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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 1998 Judges' Report

Comments by the Judging Panel

In 1998 the judging panel considered 120 books in seven categories, welcoming the addition of the Young Adult category generously sponsored by Dymocks Perth City Store. This removed the difficulty, commented upon by previous panels, of judging books meant for young children along with those intended for young people aged up to 16 years.

The judges were particularly impressed by the range and quality of books entered in the "Historical and Critical Studies" and "Special" categories. In all categories the judges were looking for books of outstanding merit, with particular regard to the quality of writing, the contribution made to the relevant genre or discipline and accessibility to the general reader.

Four books were shortlisted in the Fiction category, four in Poetry, nine in Historical and Critical Studies, four in Children's Books, three in Young Adults, six in Special and three in Script. The judges urge readers to seek out and enjoy as many of the short list titles as possible.

Fiction Judge's Report

The Drowning Dream - Peter Burke
The idea behind Peter Burke's novel is fascinating and enormously appealing with its setting in Broome at both the height and decline of the pearling industry. It is a novel that mixes up the genres of mystery, adventure, romance, and invents an interesting first-person voice involved in telling both individual and family memoirs. The narrator develops a number of cameo-like accounts of characters in and around Broome.

On the Edge of Red - Jo Dutton
This is a successful novel in that it holds the reader's attention and establishes the two main characters very clearly. The story is slow moving and devotes considerable attention to the periods of introspection of the young woman who is the central character of the novel. It is a story about a search for origins and for identity; the outback and the Aboriginal community provide a lightly sketched background for the main narrative which follows the development of the relationship and the understanding of the main characters.

Going Inland - Pat Jacobs
In this novel the author uses the physical journey connected with travelling around Australia as a way of exploring various kinds of inner spaces and the potential for awakenings. The travellers re-assess their attachment to the land; they come to terms with a changed view of the cultural and physical landscape, and they reconsider their marital relationship. Pat Jacobs presents us with outstanding writing which offers the reader the opportunity to see the landscape and feel the tensions between the characters. At the end of the trip nothing remains the same. Happily, the writer resists the temptation to provide any resolution to these altered situations. This is skilled writing and a most impressive first novel.

Proudflesh - Deborah Robertson
Proudflesh is a collection of coolly cynical stories about the contemporary world, concerned particularly with connections and relationships between people as well as their foibles and stimulants. Its range of interests is wide: popular cultural forms, psychology, addictions, missed connections, love, obsessions, loneliness. Most of these stories have a sharp edge; the writing is always controlled and self-consciously literary.

Poetry Judge's Report

The Hunt - John Kinsella
Kinsella's eighth collection of poems is concerned with capturing place and landscape in a new way. The poem always looks at its subject from an unexpected angle, whether it be country or people, moving freely and easily in the mind of the reader by offering vivid images of a recognisable world. These poems have a precision of image, a sharpness and a wonderful clarity. The Hunt is a satisfying and challenging volume of poems by a writer who has managed a robust and dynamic career earning him international acclaim.

New and Selected Poems - Philip Salom
This is an impressive volume: covering the output of twenty years of a poet's life, six previously published works and with a section of new poems. New and Selected Poems offers an opportunity to look at this span of the writer's life and production; perhaps contentiously, it also provides the poet with the chance to do some post-publication shaping and editing. The six already published volumes are offered in a selected form, in a different light. The craft of the poet is foremost; the range of preoccupations and passions topical in both subject matter and poetic form.

These Glimpsed Interiors - Ian Templeman
This is a well-unified collection of lyric poetry dealing with intimacy and love. The poems, to some extent nostalgic in tone, encapsulate intense emotions which are delicately probed and frozen in time. Templeman deals with the subtleties and contradictions of human behaviour, in a collection which suggests the intense vulnerability of many human beings. The poet takes the reader with him into places of recognition. There is a sense of the writer's presence in the text as these places, both physical and interior, are explored.

The Gatekeeper's Wife - Fay Zwicky
This volume is a wonderful collection from a mature artist. Zwicky is confident enough to present poems as eclectic in their form and range as these - sometimes light and humorous and playful, and other times based on the most profound of emotional recollections. The project of each poem has an integrity of craft and approach and a voice that sings its knowledge and passion. The Gatekeeper's Wife is an elegant and eloquent volume of poems that are concerned with the current world and the act of looking back in re-consideration. There is dark humour and satire in this controlled and cerebral writing.

