Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Winners 2012

The winners have been announced for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2012.

Victorian Prize for Literature

The Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s richest literary prize (worth $100,000) was awarded to The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage.

Award for Fiction: Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears

The novel’s setting – the hardscrabble New South Wales bush in the years between the wars, amid the world of show-jumping – evokes the recent past, in a reflective style shot through with deep affection.

Noah Childs, the book’s protagonist, intrigues from the opening pages, where (aged just 14) she gives birth to her dead uncle’s child by a riverbank, and pragmatically, wistfully, lets the baby go. This incident will colour the rest of her life, as will another, just days later, when she competes fearlessly in a jumping contest and attracts the admiration of Roley Nancarrow, her similarly fearless (and seductively gentle) future husband.

Award for Non-Fiction: The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage

The Biggest Estate on Earth aims to literally change the way we look at the Australian landscape – not just in the present, but how we imagine it before European settlement. In the popular imagination, European arrival reshaped a previously virgin bush, which the indigenous inhabitants had treated with a kind of benign reverence.

But Bill Gammage shows, in this revelatory history, that the Aboriginal people had in fact managed and shaped the land to a significant degree, in a systematic and scientific fashion.

Award for Drama: A Golem Story by Lally Katz

Set in fear-ravaged Prague in the sixteenth century, a rabbi creates an avenging golem (a mystical Jewish creature) out of clay, after an emperor declares a purging of the ghetto. But when the golem begins killing indiscriminately, he must contain what he has created.

The story carries resonance well beyond its setting, raising questions about appropriate responses to violence – and what we do about the monsters we create to defend ourselves (like nuclear weapons).

Award for Poetry: Armour by John Kinsella

John Kinsella says that he tries to write his poems in ‘the location of the damage that’s being done’. He is a political poet; Armour is his most politically engaged work so far – and his most spiritual.

The world in which these poems unfold is strangely poised between the material and immaterial. Everything that enters it, from a fox to an almond, does so illuminated by its own presence; Kinsella inhabits his subjects rather than honour them.

Armour is a beautifully various work, one of sharp ecological and social critique – but also one of meticulous invocation and quiet astonishment.

Award for Writing for Young Adults: The Shadow Girl by John Larkin

The narrator – the shadow girl – is homeless and on the run, at just 13 years old. Her parents have disappeared, leaving her in the care (and at the mercy) of her uncle and aunt. Her uncle, a dangerous man, has been sexually abusing her; if he finds her, she fears for her life. And so she sleeps in rail yards, sand dunes and abandoned houses – but tricks her way into a new school, where she pretends to have a family.

School and books are her escape, her sustenance – she dreams of becoming a doctor. In the meantime, she is focused on evading her uncle, who wants to kill her, and somehow continuing to go to school. It’s there that she meets an author for young adults, who takes down her story.

People’s Choice Award: National Interest by Adrian Fennessy

Aidan Fennessy’s cousin, Tony Stewart, died in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975, alongside two reporters and two cameramen. He was one of the Balibo Five, the journalists whose murders have become nationally infamous as casualties of the war in East Timor – and of a ruthless Indonesian government.

The main characters are Tony Stewart’s mother and her daughter, as they each deal with his loss (and the government’s obfuscation of the truth) in their own way. The political element – the story of the Balibo Five and the role and response of the Australian and Indonesian governments – is told in such a way that it lets in those unfamiliar with events, as well as audiences who know the story well.

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