] Star Jumps – Lorraine Marwood

Running with the Horses – Alison Lester

Harry and Hopper – Margaret Wild

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children – Jen Storer

Cicada Summer – Kate Constable

The Terrible Plop – Ursula Dubosarsky, Illustrator: Andrew Joyner

Young adult literature

[Winner] Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God – Bill Condon

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor – Lucy Christopher

Beatle Meets Destiny – Gabrielle Williams

The Winds of Heaven – Judith Clarke

The Museum of Mary Child – Cassandra Golds

Swerve – Phillip Gwynne

Jarvis 24 – David Metzenthen

2009

Fiction

[Winner] The Boat – Nam Le

The Good Parents – Joan London

Wanting – Richard Flanagan

The Pages – Murray Bail

People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks

Everything I knew – Peter Goldsworthy

One Foot Wrong – Sofie Laguna

Non-fiction

[Winner] House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nellie Kroeger-Mann – Evely Juers

American Journeys – Don Watson

Van Diemen’s Land – James Boyce

Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley – Brian Dibble

The Henson Case – David Marr

Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History – Jenny Hocking

[Winner] Drawing the Global Colour Line – Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds

The Tall Man – Chloe Hooper

2008

Non-fiction

Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers – Philip Jones (Winner)

Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time – Clive James

My Life as a Traitor – Zarah Ghahramani, Robert Hillman

Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769–1799 – Philip Dwyer

Shakespeare’s Wife – Germaine Greer

Fiction

The Zoo Keeper’s War – Steven Conte (Winner)

Burning In – Mireille Juchau

Sorry – Gail Jones

El Dorado – Dorothy Porter

The Complete Stories – David Malouf

Jamaica: A Novel – Malcolm Knox

The Widow and her Hero – Tom Keneally

Expert judging panels consider entries for the six award categories. The judging panels are responsible for making recommendations to Creative Australia.

Helen Elliott is a prominent literary critic and journalist and the editor of  Grandmothers. Her writing has appeared in the Monthly, the Australian, the Age, Griffith Review, Best Australian Essays, Vogue and numerous other publications. Her most recent book is Eleven Letters To You, a profoundly original memoir, published by Text in 2023. She was the literary editor of the Herald Sun and has two children, four granddaughters and an acre of garden.

Jennifer Down is a writer and editor. Her debut novel, Our Magic Hour, was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. The story collection Pulse Points won the 2018 Readings Prize and the 2018 Steele Rudd Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Novelist of the Year in 2017 and 2018. Bodies of Light, her second novel, won the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award. She lives in Naarm/Melbourne. 

Roanna Gonsalves is an award-winning writer and educator with an interdisciplinary practice. She is the author of the critically acclaimed collection of short fiction, The Permanent Resident, published in India and South Asia as Sunita De Souza Goes To Sydney. Her series of radio documentaries about contemporary India, On the tip of a billion tongues, and her social-satirical radio essay Doosra: The life and times of an Indian student in Australia were commissioned and broadcast by ABC RN. She serves on the Board of Writing NSW and works as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at UNSW, Sydney.

Andy Jackson is a poet preoccupied with disability, community, otherness and solidarity. He was awarded the inaugural Writing the Future of Health Fellowship, and is a Writers Victoria Patron. Andy has featured at literary events and arts festivals across Australia, including Melbourne Writers Festival, Castlemaine State Festival, Queensland Poetry Festival, and on ABC’s Radio National and the 7.30 Report. His collections have been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the John Bray Poetry Award and the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry. He has co-edited disability-themed issues of Southerly and Australian Poetry Journal, and his latest poetry collection is Human Looking, which won the 2022 ALS Gold Medal and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry. Andy lives and works on unceded Dja Dja Wurrung country, and is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. 

Jazz Money is a Wiradjuri poet and artist based on Gadigal land, Sydney. Her practice is centred around poetics while producing works that encompass installation, digital, performance, film and print. Their writing has been widely published nationally and internationally, and performed on stages around the world, including: TEDx Sydney, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Sydney Opera House, Literature Live! Mumbai, Performance Space New York, PEN International, and a wide range of arts and literary festivals in every Australian state and territory. Jazz’s first poetry collection, the best-selling how to make a basket (UQP, 2021) was the 2020 winner of the David Unaipon Award and a second collection is forthcoming through UQP in 2024. Their first feature film WINHANGANHA, commissioned by the National Film and Sound Archive, will premiere in October 2023.

