2010 Winners & Shortlists

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

$30,000

Truth, Peter Temple, Text Publishing

Judge’s comments: Truth is a book on many levels: a crime novel, a morality tale, a dissection of power and corruption, a portrait of a heat-blighted city and its scorched environs, a journey into the heart of a hard man in a man’s world, and those he cannot help loving. Open the book anywhere and Temple’s prose is a marvel of compression where every word is weighted for maximum impact. Despite its density, the reader feels free to move around inside its world and come to their own conclusion about its characters. Savage, lyrical and tender, Truth is simultaneously a focussed view of contemporary Melbourne and a universal story.

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction

$30,000

Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Brenda Walker, Penguin Group Australia

Judge’s comments: Diagnosed with cancer, Brenda Walker contemplates which book will accompany her to hospital. Through surgery, chemotherapy, and the long haul to recovery, Walker continues to read and to ruminate on the relationship between books, bodies and the life of the mind. From Edgar Allen Poe to Patrick White via War and Peace and The Tale of Genji, Walker invites the reader to accompany her not only on her own arduous physical journey but also on a literary odyssey that is both thought-provoking and deeply moving. En route, Walker demonstrates her own considerable skill as a writer in prose that is both elegant and sharp. Reading by Moonlight is a beautiful book in every way.

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry

$15,000

Possession, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Five Islands Press

Judge’s comments: Possession is a fascinating concept: a stylish and compact collection of poems juxtaposing the journeys (and words) of Cook (and Banks et al) in the southern oceans, to modern day Kangaroo Valley (NSW). Nicholson has managed a lyrical hence moving, and at the same time an historically and culturally convincing evocation of this formative subject matter with a consistent sharpness of language and craft of the highest quality.

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama

$15,000

And No More Shall We Part, Tom Holloway, A Bit Of Argy Bargy

Judge’s comments: Holloway’s latest play tells a story of intimate tragedy via wonderfully restrained and sparse text. Bold but simple, the story shifts backwards and forwards through time, creating conflict through stillness, and evoking an entire world through the presence of its two conflicted but deeply loving characters.

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction

$15,000

Raw Blue, Kirsty Eagar, Penguin Group Australia

Judge’s comments: Raw Blue is a wonderfully assured novel that takes the reader from the stagnant aftermath of trauma to the subtle beginnings of recovery. Carly has dropped out of uni and works a monotonous kitchen job in order to devote the rest of her time to her real passion – surfing. Riding the bright skin of the ocean is where Carly belongs, and is the only place where she can begin to escape what happened to her two years ago at Schoolies. Raw Blue packs an unsentimental punch that is not easily forgotten.

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate

$15,000

“Seeing Truganini”, David Hansen, Australian Book Review

Judge’s comments: In an age of media whistle blowing, here is a distinctively subtle, poised and refined specimen of the art, though no less bold for all that. Starting with a personal anecdote of his experience as an art curator, when confronted by the vexed question of the public representation of images of Aborigines, Hansen takes us through the whole history of this dilemma in a few deeply-packed but lucid paragraphs. These provide his ballast in taking on two groups or types of silencers on the issue, as it is played out today: those among his own profession (widening out to academia) who evade the issue through peripheral theorising; and those among certain representatives of indigenous communities who in effect bury the issue through their demands for complete suppression of the images concerned or highly selective access.

Hansen’s plea is to liberate these images from both parties into the arena of wider and ongoing public debate. (He’s not absolutist about this; there are some types of image, he recognises, that should properly remain sacrosanct.) This plea has important implications, as he eloquently attests, for the future of the whole reconciliation movement in Australia. It’s also a pertinent intervention in the debates over the role of historical study and empirically-based truth-seeking in any society.ƒ

The Prize for a First Book of History

$15,000

Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould, Harvard University Press

Judge’s comments: Becoming African Americans presents an original and important argument about the ways in which the descendants of freed slaves in the United States, in the early decades of the twentieth century, redefined their identity in terms of their African heritage and history. Widely researched and engagingly written, Becoming African Americans is a multi-layered work, enriched by attention to gender dynamics, local politics and transnational history. Corbould’s fresh and original approach to the formation of modern African American identity in the 1920s and 1930s, especially during the creative ferment of the Harlem Renaissance, renders their history not only ‘closer to their hearts’ desire but also closer to the facts.

