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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2005 Judges' Report

Comments by the Judging Panel

One-hundred-thirty-four books and scripts were submitted to the 2005 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, the same number as last year. The judges considered these works in seven categories: fiction, poetry, writing for young adults, children’s books, scripts, non-fiction and (for the second year) West Australian history. There is one prize awarded in each category except for non-fiction where two prizes are awarded because of the larger number of submissions (55). And the overall winner is chosen from those eight winners.

The submissions attracted the attention and support of a wide range of publishers, international, national and local, and there were strong self-published works submitted as well, at least one on the short list. Once more, the Book Awards demonstrate that Western Australia is blessed with many fine writers, seven previous winners appearing on the short list, and some lesser-known ones in strong competition with them.

Being a Judge of the WA Premier’s Book Awards is a complex privilege: it is time-consuming to read more than a hundred books, sobering to have to eliminate eighty percent of them in order to establish a short list, and anguishing then only to be able to name seven winners from twenty-seven short-listed books by nearly forty writers and artists. We look back on the reading, winnowing and selecting with pleasure as we congratulate the winners and commend them to the Western Australian reading public.

The 2005 Judges
Prof Brian Dibble (Chair of the Judging Panel)
Ms Lucille Fisher
Prof Ed Jaggard
Ms Chloe Mauger

Fiction

mcleodMan of Water - Chris McLeod
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Chris McLeod’s third novel is distinguished by a prose that does not falter and a convoluted narrative that never loses direction. On the one hand it deals with Watt, a middle-aged writer now doubtful of his own abilities. He is also dubious about the motives and effect on his concentration of a younger would-be writer who insists his off-the-cuff pronouncements were the inspiration for her magnum-opus-in-progress (was he that stupid/could she be that dumb?). And then there is his wife, women characters in his fiction, various casual lovers and social-work clients (one of the former commits suicide, one of the latter infanticide) and his mother – a mother who just won’t stay dead. On the other hand it deals with a drowning man he did not save. Watt is profoundly narcissistic, Man of Water a Freudian nightmare: the face of the drowning man is, of course, his own and, at the end of the novel, all the women he writes of are Ophelias. In this finely balanced novel, McLeod has constructed a self-absorbed man whose ruminations and worries about women and writing simultaneously fascinate and repel.

smithA New Map of the Universe - Annabel Smith
(University of Western Australia Press)
In one of three shortlisted first novels, Annabelle Smith dances on a tightrope without a safety net, each of her four lyrical chapters a minor tour de force. They begin and end with focus on the protagonist Grace, an architecture graduate. The second develops her father Peter, an architect, and the third her mother Madeleine. Fatherlessness and metaphorical homelessness are A New Map’s themes: Peter’s parents and adoptive father died when he was young, and he dies young while holding baby Grace in his arms, leaving Madeleine (an only child whose parents were killed in an auto accident when she was a teenager) newly a mother and widow; Peter created the cenotaph for his father’s grave; and Grace’s boyfriend Michael hopes that she will design a house for the ocean block his own father bought but died before he could build on it. Before Grace can do so, she has to revisit her past and learn how a parent’s introspective withdrawal in loss and grief can feel like indifference or even willed punishment to a child, behaviour the child herself can adopt as natural. In the process of learning that lesson, Grace will gain a partner and also a home.

tiffanyEveryman’s Rules for Scientific Living - Carrie Tiffany

(Picador)
USE SUPERPHOSPHATE one sign urges, and a banner reminds farmers of their patriotic duty to GROW MORE WHEAT as Engine K109 pulls The Better Farming Train and its two dozen cars and wagons of exhibits on “scientific farming” and “women’s subjects” across the Victorian landscape in 1934. By 1940 K109 pulls the one-car-three-wagon One-In, All-In train which displays modern weaponry and exhorts farmers to do their patriotic duty and enlist (“the modern soldier is a man of science”). Along the way, two workers on that train of fools, Jean Finnegan (Sewing) and Robert Pettergree (agrostologist!), marry and leave the train at Wycheproof, scientifically to farm the property he has bought there. But the Southern Mallee is better suited to drought, mouse plagues and sand drift than Ghurka wheat and scientific farming. And when Pettergree, broken and humiliated, enlists, Jean’s thoughts turn to Mr Ohno, the dreamy Japanese chicken-sexer previously on The Better Farming Train but now in the Internment Camp in Tatura… From its faux-shabby cover to the faded photographs within, to the vrai shabby tale it tells, Everyman’s Rules is quirky, sardonic and engrossing.