Judith Beveridge has won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian Premiers’ Awards. She is a highly regarded critic, editor and teacher of poetry. She has published seven collections of poetry, most recently Sun Music: New and Selected Poems. She is a recipient of the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal and the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry. She was poetry editor for Meanjin from 2005 to 2015, and co-editor of the anthology Contemporary Australian Poetry, 1985-2015. She lives in Sydney.

Penny Russell FAHA is an emeritus professor of History at The University of Sydney, where she taught Australian history from 1990 to 2021. She was formerly the Bicentennial Professor of Australian History (2013-21) and the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University (2016-17). She has been a president of the History Council of NSW, a co-editor of the journal History Australia and a judge of the NSW Premier’s History Awards. Her many publications on the history of gender, family and status include the award-winning Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia, which was shortlisted for the PM’s Prize for Australian History in 2011.

Professor Jane Lydon is the Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at The University of Western Australia. She is interested in the ways that popular and especially visual culture have shaped ideas and debates about race, identity and culture that persist today. In particular, Jane is concerned with the history of Australia’s engagement with anti-slavery, humanitarianism, and ultimately human rights. Her recent books include The Flash of Recognition: Photography and the emergence of Indigenous rights, which won the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards’ USQ History Book Award, and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire. 

Professor Clare Wright OAM is an award-winning historian, author, broadcaster and public commentator who has worked in politics, academia and the media. Clare is currently Professor of History and Professor of Public Engagement at La Trobe University. She is the author of four works of history, including the best-selling The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka and You Daughters of Freedom, which comprise the first two instalments of her Democracy Trilogy. Clare has written and presented history documentaries for ABC TV and hosts the ABC Radio National history series, Shooting the Past, and co-hosts the La Trobe University podcast Archive Fever. In 2020, Clare was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day Honours list for “services to literature and to historical research”. In 2022, Clare was on the National Cultural Policy Expert Advisory Panel and was commissioned to co-write (with Christos Tsiolkis) the Vision Statement for the policy document, Revive. She is a Member of the National Museum of Australia Council.

Michael Aird is Director of the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. While not holding an academic position for most of his career, his research output is significant, being recognized internationally, particularly for the study of photographs of Indigenous people. He has worked in the area of Aboriginal arts and cultural heritage and since 1985 maintaining an interest in documenting aspects of urban Aboriginal history and culture. He has curated over 30 exhibitions and undertaken numerous research projects in the area of native title, local histories and art. In 1996 he established Keeaira Press an independent publishing house, producing over 35 books, he has also contributed to academic journals and numerous other publications.

Catherine Noske is a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Western Australia. She served as Editor of Westerly Magazine from 2015 until this year, and now continues to support the magazine as Associate Editor. Her work has been awarded the AD Hope Prize, the Elyne Mitchell Prize for Rural Women Writers, and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award (2015). She has judged the ALS Gold Medal, the WA Premier’s Book Prize and the TAG Hungerford. Her debut novel, The Salt Madonna (Picador 2020), was shortlisted in the 2021 WA Premier’s Book Awards.

Paul Cleary is a leading Australian author and researcher whose work has driven reforms that have made Australia’s tax system fairer. After a decade of reporting on economic policy in the Canberra press gallery he studied in the UK as a Chevening Scholar and then became an adviser to Timor-Leste on resource negotiations. He is the author of six books mainly focused on resource conflicts and policy, as well as a best-selling WWII history. The New Yorker praised Too Much Luck as a ‘fierce, concise book’ that showed how Australia’s resources wealth was being ‘classically mismanaged’. His latest book, Title Fight, was shortlisted for the 2022 Prime Minister’s literary award. He now works with a First Nations community in remote Western Australia.

Anna Krien is the author of Night Games, Into the Woods, and the Quarterly Essays Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals and The Long Goodbye: Coal, Coral and Australia’s Climate Deadlock. Her debut novel, Act of Grace, was published in 2019.

Johanna Bell is an award-winning children’s author, poet and Churchill Fellow. Her second picture book Go Home Cheeky Animals! created with deaf artist Dion Beasley, was awarded the CBCA Picture Book of the Year (Early Childhood). Their latest collaboration, Cheeky Dogs: To Lake Nash and Back was shortlisted for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Johanna lived in the Northern Territory for many years and recently moved to nipaluna / Hobart where she’s working on a verse novel about climate grief and birds.

