Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing 2016

The Awards

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.

In 2016, nominations are sought for the Award for Indigenous Writing, which offers $25,000 in prize money.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards comprise 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 In addition, there is the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by an emerging Victorian writer, worth $15,000. 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.

The winner

Tony Birch (Carlton, Vic) – Ghost River, University of Queensland Press

Ghost River is a heartfelt story of young friends and drifters who turn to the river in the reality of poverty and violence. This persevering coming of age story is also a historical take of Melbourne and the trans-generational flow of the Yarra. Told through the trailing innocence of Ren and Sonny who don’t hold a deeply set lens of race and power, it becomes more about those who have, those who don’t and how to survive.

Glimpses of different times are woven through yarns of the homeless river fellas as the hostile spread of the built environment threatens the place of the characters with loss of their connection to a river that was already displaced.

View a gallery from the Award presentation, or scroll down to listen to Tony's acceptance speech.

Shortlist and judging panel’s comments: 

Ali Cobby Eckermann (Koolunga, SA) – Inside My Mother, Giramondo Publishing

Inside My Mother is a haunting and evocative piece of writing from an extraordinarily gifted poet. Ali Cobby Eckermann has produced a deeply personal set of poetic moments, which are both inventive and classical. A raw and honest collection cut from bitter experience, Inside My Mother sometimes reads like a verse novel – except these moments might be ripped from the pages of another person’s life.

There is great empathy in these poems. The title suggests a primal longing for the mother, who is embodied in the birth trees that populate the country of the poet’s mind. Those birth trees, like the surreal dream birds, are both witness and sentinel to generations of mothers and daughters. There is nothing anaesthetic about these poems; they are brutal and affirming in their truth.


Ellen van Neerven (Teneriffe, Qld) – Heat and Light, University of Queensland Press

Ellen van Neerven’s stories bristle with life and authenticity. From a buried secret, a subverted future and intimate violence – the writer’s hand moves effortlessly. Sexuality, family and country are interlaced through distinct and finely-drawn female characters. There is no waste in her characterisation. Throughout, van Neerven deftly weaves stories and characters that are unmistakably real, fleshed out with dry humour, punctuated by sex and nostalgia, their seemingly unremarkable lives intercut with longing and darkness.

A confident narrative presents measured and transformative portions of Australia’s past and futures. In the single novella, Water, these futures become our past when the spirits return to mirror contemporary political and social complexities of belonging to land that is being exploited. Already highly and deservingly awarded, Heat and Light is a startling and highly original debut from a fine literary voice.


2016 judging panel: Daniel Browning, Hannah Donnelly and Kelly Briggs

Tony Birch's acceptance speech

Tony Birch accepts the Award

Tony Birch accepts the Award — Photo: Jon Tjhia

Information and Enquiries

Amita Kirpalani
Projects Producer 
The Wheeler Centre
176 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Key dates

Call for entries open – Friday 24 June 2016
Entries close – Friday 22 July 2016
Judging period – Friday 29 July to Monday 29 August 2016
Shortlist announced – Thursday 1 September 2016
Winner announced – Thursday 8 September 2016