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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 1999 Judges' Report

Comments by the Judging Panel

In 1999 the judging panel considered 116 books in six categories-this year scripts were included in the Special Award category. As with 1998 there was an impressive range and quality of books entered in the 'Historical and Critical Studies' and 'Special Awards' categories, and for this reason the panel considered relatively long short lists-eight and seven respectively-were justified for these two categories. Five books were short listed in the Fiction category, three in Poetry, four in Children's Books and three in Young Adults. In all categories the judges followed the lead of their predecessors in 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. In numerous different ways the listed books are testimony to the richness of the history and culture of Western Australia and of Western Australians.

Fiction Judge's Report

Benang - Kim Scott
Benang is an outstanding achievement of narrative. It uses the historical record, ideas about revisions and corrections, and the close emotional range of the recording of family to make a political and affecting work of loss that is undercut with both irony and distance. Throughout its five hundred pages it sustains its original idea of subverting the state-sanctioned policies of race and genetic make-up, of making the 'first white baby'. This is a major work of fiction that is always engaged in a struggle against its bleak material, and it succeeds in that struggle. There is a huge investment evident here by the writer in researching, compiling and then making anew this material into an imaginative form.

Blue - Ken Spillman
Blue is a fascinating woven narrative of character, a novel that focuses on a group of people as they proceed through adolescence and into adulthood. It is also involved with ideas of place and neighbourhood, of physical sites for growing up and beginning to define one's identity.

Our Man K - Nicholas Hasluck
Nicholas Hasluck's novel Our Man K uses historical detail involving mysterious outcomes and identity, and reworks these materials into a skilful story of political intrigue. The novel maintains a strong mood of suspense throughout, and is the work of a mature writer. It will be of particular interest to those students of Australian history intrigued by the bizarre events in 1934 when left-wing polemicist Egon Kisch jumped ship literally (breaking his leg in the process) in an attempt to avoid immigration authorities.

Poe's Cat - Brenda Walker
Poe's Cat is an elegantly written novel that reworks historical detail from the storehouse of literature and generates it into new narratives placed parallel with contemporary stories of pleasure and risk and property.

Prowler - Marion Campbell
Prowler is a novel that confidently toys with experiments of form and language and sustains these experiments throughout. At its heart it is a novel of loss and grief, of return and of maternity. But it is also concerned with dispossession and racism, of tangled histories. The writer always holds control of her materials, often playfully, and offers up this parallel, or counter-narrative of two women and their experiences of 'growing up'.

Poetry Judge's Report

Editing the Moon - Caroline Caddy
Caroline Caddy's seventh volume continues to supply her dedicated readers with fine poetic evidence of a clear-eyed and intelligent observer of the world and its contents. Her poems are always exquisite artefacts of an engagement with language and ways of reading landscape and social relations.

Kangaroo Virus - John Kinsella and Ron Sims
This book and compact disc is a skilful package that involves expression with words, images and sound. It is an ambitious collaboration that tackles questions of connection between humans and the 'natural' world of landscape, ecology, inquiry and futures.

The Willing Eye - Tracy Ryan
The Willing Eye is a powerful volume made up of six sections that set up, at times, remarkable insights into human life and its complexity. Using the physical act of giving birth and moving through the life of the growing child, as these poems do, and focusing on place-on the detail of both landscape and interior spaces-we are literally taken on a journey. These poems are direct, mature, sometimes modest-looking, unadorned constructions that contain a great sophistication and clarity through their use of language.

Historical & Critical Studies Judge's Report

Broken Lives - Estelle Blackburn
In searching for answers concerning a possible miscarriage of justice Estelle Blackburn has provided a detailed reconstruction of a series of events which illuminate the social history of Perth in the 1960s. Focusing on the extraordinary and chilling crimes of serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke she provides a fascinating insight into what made Cooke tick, while the narrative makes for engaging, indeed gripping reading at all times. This may have been a book written primarily in the attempt to argue the case for a particular individual but the end product is much more than that. The impressive list of sources both written and oral is testimony to the extent of her achievement.

Claremont: a History - Geoffrey Bolton and Jenny Gregory
Claremont: a History, published shortly after the centenary of the Town of Claremont, represents the bringing together of a number of viewpoints. To Geoffrey Bolton's research extending over more than twenty years has been added a significant portion of co-author's Jenny Gregory's PhD thesis on middle class suburbia. Short eyewitness accounts are also included from Sir Paul Hasluck and Professor George Seddon for the 1930s and 1960s. The outcome is a readable and fascinating account of the growth and development of a middle class suburb originally founded as a settlement for pensioned-off British soldiers who guarded convicts.