loonRoad Story - Julienne Van Loon
(Allen & Unwin)
Eighteen-year-old Diana Kooper, on the run from an automobile accident in Sydney where she left her best friend wedged half-way through the broken windscreen, “has the odd sensation that she’s stepped into the wrong story. This was supposed to be the plot in which girl runs away and finds herself and lives happily ever after. And quietly. Not girl runs away and gets dragged into someone else’s drug racket, someone else’s crime plot, someone else’s bullshit...” Vogel winner in 2004, Road Story is a meticulously written tale in which, despite the ever-deepening chaos she falls into while working as a kitchen hand in western New South Wales – gambling, drugs, violence and listless affairs – Kooper manages not to become a bit player in anyone else’s crazy drama. Stealing $1500 from the till of the truck stop where she works to match the $1500 her boss belatedly pays her, she takes to the road again, heading farther west, not yet free from her past but not yet unhappy ever after.

Poetry

kinsellaThe New Arcadia - John Kinsella
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
The New Arcadia is the third volume in a trilogy which includes Doppler Effect and Peripheral Light (winner of the WA Premier’s Book Award for Poetry in 2003). A rhetorical response to Philip Sydney’s sixteenth-century The ‘Old’ Arcadia, Kinsella’s New Arcadia is another of his on-going contributions to the unbroken pastoral literary tradition dating from Theocritus in the third century BCE. One of Kinsella’s great contributions to that tradition is to interrogate its paradigm in Australia, a country where the word “pastoral” primarily refers to sheep and wheat and grazing rather than to cultural assumptions and beliefs and literary practices concerned with cultural and chronological primitivism. The New Arcadia is the culmination of twenty-five years of Kinsella’s work on the pastoral and the Australian landscape.

mccauleyGlassmaker - Shane McCauley
(Sunline Press)
The Glassmaker, an elegantly designed book printed on heavy cream paper, Shane McCauley’s fifth volume of poetry shows him at his best. He brings a classical perspective to his work, his allusions are erudite and urbane, his poems finely wrought. David Gilbey argues that they deal with the four “Ts” of mutability, translucence, transmutation, transformation and transcendence. McCauley’s concern with mutability is one he shares with Yeats, for example in “Drinking Alone on Cold Mountain,” where “Spring’s morning is my cold blanket / and a jade hard breeze / lifts up my white hair / like the last pale flames / of a dying fire…”

mccooeyBlister Pack - David McCooey
(Salt Publishing)
Another judge, when shortlisting Blister Pack for another award, said, “One of the hardest literary games to attempt would be the poetry critic’s first book of verse: maybe a bar has been set too high, maybe an excessive benchmark self imposed? Of course such an enterprise might be seen as a jeu d’esprit, the critic on holidays.” Blister Pack is not the work of a critic on holidays but instead that of the critic writing in a different form. David McCooey, an academic also known and respected for his work in biography, autobiography and memoir, has produced another kind of life-writing, where the acuteness of the thought and precision of speech complement the ordinariness of much of the experience. In the poem “Morning” McCooey is the critic, driving home after dropping his daughter at school, who mistakes a tarpaulin for a corpse, muses on a man walking two black dogs across Princes Bridge – thinking the year could be 1966 – before he unlocks the front door and finds that “you are sitting exactly where / I imagine you would be.”

moranThe Paradoxes of Water : Selected and New Poems, 1970-2005 - Rod Moran
(Salt Publishing)
Literary Editor for the West Australian, Rod Moran is known more for reading and critiquing books than for writing them, but wrongly so. He has three other volumes of poetry, and his recent Sex, Maiming and Massacre was a finalist in the Margaret Medcalf Award for excellence in archival research. The Paradoxes of Water consists of poems sharply observed and keenly felt. At the same time, Moran’s poems have perspective, of politics and history, for example of how history is a snapshot of politics at a particular moment and from a particular point of view: in “The University,” we are told, “Plato’s silhouettes / flicker in the lecture hall – / doctrine, agit-prop.” A strong collection of his selected and new work from the past thirty-five years