The Prize for Indigenous Writing

$15,000

Legacy, Larissa Behrendt, University of Queensland Press

Judge’s comments: Legacy is an educative social document and a universal story about reconciliation and the power of forgiveness. The author gives insight to a world that is seldom explored – that of contemporary urban Aboriginal family, and in particular the complex relationship between a lawyer daughter and her activist father. Serious themes are canvassed; what is Aboriginal sovereignty, the ‘rights agenda’ versus ‘practical reconciliation’, self-determination and the stolen generations, but it is the tensions within the interpersonal relationships that carry the thrust of the narrative. The father is an influential and revered activist, a charismatic man, yet seen through his daughter’s eyes, he is also deeply flawed. Behrendt captures the mood of a daughter’s love as she struggles to understand her father’s infidelity. Legacy is at once personal and political; Behrendt rings true.

The John Curtain Prize for Journalism

$15,000

Who Killed Mr Ward?, Janine Cohen and Liz Jackson, Four Corners, ABC Television

Judge’s comments: This television program deals with the death of an Indigenous man who died in the back of a privatised prisoner transport van in WA. It draws on evidence from the subsequent inquest, interviews with a wide range of relevant expert witnesses, and reports commissioned by various government agencies and obtained by the journalist. The evidence systematically builds a case of racist indifference and bureaucratic inertia against the transport company and the relevant government agencies. The style is a studied mixture of matter-of-fact reporting and controlled anger, the latter generated not so much by the reporter but by many of the expert witnesses.

The item is powerfully structured in a way that holds the responsible people publicly to account. It is, in this way, a very strong piece of journalism and discharges with fearlessness and high skill, one of the core functions of journalism. It made the case a cause celebre and at the time of judging (July 2010) the public fallout was continuing. Last month Mr Ward’s family was awarded a $3.2 million compensation payment from the WA government, one of the largest such payouts in Australian history.

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

$15,000

House of Sticks, Peggy Frew

Judge’s comments: A tightly crafted novel, House of Sticks is a revealing portrait of domestic life. Bonnie is a musician whose career has been interrupted by the burdens of motherhood. Her almost happy life is threatened by the intrusion of a character from her husband’s past, whose unsettling presence provides the catalyst for this very suspenseful novel. A thread of paranoia and disquiet is woven through the narrative, drawing the reader forward to its surprising conclusion.

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2010 Shortlists

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey, Penguin Group Australia

The Bath Fugues, Brian Castro, Giramondo Publishing

Summertime, J.M. Coetzee, Random House Australia

Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey, Allen & Unwin

Truth, Peter Temple, Text Publishing

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction

Popeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the War, Rodney Hall, Murdoch Books

A Swindler’s Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty, Kirsten McKenzie, UNSW Press

Captain Cook Was Here, Maria Nugent, Cambridge University Press

Otherland: A Journey With My Daughter, Maria Tumarkin, Random House Australia

Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Brenda Walker, Penguin Group Australia

The Young Adult Fiction Prize

Raw Blue, Kirsty Eagar, Penguin Group Australia

Swerve, Phillip Gwynne, Penguin Group Australia

Beatle Meets Destiny, Gabrielle Williams, Penguin Group Australia

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry

Beneath Our Armour, Peter Bakowski, Hunter Publishers

Possession, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Five Islands Press

The Adoption Order, Ian McBryde, Five Islands Press

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama

Moth, Declan Greene, Arena Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre

And No More Shall We Part, Tom Holloway, A Bit Of Argy Bargy

Furious Mattress, Melissa Reeves, Malthouse Theatre

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate

Patriot Acts, Waleed Aly, The Monthly

Stupid Money, Gideon Haigh, Griffith Review

Seeing Truganini, David Hansen, Australian Book Review

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

Winsome of Rangoon, Michelle Aung Thin

House of Sticks, Peggy Frew

Cambodia Darkness and Light, Andrew Nette

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism

Shutting Down Sharleen, Eurydice Aroney and Tom Morton, Hindsight, ABC Radio National

Who Killed Mr Ward?, Janine Cohen and Liz Jackson, Four Corners, ABC Television

Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull, Annabel Crabb, Quarterly Essay

The Prize for First Book of History

From Superwoman to Domestic Goddesses: the Rise and Fall of Feminism, Natasha Campo, Peter Lang International Academic Publishers

Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould, Harvard University Press

Rethinking Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France, Julie Kalman, Cambridge University Press

The Prize for Indigenous Writing

Legacy, Larissa Behrendt, University of Queensland Press

Ten Hail Marys, Kate Howarth, University of Queensland Press

Hey Mum, What’s a Half-Caste?, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Magabala Books