Historical & Critical Studies Judge's Report

Our State of Mind: Racial planning and the stolen generations - Quentin Beresford and Paul Omaji
This is a much needed account of Western Australian state discrimination against Aboriginal people, based on a study of the legislation and planning which lay behind the removal of Aboriginal children. The authors also consulted a number of Aboriginal people who had the experience of being forcibly separated from their families. The authors see the origin of the racist ideas which underpinned this set of policies in the desire of Europeans to possess Aboriginal land and employ cheap labour. This is a well-written and accessible text based on substantial research, which the authors make the basis for their careful judgement. It has a good bibliography and index and will be widely consulted by both general and specialist readers for its historical and contemporary value.

Ripples on a Cosmic Sea: the search for gravitational waves - David Blair and Geoff McNamara
This is a scholarly and readable introduction to some of the difficult philosophical questions about space and the universe. David Blair writes with verve and energy about the fundamental scientific research in which he has been personally engaged. It is now apparent that the next century will bring new discoveries about the cosmos, and that astronomy will be one of the most important sciences. This book introduces the reader to gravitational waves, neutron stars and black holes as though they are part of every day life. This is a good beginning, not only for the student of science, but for all those lay readers who would like a reader-friendly introduction to this expanding science.

South of My Days: A biography of Judith Wright - Veronica Brady
This celebratory biography of Judith Wright positions her within her family milieu and describes her intellectual voyage away from the conservatism of her upbringing to a radical view of politics, which includes her engagement over issues of poverty, the environment and the treatment of Aborigines. The author has access to a wide range of source material which allows her to see her subject in relation to the important social movements of her time. Brady also uses Wright's poetry, with which she is very familiar, to develop a rounded picture of the poet's personal beliefs. This is an important biography of one of Australia's major poets.

Island Nation: A history of Australians and the sea - Frank Broeze
This book is a comprehensive narrative history of the connections which have developed by sea travel between Australia and the rest of the world. Its construction depends on new research as well as on the work of past scholars, who have contributed to knowledge in this field. Their work is here collected, revised, and extended in an innovative way. The emphasis on Australia as an island which had to be approached by sea opens up new ways of considering our past. It should appeal to a wide range of readers many of whom might not normally read historical texts.

Performance Anxieties: Re-producing masculinity - David Buchbinder
This is an analysis of various kinds of cultural texts about masculinity, a subject which has been put on the academic agenda in recent times. The author examines print, film, and other kinds of media, to try to identify their cultural messages. In this way it is possible to understand the kind of cultural repertoire which is available to men and generally acceptable in this society. The book is aimed at the general reader who will find it easy to follow the analysis. This text helps explain the sort of anxieties men experience and underlines the fact that expectations of male behaviour are culturally constructed, rather than pre-ordained.

Orphans of the Empire - Alan Gill
This book covers the story of child migration to Western Australia and elsewhere in Australia under various schemes disguised as child-saving but actually designed to provide cheap labour, usually for rural capitalists. This is a comprehensive coverage of an important topic. The author relies almost entirely on oral history for his evidence of the way children in the United Kingdom were separated from their parents and shipped to Australia, often without the knowledge of family members. The book records the experience of many individual child migrants who have spent years trying to find their relatives and rediscover their personal identity.

Women in Early Modern England 1550 - 1720 - Sara Mendelson and Patricia Crawford
This book is based on years of detailed research by these authors, as well as by many other historians, whose work is incorporated into their findings. This is not a narrative history but a social history which explores many areas of 17th century English culture which have not been given much consideration in earlier general histories. We can learn about marriage, the law, sexual practices, politics and friendship, along with a vast array of other topics, in a book which is for the specialist reader rather than the general public. This is outstanding academic work and a considerable achievement for these two historians.

Dealing with Alcohol: Indigenous Usage in Australia, New Zealand - Sherry Saggers and Dennis Gray
and Canada This is a substantial piece of research dealing with a problem which regularly surfaces at the level of politics, health and the law. The authors provide a carefully considered account of alcohol use by people in these three societies, in order to dispel some of the myths which have currency in our community. The text relies heavily on a vast body of research already done about the past and future problems of these cultures as far as alcohol consumption is concerned. The long bibliography provides details about other relevant material which is here brought together in a form which is readily accessible. This book will make an important contribution to general debate as well as offering valuable information for all the people especially concerned with this question.