Non-Fiction

bosworthMussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Dictatorship 1915-1945 - Richard Bosworth
(Allen Lane/Penguin)
One of the best known scholars of Italy’s modern history, Richard Bosworth has written a carefully constructed analysis of the forging and ultimate destruction of Italy’s interwar fascist society. He skilfully combines national, regional and local perspectives, while also introducing ordinary Italians’ experiences of life during Mussolini’s dictatorship. Hence Bosworth never allows the oppressiveness of this totalitarian state to stifle the voices of the people, many of whom mocked and ridiculed their leader’s regime, while they adapted to, and exploited, it.

brearleyErnest Hodgkin’s Swanland: Estuaries and Coastal Lagoons of South-western Australia - Anne Brearley
(University of Western Australia Press for the Ernest Hodgkin Trust for Estuary Education and Research and National Trust of Australia (WA)
When Ernest Hodgkin died in 1998, he had been writing a book on WA’s south-west estuaries. A trust fund ensured its completion and Swanland, a “natural history book,” is the result. Anne Brearley, a plant biologist, has used Hodgkin’s research plus more recent findings to produce an impressive and exhaustive guide to estuaries from the Murchison to Esperance. Together with the complex technical data on salinity profiles, nutrient levels, and so on is a wealth of information on the area’s history, geology, plant and animal life, in an attractive layout that gives the book its wide appeal.

mcdonaldSeeking the Sydney: a Quest for Truth - Glenys McDonald
(University of Western Australia Press)
An enduring mystery of World War Two is the disappearance in November 1942 of HMAS Sydney, the pride of the Australian navy. There were no survivors from its clash with the German raider Kormoran, prompting endless speculation about what happened off the Western Australian coast. Relying heavily on oral history, McDonald’s search for the Sydney combines meticulous research with recollections of the personal journey she has undertaken since she and her husband arrived in Port Gregory in 1988. Along the way she has uncovered convincing evidence which raises new questions about the fate of the ship and its crew.

nikulinskySoul of the Desert - Philippa Nikulinsky and Stephen D Hopper
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Between them, botanical artist Nikulinsky and scientist Hopper explore some of the state’s least-known regions. While Hopper explains the history of the land, its geology, wildlife and people, Nikulinsky brings it to life through her exquisite paintings of the flora and fauna. Together they dispel the myth of deserts as barren lands devoid of life, showing the extraordinary diversity of plants and animals which survive in a seemingly hostile environment. Their passion for their work is evident in this important and beautiful book.

powellRene Baker file #28/E.D.P. - Rene Powell and Bernadette Kennedy
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Rene Powell’s poignant story is of the stolen generation and her desire to find the truth about her past. Her friend Bernadette Kennedy helped her, and alongside Powell’s account of her removal from her mother are the results of a remarkable research project – trawling through decades of government records, correspondence and reports, inquiry findings and personal files. Powell found her history; Kennedy’s dogged efforts produced evidence for a powerful argument that her removal, under the guise of welfare, was illegal.
West Australian History

2005Cleared Out: First Contact in the Western Desert - Sue Davenport, Peter Johnson and Yuwali
(Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies)
Between May and October 1964 a successful attempt was made to remove a small group of Martu Aboriginal women and children from the Percival Lakes region of Australia's Western Desert. This was done because the Martu, who had no previous contact with European society, were within the Woomera firing range stretching across remote South and Western Australia, and used for testing Britain's Blue Streak rockets. The story of the encounter and removal is told by Yuwali, a Martu woman, and two patrol officers, one of whom, Walter MacDougall, was later condemned “for having placed the affairs of a handful of natives above those of the British Commonwealth of Nations.” Besides presenting Yuwali's compelling and amazingly accurate recollection of events, the authors place this first encounter within a political, bureaucratic and social context, forcing us to consider not only the consequences for the Martu of removal from the desert, but also the wider issue of Indigenous people's relationship to their lands.

mckeownThe Scarlet Mile : a Social History of Prostitution in Kalgoorlie, 1894-2004 - Elaine McKewon

(University of Western Australia Press)
Although Elaine McKewon’s book is ostensibly a study of a century of prostitution in Kalgoorlie, and in particular the infamous Hay Street brothels, in fact it has a far wider focus. Besides prostitutes, there are politicians, public servants and police who appear too, because McKewon frequently places developments in Kalgoorlie within a state-wide context. Her entertaining discussion of Western Australia’s illegal “containment” policy, police frustration with various governments’ hypocrisy, and politicians’ repeated reluctance to address this important social issue means she goes far beyond merely documenting Hay Street’s flamboyant history.

