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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 1997 Winners

Premier's Prize (Joint Winners)

The Drowner - Robert Drewe
Pan Macmillan Australia
Robert Drewe's novel The Drowner is the work of a mature craftsman of language, intricately detailed and with a cinematic vision. The skill with which the writer blends historical and imaginative material to make this love story is immense: from deep and imagistic scenes of intimate relations to the span of Western Australian geography and the dilemma of the arid, typhoid-ridden goldfields of Kalgoorlie. The lives of the people in this novel flow with the presence or absence of water, also a metaphor for love. It is a novel about the fragility of sexual love, about people constructing tenuous but sustaining human relationships in strange contexts; it is also about pain, anguish and death. Drewe writes with great skill and detachment about history and the multiplicity of ways of telling and retelling stories and he does this in a prose style that is full of sensual delights. The Drowner is a compelling and rich novel.

Fetish Lives - Gail Jones
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
The stories in Fetish Lives by Gail Jones concern themselves with meditations about acts of artistic creation and speculations on the voices and lives of those responsible, both the makers and those who receive the work. As announced in the title, the fetish is explored as a productive, producing state between art and life. We are offered yearnings and obsessions and desire. This collection is impressive for the remarkable subtleties and nuances of its language. This skill holds our attention; the stories are both compelling and accessible, and at times, carry a gentle, wry humour. There is a darkness about this work, though; an attempt to find some truth about human relations which can be accessible only if all the usual verities are ignored, turned upside down or bypassed. This is usually the terrain of the poet, but Jones explores her ideas through narratives of real and imagined events, and she does so with intelligence and a fine elegance of language.

Fiction (Joint Winners)

The Drowner - Robert Drewe
Pan Macmillan Australia
See notes for Premier's Prize

Fetish Lives - Gail Jones
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
See notes for Premier's Prize

Poetry

The Wheels of Hama: Collected War Poems - Alec Choate
Victor Publishing
Alec Choate's The Wheels of Hama: Collected War Poems represents a major contribution to the war poetry of Australia. The poems span five years of conflict and document adept and compassionate observation of the people and landscapes of the Middle East, and the detritus of war. They include a sense of myth and ancient history appropriate to the area; this inclusion is both knowledgeable and poetically deft. The poems document moments of thoughtful stillness, rest or preparation before engagement in battle as well as battle itself. The tone is balanced and meditative, and full of respect: for what the poet sees, for the readers of the poems, and respect for poetic form. Many of the poems are long and beautifully sustained, giving evidence of the substance of the poet's skills. In one of his poems, Choate observes that "all he need do is watch, at times, and write". His poems are largely the product of these sympathetic observations about the people of cultures other than his own who are caught up in the destruction of warfare. These are narrative poems, written with attention to rhyme and metre, direct and magnificent nature poems and war poems. They are a kind of penance for having taken part in this destructive activity.

Historical & Critical Studies

Carpet of Silver: the Wreck of the Zuytdorp - Phillip Playford
University of WA Press
In Carpet of Silver: the Wreck of the Zuytdorp, Phillip Playford offers us two histories, skilfully intertwined. One is about the wreck of Dutch ships on the Western Australian coast, and of this wreck in particular, with a substantial account of how these ships operated from Europe to the West Indies. The second interlocking story is about how the mystery of the Zuytdorp was unravelled by Museum personnel, by local adventurers and other interested parties. The story gives full attention to the role of local people on the coast, including the Aboriginal population. There are excellent photographs which provide a valuable addition to the clear description of the local environment. This account unravels the politics of wrecks in Western Australia and fills in the details of a great story which has previously come to us only through episodic newspaper reports. There is excellent research both in Western Australia and overseas underlying this account, including research into the amount of bullion carried by the Zuytdorp and into the details of her disastrous voyage to Capetown. The photographs add to the clear reconstruction of the 'search' story which includes the interesting last chapter on the possible absorption of the ship-wrecked Europeans by local Aborigines. This is a well written and absorbing story with a wide potential readership, both here and overseas.

Children's & Young Adult's Books

A Place of Safety - Deborah Lisson
Mammoth (Reed Books)
Deborah Lisson's A Place of Safety is a most welcome addition to the small collection of quality historical fiction accessible to 10-14 year olds. Impeccably researched, historically and geographically, this well-crafted book combines a strong plot line and convincing characterisation to invite young Australians to explore an important and sometimes unpalatable part of our history. Set during World War II, it traces the developing maturity of London evacuee, Sally Armitage, as she struggles to understand and accept life in a tiny rural town in the south-west of Western Australia. Her adjustment is skilfully juxtaposed with that of her aunt and uncle, who had migrated almost twenty years earlier as Group Settlers, and with that of the Italian community, long-term and respected residents who became objects of suspicion overnight and were interned on Rottnest Island. As Sally is experiencing this complex society, she revels in her discovery of a secret hideaway, and struggles with the harsh reality of a stranger on the run. Nevertheless, it is her endearing and utterly persuasive personality which dominates this splendid novel.

Special Award

Songs of Strength: Sixteen Women Talk About Cancer
Women's Cancer Group (Macmillan)
In Songs of Strength: Sixteen Women Talk about Cancer, by the Women's Cancer Group, we are presented with clear readable accounts of the changes in the lives of women who have been diagnosed as having cancer. They eschew sentimentality in favour of tough-minded accounts of their experiences and of the changes in their lives because of this illness. This is an unusual book by people who have experienced something widely dreaded by most of the community. There is a note of defiance, even of celebration about this book, which is truly a remarkable achievement. The book has been made with enormous skill and craft; its intelligence shines through the individual compositions as well as the editing and the final shape of the work.

Perth Theatre Trust - Screenwest Script Award

Merry-Go-Round-In-the Sea - Dickon Oxenburgh and Andrew Ross
Black Swan Theatre
Dicken Oxenburgh and Andrew Ross have written an adaptation of Randolph Stow's novel, Merry-Go-Round-in-the-Sea and carefully and skilfully employed both image and impressionism in the original work to make a powerful work for the stage. With seemingly simple threads from the novel, they have built a layered and affecting, and visually exciting, portrayal of a particular Australian experience of nostalgia and yearning and change. The text explores emotional ties between generations, and the incapacity of those who have lost their innocence to return to the stable and simple world they have left behind. The script does great justice to the original work and enhances it, as all good adaptations from one form to another attempt to do.