A Life on the Ocean Wave: the Journals of Captain George Bayly - Pamela Statham and Rica Erickson
1824-1844 This book adds to the growing body of 19th century travel literature which is of interest to the academic and general reader. The authors explain how the journals were found and provide a brief introductory account of the life of Captain Bayly. This journal will be of interest to those who like to follow the history of voyages into relatively unknown waters, in this case voyages to Australia, India and the Pacific, as well as those who are interested in the history of shipping. This nicely illustrated text is also a valuable source of knowledge about the attitudes and beliefs of the early 19th century.

Children's Books Judge's Report

Desert Dog - Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike
Lowe's engrossing biography of Spinifex is based on a true story told to her by Jimmy Pike, and her own experiences with dingoes during the years she lived in the desert. The third person narrative involves the reader intimately in the pup's life from the time she is captured and reared by Mala, an Aboriginal woman living a nomadic life, until her return years later, as a mature dingo. Between times both dingo and Aboriginals alternate between living traditionally and the white man's world of cattle station employment. This is an exceptional book in which the well paced narrative and convincing characters are set against the detailed backdrop of The Great Sandy Desert in the late 1940's and early '50s.

The Playground - Shaun Tan

This is an outstanding contribution to the critically acclaimed and popular "After Dark" series widely acknowledged to be the perfect foil for those addicted to the Goosebumps genre. Given a metal detector for Christmas, Gavin dreams of making a fortune from the seemingly plentiful supply of coins dropped in playgrounds, but in classic cautionary tale tradition the treasure he finds is double-edged. Tightly written, suspenseful and with just sufficient horror to thrill but not disgust, The Playground is a first class page turner with Tan's own scraperboard and graphite illustrations accentuating Gavin's increasing feelings of addiction and entrapment.

Blueback: A Fable for All Ages - Tim Winton
Superbly produced in small hardback format and with exquisite minimalist illustrations by Karen Louise, Blueback makes a welcome contribution to children's literature. Deceptive in its simplicity, Winton's serious and restrained 'fable' does indeed work for 'all ages' drawing the reader into the life cycle of Abel, his mother and the huge blue groper which inhabits the abalone beds of Longboat Bay. Intertwined with Abel's passage from childhood to maturity, culminating in the death of his mother and birth of his child, is the depiction of the rapidly changing environment and the mother and son's lifelong dedication to its preservation.

The Deep - Tim Winton and Karen Louise
A quintessential picture book in which Winton's tale of a child overcoming her fear is perfectly mirrored by Louise's strong, vibrant and sensitive oil pastels. As Alice's fear of deep water is juxtaposed against the overwhelming confidence and physicality of her family, the reader is drawn into an empathy with her which is assisted on every page by the detailed portrayal of her constantly changing moods.

Young Adults Judge's Report

The Big Game - Wendy Jenkins
A timely sequel to the well received Killer Boots, The Big Game continues the story of Greg's passion for Australian Rules and his growing friendship with Dockers wingman, Matt Toglonini. Jenkin's affinity with both teenagers and footy is clearly revealed in her convincing portrayal of the vicissitudes of Greg's and Matt's lives and the darker side and complexity of professional sport. Implicit within this action packed adventure story are the dangers associated with the win at all costs mentality and those who seek to profit from it.

Red Hugh - Deborah Lisson
Based on one of the most celebrated episodes in Irish history, Red Hugh demonstrates once again that Lisson has made the field of historical fiction her own. With impeccable attention to historical research and the nuances of Irish English she has used her educated imagination to brilliant effect to bring this story alive. Captured by the English in 1587, young Hugh Roe O'Donnell was held hostage in Dublin Castle for four years as a guarantee that his powerful father would be unable to forge a united Ulster. The novel follows Hugh's capture, captivity and two escape attempts, the latter being successful albeit at a terrible cost. Dominating this compelling narrative is the character of Hugh, with whom the reader identifies totally as he struggles to survive the awful conditions of imprisonment, and the harrowing physical trials of his escape, sustained by the knowledge that his own people were looking to him for leadership.