scottKayang & Me - Kim Scott and Hazel Brown
(Fremantle Arts Press)
It is difficult to imagine a more evocative and insightful account of Noongar life along Western Australia’s sometimes forgotten southern coast. Writing in tandem, for Scott responds to and comments on his Aunt’s recollections, the authors explain the Wilomin Noongar people’s connection to their land, history and communities, and their sense of identity. Besides being a testimony to the value of oral sources, this is an innovative and compelling family history.

waWestern Australian Exploration. Vol.I 1826-1835 - The Western Australian Explorers’ Project Diaries Committee
(Hesperian Press [in conjunction with Department of Land Information])
From Major Edmond Lockyer’s journals and diaries of exploration of the King George Sound area in 1826-7 to Surveyor General John Roe’s 1835 account of his journey from the same region to the Swan River settlement, this volume includes more than one hundred accounts of land exploration. A clearly annotated and beautifully presented work of reference, it inaugurates a monumental project which will include a further five volumes of documents, all contributing to a deeper understanding of Western Australia’s history.

Children’s Books

binksWhere’s Stripey? - Wendy Binks
(Stunned Emu Press)
This delightful picture book combines very amusing illustrations with a deceptively simple text. There is plenty of action and interest in the simple plot as father Crikey searches for his lost chick. Encounters with other animals and their babies demonstrate Binks’s painterly skills while giving the opportunity for repetition, so much appreciated by young listeners. Vivid illustrations make strong use of turquoise and black for adult emus and the bright orange, cross-eyed gaze of the boldly striped emu chicks, as well as a broader palette for other animals and their habitats. Design and layout are varied, with clear text set in white space, strong use of colour, shape and placement of illustrations – culminating in the final story page which presents the curves of sunset, hilltop and the sweeping S of the 30 chicks with Stripey staring quizzically at the viewer. With hilarious expressions of the emus, a lively text begging to be read aloud, and two concluding pages of “interesting emu facts,” this book is both informative and highly entertaining.

caddyThe Reef - David Caddy

(Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Set in a coastal fishing community north of Perth, this is an intriguing, fast-paced adventure, in which asthmatic Tom and grieving Ellie become caught up in an exciting treasure hunt and in solving a dangerous mystery. Family tensions, including Tom’s relationship with his over-protective father and Ellie’s coping with her depressed mother, add believability to the young protagonists. There is some vivid writing, including a distressing scene of the death of a lizard, Ellie’s loneliness and grief for her father, and the exciting, dangerous swim in the dark while under attack by the villains. Setting, atmosphere and characters are believable and interesting – even the rather extreme villains are still frightening. Sandboarding, swimming and the developing friendship between Tom and Ellie add lighter moments to the story and depth to the characters. The speedy dispatch in the final paragraphs of the worst villain neatly avoids over-emphasising his demise for young readers.

gregoryRodeo Darcy - Alison Gregory and Mark Wilson (Illustrator)
(Cygnet Books (University of Western Australia Press))
Darcy’s story is a modern rite of passage – an evocative story of an Aboriginal boy living in the Kimberley, and of his mentor old Jim Bulla who embodies the spirit of the people. Darcy dreams of being a rodeo star – and Mark Wilson’s vivid paintings capture the movement, drama and beauty of horses in action, as well as insightful character portraits. This book presents an authentic picture of a modern indigenous community – a real place, time and culture where the excitement and colour of the rodeo are balanced by close connection with country and family. Dialogue in non-standard English, and the underlying problem of alcoholism which drives some events, add more layers of authenticity to the story. Darcy’s aspirations and achievements will provide intriguing insights into a different lifestyle for children in the wider community as well as appealing to indigenous readers.

longThe Big Picture Book : See Life on Earth Unfolding Through Time - John Long, Illustrations by Brian Choo, and maps by Sergei Pisarevsky

(Allen & Unwin)
Science and art combine to convey a sense of wonder and scientific interest in this cleverly titled book which indeed presents the BIG picture of the long evolution of life on Earth from the birth of the universe twelve billion years ago to predictions into the future some fifty million years ahead. Dramatic illustrations and spare, lucid, sometimes lyrical, text balance concise facts of a snapshot in time within the wider overview of evolution. Much is achieved in a mere forty-seven colourful and informative pages (including glossary and index). Design is a major factor of the book’s appeal – with timelines on the left of each double-page spread combined with large-print overview text, paintings of fossil creatures, maps of continental drift, photos, and scientific facts in smaller print. Colourful and dramatic paintings and presentation of huge numbers in both figures and words help the reader to grasp the enormity of evolutionary time.