Fairbridge: Empire and Child Migration - Geoffrey Sherington and Chris Jeffery
This well-written and timely book represents the outcome of fifteen years of research and provides a comprehensive and nicely balanced account of Fairbridge child migration. Kingsley Fairbridge's aims and objectives are set in the context of early twentieth century British imperialism. The authors then go on to show how the ideals behind the farm school experiment in Western Australia were extended to other parts of the Empire between the wars, but virtually ended in the 1960s with the fall of the Empire and profound changes in attitudes to child migration.

Fiction and the Law - Kieran Dolin
Kieran Dolin's erudite critical volume offers the specialist reader as well as an interested general audience a pathway through representations of legal process in fiction, and a close look at one area of literary history. It is a well-argued scholarly book and potential teaching text.

Kangkushot The Life of Nyamal Lawman Peter Coppin - Jolly Read and Peter Coppin
In a powerful and effective narrative based on oral history, Jolly Read tells the story of Peter Coppin (Kangkushot), 'the most senior elder, the top lawman' for the Nyamal people in the Pilbara, interspersing third person narrative with Peter Coppin's own voice. Living 2000 kilometres apart, the interviewer and interviewee met over a two year period as Kangkushot related his life story centred on a movement for social justice and social awareness encompassing the first strike of Aboriginal workers in Australia's history in 1946.

Miles of Post and Wire - Florence Corrigan as told to Loreen Brehaut
Miles of Post and Wire is a personal account of a woman described as 'fencer, horsewoman, dogger, roo skinner, goat hunter, cook, hard-working mother and backbone of two generations in the high hill country of the Pilbara'. In the early 1960s at thirty years of age, after fighting as a single mother to prevent her first child from being adopted out, she discovered that there was no registration of her birth and confirmed her growing realisation that she was of Aboriginal descent. Florence's story is told with a simple directness, from her isolated childhood through her extensive travels around Australia, to raising her family and meeting her future husband, and after his death forming a Seniors' Club in Roebourne.

Myth of Privilege - Steve Mickler
Steve Mickler's book is an important one in the contested spaces of contemporary society: in exploring politics and social relations through the filters of race and power. It argues a powerful analysis of media representations by incorporating social theory and communications and cultural theories into its compelling thesis.

Sister Kate: A Life Dedicated to Children in Need of Care - Vera Whittington
In this thoroughly researched and well-documented book Vera Whittington has succeeded in her objective to write an 'intimate story, with an authentic background' documenting the life of a remarkable woman. The name of Sister Kate has become a byword for the use of the cottage home system of child care in Western Australia, and the book deals carefully and lovingly with the founding and acceptance of the Parkerville Children's Home, the upheavals which led to Sister Kate's enforced departure in 1933, and the subsequent establishment of the Cottage Home at Queen's Park.

Children's Books Judge's Report

About this Little Devil and this Little Fella - Albert Barunga, Stephen Muecke and Julie Dowling
When the 'little fella' keeps eating honey and refuses to go home with his mother, he almost becomes dinner for a devil instead. Such things can happen in authentic Aboriginal stories, which are often told as cautionary tales for young children. This traditional story from the Worora people of the Kimberley is supported by the bold, effective illustrations of a painter from the Gascoyne region. The text exemplifies the oral tradition of storytelling, and demands to be read aloud for best effect as a shared bedtime story.

Angel in a Gum Tree - Diana Chase, Valerie Krantz and Heather Hummel
When told that Christmas in Australia is unlike Christmas in other countries, the littlest angel takes time out from delivering Christmas greetings around the world to discover for himself if this is true. We follow his journey around Australia from the beach to the city and the outback, where he watches how Australian families celebrate Christmas and decides whether the spirit of an Australian Christmas really is different. Very young children will find the simple story engaging and will pore over the colourful, interesting and detailed pictures, finding new delights with each re-reading.

Showtime!: Over 75 ways to put on a show - Reg Bolton
Packed with inspiring ideas and tips for creating interesting, exciting performances, this large-size, full-colour Dorling Kindersley book will delight children, especially those throughout Western Australia who have participated in educational programs with Reg Bolton's 'Suitcase Circus'. Adults helping children to create a polished public performance will also welcome the range of suggestions for acts, costumes and staging ideas. Well set out, the ideas are easy to follow and generally simple to create using readily available materials. Children portrayed in the book exemplify the United Kingdom racial mix, but this does not detract from its value for an Australian audience.

