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VPLA 2024
Personal Score: Sport, culture, identity

Non-Fiction Shortlist

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Title: Personal Score: Sport, culture, identity

Author: Ellen van Neerven

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Award-winning writer Ellen van Neerven plays football from a young age, learning early on that sport can be a painful and exclusive world. The more they play, the more they realise about sport’s troubled relationship with race, gender and sexuality – and question what it means to play sport on stolen, sovereign land, especially in the midst of multiple environmental crises.

With emotional honesty and searing insight, van Neerven shines a light on sport on this continent from a queer First Nations perspective, revealing how some athletes have long challenged mainstream views and used their roles to effect change not only in their own realm, but in society more broadly. Personal Score is a ground-breaking book that confirms, once again, van Neerven’s unrivalled talent, courage and originality.


Photography by Sarah Walker



Judges’ report

Ellen van Neerven’s remarkable memoir Personal Score seduces with its synthesis of poetry and political critique, grounded in a strong sense of place. It is essential reading for its insights into settler colonial violence, gender and sexuality, climate justice and – of course – football. And it is also a reflection on family, friendship, love, pride, and the joy of kicking goals. Van Neerven describes Personal Score as ‘an ugly book that was born of the ugly language that I grew up hearing in this country’. Yet it is a pleasure to read their account of the years during which ‘I am the parts of me that don’t know what I know now’ – and to learn from them what it is they now know.








About the author

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh and Dutch heritage. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers’ Prize. They are the author of two poetry collections: Comfort Food, which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize; and Throat, which won the Kenneth Slessor Prize, the Multicultural NSW Award and Book of the Year in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.