Writing for Young Adults

eatonNightpeople - Anthony Eaton
(University of Queensland Press)
In a futuristic landscape after an environmental disaster, the remaining outcast people of the Darklands face a bleak future in crumbling settlements. When an undeformed baby girl is born, she is hidden away before the mysterious Nightpeople can claim her. Saria grows up in the desert with old Ma until she is fetched to meet the Dreamers and to fulfil her destiny as saviour of her people. Tough, strong-willed and perfectly in tune with the landscape, Saria is nevertheless still a teenager, reluctant to do what is expected of her. Journeying across the Darklands with Dariand, and through encounters with the desolate landscape and wild settlements, Saria begins to understand some of her own abilities. Clever wordplay with names of settlements – Mooka, Woormra – and echoes of Aboriginal and biblical beliefs give clues to the setting. Peopled with original characters, settings and events in a credible future time, this is a compelling story for mature readers.

lowryWith Lots of Love From Georgia - Brigid Lowry

(Allen & Unwin)
Describing herself as wild-haired and overweight, fifteen-year-old Georgia’s comments in her diary offer observations and insights into her life with her lonely widowed mother, various family members and school friends. Facing the changes and challenges of adolescence, Georgia records her thoughts as she sets out to find a part-time job. Some amusing and embarrassing moments ensue both in the various workplaces and in changing and new relationships. Georgia disguises her underlying unhappiness, as evidenced by her comfort-eating habits, with a cloak of uncaring humour – for example in the light-hearted and quirky lists woven through her diary in times of stress. However, strong relationships within the family, and a new friendship help her work her way to a more positive future. The dreams, experiences and voices of adolescent girls are entertainingly captured through the characters of Georgia and her friends.

murrayA Prayer for Blue Delaney - Kirsty Murray
(Allen & Unwin)
Reluctant ten-year-old year-old Colm McCabe is sent to Australia as part of the misguided migration schemes of the 1950s. His early experiences of life in a bleak Irish orphanage are worsened by the overwork and fear he encounters at notorious Bindoon. Escaping to Fremantle, Colm is rescued by old Billy Dare and his dog and, in the course of their long working journey across much of Australia, Colm encounters a wide variety of incidents, characters, and landscapes. The heat, hardship and boredom of work along the rabbit-proof fence are vividly evoked, as is Colm’s strengthening relationship with Billy. Many events of Australia in the 1950s are cleverly woven through the story with incidents involving Aboriginal struggles, life on a cattle station, Chinese immigrants, a dramatic hunting scene and the coming of television in Melbourne at the time of the Olympic Games. All characters, relationships and events are well realised through the linking theme of loss of family which runs powerfully through the book.

Scripts

Shiba Lane - Russell John Roberts
(Broome Civic Centre/Pearl Theatre Company)
Broome in the early 1900s: pearling is big business and the town a cosmopolitan mix with some uneasy alliances. Roberts’ work, which includes songs written by him, tells of failing relationships between long-time friends Yama and Sabu, business partners Yama and Giles, and married couple Giles and Elizabeth. As personal and racial tensions take their toll, all are forced to reassess their lives in this intriguing account of what happens to old traditions in a new world where loyalty competes with enterprise, and honour becomes expendable.

Last Train to Freo - Reg Cribb

(Sue Taylor Media)
The Midland-to-Fremantle train is the setting for Cribb’s suspenseful play. Two thugs, Steve and Trev, turn the journey into a brutal game, drawing in fellow passengers as unwilling participants – or are they? As the train moves closer to its destination, so pressure inside the carriage rises as Trev and Steve increasingly torment their victims and each other in a high-stakes battle of wits. Well-wrought characters, fast-moving dialogue and tightly framed setting ensure the tension remains high until the shocking denouement.

The Haunting - an episode of The Sleepover Club - Series 2 - Sarah Rossetti
(Southern Star Entertainment Pty Ltd)
The Sleepover Club girls and their Blockhead boy classmates have a school project – to make a film. The girls’ decision to make an historical film in the supposedly haunted old Fremantle jail is too good an opportunity for the boys to miss, and they plan a horror film, with the girls as victims of their scary pranks. Rossetti knows her audience and has a fine ear for both boys’ and girls’ dialogue. The Haunting is full of action and humour and will particularly delight girls who like the idea of beating the boys.