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an author, illustrator and academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She tells stories across a range of forms including poetry, essays and speculative fiction novels. Her work has been published across the globe and she is a previous winner of the Aurealis Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Özge Sevindik was born in Turkey, grew up in America and lives in Naarm/Melbourne. She is the co-founder of The Right Pen Collective and the director of the Australian Muslim Writers Festival. Özge holds an honours degree in Journalism from University of Wisconsin and a Master of Information Studies in Children’s Librarianship from Charles Sturt University. She was the head librarian for a P-12 school and currently works at a Victorian Public Library. She was the inaugural intern of the Annabel Baker Literary Agency and worked at ABA as the submission coordinator in 2022. Her work appeared in Meanjin Online, The Guardian, Peril Magazine, and The Victorian Writer. She is the co-author of the two Hijabi Girl junior fiction books published by Ali Gator.

Isobelle Carmody is an Australian writer of science fiction, fantasy, children’s, and juvenile literature. She began work on the Obernewtyn Chronicles when she was fourteen. The first two books in the series were short listed for the CBC Children’s Book of the Year in the Older Readers category; The Gathering was joint winner of the 1993 CBC Book of the Year Award and the 1994 Children’s Literature Peace Prize. Greylands won a White Raven at Bologna, and Billy Thunder and the Night Gate was shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2001 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Both Little Fur and A Fox Called Sorrow received BAAFTA Industry Awards for design and Alyzon Whitestarr won the coveted Golden Aurealis for overall best novel at the Aurealis Awards. The Red Wind, which she wrote and illustrated, won Book of the Year in the CBC awards. In 2020 she completed her PhD at the University of Queensland and then did a doctoral fellowship with the Creativity and Human Flourishing Project at UQ. Her most recent published novel is The Velvet City.

Rebecca Lim is an Australian writer, illustrator, editor and lawyer and the author of over twenty books, including Tiger Daughter (a CBCA Book of the Year: Older Readers and Victorian Premier’s Literary Award-winner), The Astrologer’s Daughter (A Kirkus Best Book and CBCA Notable Book) and the bestselling Mercy. Her work has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Queensland Literary Awards, Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award and Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, shortlisted multiple times for the Aurealis Awards and Davitt Awards, and longlisted for the Gold Inky Award and the David Gemmell Legend Award. Her novels have been translated into German, French, Turkish, Portuguese, Polish and Vietnamese. She is a co-founder of the Voices from the Intersection initiative to support emerging young adult and children’s authors and illustrators who are First Nations, People of Colour, LGBTIQA+ and/or living with disability, and co-editor of Meet Me at the Intersection, a groundbreaking anthology of YA #OwnVoice memoir, poetry and fiction.

Sean Williams is a #1 New York Times-bestselling, multi-award-winning author of over sixty books and one hundred and twenty shorter publications for readers of all ages. His published works include series, novels, stories and poems that have been translated into multiple languages for readers around the world. He has collaborated with other authors, including Garth Nix, was part of an expedition to Casey research station in Antarctica, and is Discipline Lead of Creative Writing at Flinders University, South Australia. For more info: www.seanwilliams.com

 

2022

Non-fiction and Australian history panel

Professor Chris Dixon (Chair)
Chris Mitchell AO
Troy Bramston
Dr Deborah Hope
Professor Gail Pearson

Fiction and poetry panel

Geoffrey Lehmann (Chair)
Peter Craven
Stephen Romei
Associate Professor Sandra Phillips
Caroline Overington

Children’s and young adult literature panel

James Roy (Chair)
Demet Divaroren
Erica Wagner
Paula Kelly Paull
Dr Anthony Eaton

2021

Nonfiction and Australian history panel  

Andrew Tink AM (Chair)
Chris Mitchell AO
Troy Bramston
Dr Deborah Hope
Professor Gail Pearson 

Fiction and poetry panel  

Professor Peter Holbrook FAHA (Chair) 
Geoffrey Lehmann
Dr Roslyn Jolly
Peter Craven

Children’s and Young Adult literature panel

James Roy (Chair)
Demet Divaroren
Erica Wagner
Paula Kelly Paull
Richard Yaxley OAM

2020

Non-fiction and Australian history panel

Emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse FRSN FAHA FASSA (Chair)
Dr Sally Warhaft
Emeritus Professor John Fitzgerald AM
Professor John Maynard


