Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing 2014


Announced on Indigenous Literacy Day –Wednesday 3 September – the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing 2014 is Melissa Lucashenko, for Mullumbimby.

2014 Shortlisted Entries

The Promise by Tony Birch

In this breathtaking new work, Tony Birch affirms his position as one of Australia’s finest writers of short-form fiction.

Using his unflinching creative gaze, he ponders love and loss and faith. A trio of amateur thieves are left in charge of a baby moments before a heist. A group of boys compete in the final of a marbles tournament, only to find their biggest challenge was the opponent they didn’t see coming. Two young friends find a submerged car in their local swimming hole and become obsessed by the mystery of the driver’s identity.

Across twelve blistering stories, The Promise delivers a sensitive and often humorous take on the lives of those who have loved, lost and wandered.

Judges' Report

Tony Birch’s characters are gritty and resilient: gamblers, loners, those down on their luck or in a state of grief, or kids battling it out for the housing commission marbles championship. The stories, so beautifully and simply drawn, belie the craft and skill of their construction. The characters may be shambolic, but the words on the page are perfectly placed to give them a dignity that they are not often afforded.

About Tony Birch

Tony Birch is the author of Shadowboxing (2006), the short-story collection Father’s Day (2009) and the novel Blood (UQP, 2011), which was shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award. He is a frequent contributor to ABC local and national radio and a regular guest at writers’ festivals. He lives in Melbourne, where he teaches in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land by Lionel Fogarty

Lionel Fogarty is Australia’s foremost experimental and political poet. Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land brings together work from across Fogarty’s career, including poems from the 2012 Scanlon Award-winning Connection Requital. The Scanlon judges wrote: ‘[it] demands that you move out of your comfort zone and encounter, grapple with, and be open to, the power of his words and the way they are placed on the page and the way their rhythms embody the knotty issues you are being pressed to countenance, accommodate and if possible resolve – or at least come to terms with somewhere in your psyche. This is no easy ride – and Fogarty takes no prisoners.’

Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Lland showcases the intelligence of the Aboriginal grassroots struggle in contemporary Australia, laying open the realness of Lionel Fogarty’s Murri mission poetry. The Aboriginal struggle in Australia is not over, but here handed to the next generations to promote their strength. Biame guide! Biame bless!

Judges' Report

Legendary Murri poet Lionel George Fogarty’s collection Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land shows that his political fire and linguistic facility are undiminished after a lifetime’s work as a poet and activist. In his introduction to the collection, Ali Alizadeh describes it as a ‘paradoxical symbiosis of political commitment and stylistic improbability’. The judging committee noted Fogarty’s continual ability to surprise and delight his reader with a passionate but not embittered politics, and a musicality of syntax that continually opens up the full possibility of language to produce new meanings.

About Lionel Fogarty

Lionel Fogarty was born on Wakka Wakka land at Barambah, now known as Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve near Murgon, Queensland. His traditional background is the Yoogum and Kudjela tribes and he has relations from the Goomba tribe.

In the early 1970s he became actively involved in Aboriginal politics after the realisation of injustices experienced while growing up on the Reserve. His involvement in the political struggles of the Aboriginal people has been through various organisations, including the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Housing Service, Black Resource Centre, Black Community School and Murrie Coo-ee. As a legal and political activist and as a community leader, his work has also been directed towards the reality of numerous Aboriginal deaths in custody.

He has travelled widely throughout Australia and the USA as an ambassador for his Murri culture and Aboriginal causes. He began writing poetry out of a commitment to the rights of his people, a belief that land rights is the basis of Aboriginal people’s hope for a future not based on racism and oppression, and as a way of expressing his Murri beliefs and continuing to pass on his own knowledge and experience. His first work Kargun (1980) was published when he was 22 and further volumes of verse have continued to be published. With the approval of his elders he has published a children’s book Booyooburra (1993), a traditional Wakka Wakka story.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession.

Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.

Judges' Report

This beautiful book by Bruce Pascoe, refuting the notion that pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians were simply hunter-gatherers, is long overdue. The author has drawn on a wealth of resources in assembling this fascinating book, and every page is ripe with information, fat and satisfying as the bogong moths he writes about. Pascoe’s text is lively and the photographs and drawings are compelling.

About Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe is a Bunurong man born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. He is a member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative of southern Victoria and has been the director of the Australian Studies Project for the Commonwealth Schools Commission.

Bruce has had a varied career as a teacher, farmer, fisherman, barman, fencing contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and editor. His book Fog a Dox (published by Magabala Books in 2012), won the Young Adult category of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

A darkly funny novel of romantic love and cultural warfare from one of Australia’s most admired Indigenous voices.

When Jo Breen uses her divorce settlement to buy a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a blossoming connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours and a looming Native Title war between the local Bundjalung families. When Jo unexpectedly finds love on one side of the Native Title divide she quickly learns that living on country is only part of the recipe for the Good Life.