A Dark Winter - The Tenabran Trilogy Book One - Dave Luckett
Generously acknowledging his debt to Tolkien, the creator of the fantasy genre, Dave Luckett has succeeded in constructing a marvellous medieval world which totally absorbs the reader's attention. An experienced fantasy writer, he never underestimates the crucial importance of creating likeable, believable characters, exceptionally well paced narrative and a setting whose complexity does not overwhelm. Will de Parkin, Silvus and Sword Maiden Sister Winterridge set out on a quest to defeat the armies of the Dark and save the castle of Ys. Amusing, ironic, reflective and controlled, A Dark Winter, the first in a trilogy, will earn Dave Luckett a devoted following from fantasy aficionados.

Special Award Judge's Report

Creating Australia: Changing Australian History - Geoffrey Bolton and Wayne Hudson
This is a collection of important short essays by well-known Australian historians who explore the nature of the changes which have occurred in the ways of representing various aspects of Australia's past. The essays overall tend to stress the diversity of our culture and reject any notion of Australian cultural nationalism. The essays are often historiographical in their content and will therefore be of considerable value to students and general readers.

Broken Bangles - Hanifa Deen
An intelligent and nuanced account of the lives and status of women in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The author's background and personal experience lends credibility to this exploration, which avoids dogmatism and is sympathetic to the life experiences of these women who only slowly make gains in terms of personal freedom.

The Boab Tree - Pat Lowe
The author has personal knowledge of her subject and is familiar with the literature about how this tree grows in a number of different countries. She points to the references to the tree in travellers' tales and shipping literature and explains the uses and value of the tree to human and bird populations. The book is illustrated with photographs and sketches, has maps showing where the trees can be found, and includes a bibliography and index. It is a delightful book on an unusual subject.

Jimmy and Pat Meet the Queen - Pat Lowe and Jimmy Pike
This is an entertaining and ironic romp which serves to satirise the hair-splitting of much of the contemporary debate about land rights as well as current legal processes. It is also a satire directed against the institution of the monarchy. This is a small, illustrated text which is both unusual and entertaining. The text subverts the generally accepted Western notion that the right to land depends on political power or the possession of money. It states the Aboriginal position in a particularly succinct way.

Pomegranate Season - Carolyn Polizzotto
This is a beautifully written autobiographical account of the author's gradual acceptance of her child's disability. It is structured as a detailed diary which has the effect of underlining the slow daily process of healing. The author focuses especially on daily minutiae concerning the plants growing in her garden, the tending of which she shares with her husband. Sometimes the plants have to be cut back or controlled in some way; sometimes they burst unexpectedly into wonderful blooms. The daily attention to the garden is a metaphor for the daily observance and care of the loved but disabled child who also sometimes performs in unexpected ways, bringing moments of unlooked-for joy. This is an innovative work by one of our most skilled writers.

Karina has Down Syndrome - Cheryl Rogers and Gun Dolva
In a loving, but thoughtful and honest voice Karina has Down Syndrome lays out the emotional and practical problems encountered by families with disabled children. In spite of these difficulties and demands, the book is ultimately encouraging about the steps that can be taken to help such children reach their potential and participate in the community. It includes a list of services and agencies which offer support to people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Script Award Judge's Report

My Vicious Angel - Christine Evans
My Vicious Angel is an ambitious attempt at a psychological drama conducted at a point of extremity: the main protagonist has suffered spinal damage as a result of a trapeze accident and lies prone as she engages with memory of family and the progress of her life. The play is a performance for two actors and two musicians and, even on the page with detailed instructions for staging options, comes to life with some of its claustrophobic mood and rhythmic potential. It is a one-act play that uses language for its musicality and resembles performance art more than the 'well-made' play.

Milk and Honey - Ingle Knight
Ingle Knight's adaptation of Elizabeth Jolley's Milk and Honey is an original work. It is enormously successful in its act of transformation: of shaping a story into another form, into a work for the stage that relies upon a range of different narrative qualities. The use that Knight has made of characterisation and suspense and, particularly, the skill of selection and assemblage is impressive.

King Hit - Geoffrey Narkle and David Milroy
This play script, already produced in two public seasons, is an effective theatrical venture of mapping the paradoxes involved in being an Australian Aborigine. Always present is the pressure of choice: between white and black, between oppression and self-determination. Using autobiographical material as its basis, Geoffrey Narkle and co-writer David Milroy tackle stories of family, childhood reverie, boxing as a sport, loss and loyalty and, above all, the matter of identity.