Straggler's Reef - Elaine Forrestal
When Karri, her brother Jarrad and her Dad are stranded on Straggler's Reef by a freak willy-willy, the last thing Karri expects is to meet Caroline, a relative from the past, and recover the legendary family treasure. The story is an engaging mix of adventure and fantasy set in a place that closely resembles Perth and Rottnest Island. The text is an effective blend of conversation and descriptive passages, and the short chapters move the story quickly to the exciting conclusion.

Dymocks Young Adults Judge's Report

Going Off - Colin Bowles
Fourteen-year-old Greg's green hair, black clothing and the almost permanently attached walkman are really signs of his anxiety and insecurity rather than teenage rebellion. For Greg, the nightmare trip to Sydney organised by his grandmother so that all the family can be together is almost the final straw. Told in the first person by Greg, the story of his teenage insecurities rings true. The characters are realistically drawn and readers, especially those with an extended family, will find humour as well as sadness in his search for identity.

Scooterboy - Glyn Parry
This open-ended love story is told from the point of view of Sam Lynch, a school dropout who is pumping petrol for her mother's boyfriend in the small community of Happy Valley. Sam is unsure that she even has a future until she meets Zach, the gentle new boy who rides a Vespa and idolises 'The Who', a rock group from the 1960s. In the spare language of the dialogue and Sam's musings, Parry captures the insecurities of teenagers, their worldliness and naivety, the tumult of being in love and the difficulties faced in a world where teenagers often have little support from adults or their peers.

Surf's Up - Diana Chase
When Matt starts at his new school in Margaret River, the class loudmouth Brad with his zoo of maimed animals, soon penetrates Matt's self pity about his short leg and clumsy boot. Although the positive outcome for the two boys, one learning to surf and the other to read, may be a little too obvious, young teenagers will empathise with the well-realised characters. They will also enjoy the confident use of the language of surfing, the familiar Western Australian environment and the exciting, fast moving adventure.

Special Award Judge's Report

Abrolhos Islands Conversations - Victor France, Larry Mitchell and Alison Wright
An authentic and distinctive culture with its own traditions, mores and expectations has emerged from the human activity that has taken place in the unique environment of the Abrolhos Islands. It is brilliantly captured in the frank, unembellished interviews in this collaborative work, which is enhanced by excellent drawings and portraits.

Carrying the Banner: Women, Leadership and Activism in Australia - edited by Joan Eveline and Lorraine Hayden
Carrying The Banner is an important book of insights and accounts of the experience of twenty-two Australian women in positions of leadership. In their own words they share these experiences with generosity and intelligence and offer a guidebook of inspired action for 'improving' society.

Cray Tales - Annie de Monchaux
Annie de Monchaux trawled the WA coast to bring together a colourful, idiosyncratic collection of characters, anecdotes, information and impressions that may otherwise have been lost. Her labour of love is skilfully written and edited and creatively produced, with plenty of humour, insights and other delightful surprises.

Landbridge: Contemporary Australian Poetry - John Kinsella
Landbridge is an impressive anthology of poetry from forty-four of the leading Australian poets of this time, nine of whom have a strong connection to Western Australia. It is a strong selection that includes surprises and offers through its contextualising some new ways of reading these poets. As well as being a significant survey book for its time, Landbridge is an excellent teaching text for an international audience.

Material Women '99: Quilts that tell Stories - edited by Katie Hill and Margaret Ross
Material Women '99 was one of the projects to receive a grant from the WA Government's Centenary of Women's Suffrage Committee. It is the product of a number of quilters and story writers and based on the experience of more than 50 WA women who contributed to the growth and development of the State in a variety of ways. The book strikingly demonstrates the value of this unusual medium and provides a unique record of important aspects of WA's history.

The Song of the Earth (script) - John Aitken
John Aitken has crafted a play from biographical material about the life and work of Gustav Mahler to be performed with music. This musical play has been made from a judicious selection and sensitivity to Mahler's compositions and his character.

William Dampier in New Holland: Australia's first natural historian
- Alexander S. George

William Dampier, the swashbuckling 17th Century pirate and first English explorer to set foot on Australian soil, was equally at home attacking towns and ships, or collecting and describing plant specimens. Alex George's well-researched and attractively presented book on Dampier's two voyages of discovery to Australia appeals as both human and natural history.