Told with humour and a sharp satirical eye, Mullumbimby is a modern novel set against an ancient land.

Judges' Report

Mullumbimby deals with identity, belonging and place — common themes to many Aboriginal-authored stories — in a contemporary and relatable way. Single mother Jo Breen is grappling with a newly acquired plot of land in the hinterland and a moody teenage daughter. There’s the local Aboriginal community, where traditional ownership land claims are pitted against one another, a tall, black and handsome suitor, and a flock of birds behaving strangely — all the elements for a multi-layered plot with a twist. Mullumbimby beautifully evokes the landscape and physicality of rural life and honestly describes some of the complexities faced in upholding a land claim.

About Melissa Lucashenko

Melissa Lucashenko is an Australian writer of European and Goorie heritage.

She received an honours degree in public policy from Griffith University in 1990 and published her first novel, Steam Pigs, in 1997. It won the Dobbie Literary Award for Australian women’s fiction and was shortlisted in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards and regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Steam Pigs was followed by the Aurora Prize–winning Killing Darcy, a novel for teenagers, and Hard Yards, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Courier-Mail Book of the Year and the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. Mullumbimby won the 2013 Queensland Literary Award, Best Fiction, and was longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize.

In 2013 Melissa won the inaugural long-form Walkley Award for her Griffith Review essay ‘Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan’. She lives between Brisbane and the Bundjalung nation.

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.

The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning bestseller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale, has Oblivia Ethylene in the company of amazing characters like Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, Big Red and the Mechanic, a talking monkey called Rigoletto, three genies with doctorates, and throughout, the guiding presence of swans.

Judges' Report

Acclaimed author Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book continues her deep concerns with land, environment and myth. Wright explores the interrelation between humans and the natural world, and the capacity of song and reverie to shape reality. A poetic novel, The Swan Book leaves the reader with a sense of the sacredness of life and the interspecies connection between birds and humans.

About author

Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in Tennant Creek, and the novels Plains of Promise and Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Victorian and Queensland Premiers’ Awards and the ALS Gold Medal, and was published in the US, UK, China, Italy, France, Spain and Poland. She is a Distinguished Fellow in the University of Western Sydney’s Writing and Society Research Centre.

Calypso Summer by Jared Thomas

Calypso Summer is a story told by Calypso, a young Nukunu man, fresh out of high school in Rastafarian guise.

After failing to secure employment in sports retail, his dream occupation, Calypso finds work at the Henley Beach Health Food shop, where his boss pressures him to gather native plants for natural remedies. This leads him to his Nukunu family in southern Flinders Ranges and the discovery of a world steeped in cultural knowledge. The support of a sassy, smart, young Ngadjuri girl, with a passion for cricket rivalling his own, helps Calypso to reconsider his Rastafarian façade and understand how to take charge of his future.

Judges' Report

This fresh, original story carried the judges along with its energy and believable characters. Calypso, the young Rastafarian Aboriginal protagonist, is sorting out his life choices while trying to connect to culture, in a world that can be a dangerous and confusing place. The challenges the author has created for him are complex, interesting and often surprising. Calypso Summer is a sophisticated and universal novel that gives us a glimpse of today’s world through a young Nukunu man’s eyes.

About author

Dr Jared Thomas is a Nukunu person of the Southern Flinders Ranges and an arts development officer at Arts, South Australia. Jared’s play Flash Red Ford toured Uganda and Kenya in 1999 and his play Love, Land and Money featured during the 2002 Adelaide Fringe Festival. Jared’s young adult novel, Sweet Guy, was shortlisted for the 2009 South Australian People’s Choice Awards for Literature and his children’s book, Dallas Davis, the Scientist and the City Kids is published by the Oxford University Press Yarning Strong series.

Jared’s writing explores the power of belonging and culture. He lives in Adelaide with his partner and two daughters.

Judges: Jane Harrison (convener), Alison Lester, Philip Morrissey

About the Award

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were inaugurated by the Victorian Government in 1985 to honour literary achievement by Australian writers. The Awards are administered by the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas on behalf of the Premier of Victoria.

Nominations for the 2014 award have now closed. The winner will be announced at a free event on 3 September (Indigenous Literacy Day).

2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards is made up of a number of additional award categories. These are: the Prize for Fiction, Prize for Non-Fiction, Prize for Poetry, Prize for Drama, and the Prize for Writing for Young Adults. Each of these awards has a prize of $25,000, and the winner of each goes into the running to win the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, worth an additional $100,000. In addition, there is the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by an emerging Victorian writer, worth $15,000.

Nominations for these award categories are not sought at this time. More information about other award categories can be found here.

Please note:
All works that have entered the Award for Indigenous Writing may also enter any of the other categories of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards if they meet all other eligibility criteria for that award.

Information and Enquiries

Lucy De Kretser
Project Co-ordinator
The Wheeler Centre
176 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Telephone: 03 9094 7822