Fiction and poetry panel

Suzanne Leal (Chair)
Susan Wyndham
Dr Kerryn Goldsworthy
Professor Philip Mead
Dr Lucy Neave


Children’s and young adult literature panel

Professor Margot Hillel OAM (Chair)
Margrete Lamond
Kirli Saunders
James Roy
Demet Divaroren

2017-2019

Fiction and Poetry panel

Professor Bronwyn Lea (Chair)
Dr James Ley
Susan Wyndham
Associate Professor Sarah Holland-Batt
Kathy Shand (2017 & 2018)

Non-fiction and Australian history panel

Professor Lynette Russell AM (Chair)
Helen Trinca
Emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse FRSN FAHA FASSA
Professor Greg Melleuish
Dr Sally Warhaft

Children’s and Young adult literature panel

Professor Margot Hillel OAM (Chair)
Joy Lawn
Margrete Lamond (2017 & 2019)
Professor Robyn Ewing AM
Sue Whiting
Kerry Neary (2018)

2016

Fiction and Poetry panel

Louise Adler AM (Chair)
Jamie Grant
Dr Robert Gray
Des Cowley

Non-fiction and History panel

Gerard Henderson (Chair)
Dr Ida Lichter MD
Peter Coleman AO
Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM

Children’s and Young Adult fiction panel

Mike Shuttleworth (Chair)
Dr Irini Savvides
Kate Colley

2015

Fiction and Poetry panel

Ms Louise Adler AM (Chair)
Mr Jamie Grant
Mr Robert Gray
Mr Des Cowley

Non-fiction and History panel

Dr Ida Lichter (Chair)
Mr Peter Coleman AO
Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM

Children’s and Young Adult fiction panel

Mr Mike Shuttleworth (Chair)
Dr Belle Alderman AM (Emeritus Professor)
Ms Kate Colley
Dr Mark MacLeod
Dr Irini Savvides

2014

Fiction and poetry

Ms Louise Adler AM (Chair)
Ms Margie Bryant
Mr Jamie Grant
Mr Robert Gray
Mr Les Murray AO

Non-fiction and History

Mr Gerard Henderson (Chair)
Mr Peter Coleman
Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM
Dr Ida Lichter
Dr Ann Moyal AM

Children and Young adults

Mr Mike Shuttleworth (Chair)
Emeritus Professor Belle Alderman AM (Emeritus Professor)
Ms Kate Colley
Dr Mark MacLeod
Dr Irini Savvides

2013

Fiction and poetry panel

Mr Joel Becker, (Chair)
Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM
Winthrop Professor Phillip Mead
Ms Jane Sullivan

Non-fiction and history panel

Mr Michael Sexton SC (Chair)
Mr Colin Steele
Ms Susan Hayes
Professor Susan Magarey

Children’s and young adult fiction panel

Ms Judith White (Chair)
Ms Adele Rice
Mr Robert (Bob) Sessions

2012

Fiction and poetry panel

Mr Joel Becker (Chair)
Dr Lyn Gallacher
Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM
Mr Peter Craven

Non-fiction and history panel

Mr Christopher (Chris) Masters PSM (Chair)
Dr Faye Sutherland
Mr Colin Steele
Dr Michelle Arrow

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction panel

Ms Judith White (Chair)
Ms Mary-Ruth Mendel
Mr Robert (Bob) Sessions

2011

Fiction panel

Professor Peter Pierce (Chair)
Professor John A. Hay AC
Dr Lyn Gallacher

Non-fiction panel

Mr Brian Johns AO (Chair)
Mr Colin Steele
Dr Faye Sutherland

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction panel

Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright (Chair)
Ms Mary-Ruth Mendel
Mr Mike Shuttleworth

2010

Fiction panel

Professor Peter Pierce (Chair)
Professor John A Hay AC
Dr Lyn Gallacher

Non-fiction panel

Mr Brian Johns AO (Chair)
Mr Colin Steele
Dr Faye Sutherland

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction panel

Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright (Chair)
Ms Mary-Ruth Mendel
Mr Mike Shuttleworth

2009

Fiction panel

Professor Peter Pierce (Chair)
Professor John A. Hay AC
Dr Lyn Gallacher

Non-fiction panel

Phillip Adams AO (Chair)
Peter Rose
Professor Joan Beaumont FASSA

2008

Fiction panel

Professor Peter Pierce (Chair)
John Marsden
Margaret Throsby

Non-fiction panel

Professor Hilary Charlesworth (Chair)
Sally Morgan
John Doyle