Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2006 Judges' Report
Comments by the Judging Panel
One hundred and fifty five books were submitted for the 2006 Awards – twenty-one more than last year. The judges considered these works in seven categories: fiction, poetry, writing for young adults, children’s books, scripts, non-fiction and 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 (61). The overall winner is chosen from those eight winners.
As well as self-published works, local, national and international publishers were represented, and are to be congratulated on their continued support for the many fine West Australian writers and illustrators. Authors considered for the awards included both well-established and first-time writers. It is pleasing to note that there were strong contenders in every category, with some works receiving notice for interstate awards. Although the task is time-consuming, the judges consider it a privilege to read such a broad field of interesting and well-written works. Each judge brought wide experience as well as specialist expertise to their considerations, and discussions were focused and well-reasoned to reach our collaborative decisions.
The judges noted that this is the third year of funding from the Department of Culture and the Arts for the Western Australian history prize. We thank the Department for its support of this award and hope that such funding will continue in future years, to acknowledge the excellence and strength of those writers who provide a wider understanding of Western Australian history through their research and works.
The 2006 Judges
Ms Chloë Mauger (Chair of the Judging Panel)
Ms Lucille Fisher
Prof Ed Jaggard
Prof Andrew Taylor
Marion May Campbell - Shadow Thief
This is not so much a roller coaster of a book as two. It traces the lives of two young girls as they grow into adulthood, one from a dull middle class family but bright and rebellious, the other thrust by her mother’s uncertainties into a bizarre quasi-familial relationship with the creepy Doctor Lancaster and his family as they leave Australia to live in England and travel the Continent. In his narcissism Lancaster is reminiscent of the father in Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, but the budding artist here is the rebel against conformity, not the offspring of an atypical background. The novel deftly and convincingly upturns our expectations at a number of points, and the ending leaves us both uncertain and immensely satisfied. Marion May Campbell is a dazzling stylist, and the energy and pulse (the book’s terms) of her prose welds these two stories into a fascinating unity.
Gail Jones - Dreams of Speaking
Gail Jones’s previous books have created for her a wide reputation, and many prizes, for their intellectual brilliance, and stylistic elegance. Dreams of Speaking will undoubtedly add to this, as it explores the relationship that unexpectedly springs up between a youngish Australian woman trying to write a book while in London, and an elderly Japanese man who as a child survived the bombing of Nagasaki. The plot is simple, but the psychological subtlety with which Jones creates her characters as they slowly but firmly move towards an understanding and a love of what is good in each other is anything but ordinary. This novel is a celebration of friendship, the gentleness and generosity of which is often overlooked in modern fiction. It gains added depth by the understated yet undeniable way it makes us conscious of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, one of the greatest destructive acts of the last century.
Simone Lazaroo - The Travel Writer
Pan Macmillan Australia
The Travel Writer is a moving and beautifully written study of the lives of a mother and daughter from Malacca and their passionate and frustrating pursuit of love in a colonial and post-colonial situation. As in Lazaroo’s earlier novels, these women are ‘Eurasian’, ethnically and culturally between Europe and Malaya, longing for England’s sophistication yet exploited by those English men to whom they turn for love and a sense of belonging. The generations’ different situations are subtly delineated as the daughter lovingly writes her dying mother’s life, which is paralleled with her own in London. The women gain wisdom and strength, but the men too are seen as victims of their own lack of courage. Malaya before independence, with its superstitions and its own colourful take on English, comes brilliantly to life as the novel’s language effortlessly recreates both cultures and the imbalance of power that is mirrored in the lives of the two women.
Deborah Robertson - Careless
Pan Macmillan Australia
The novel starts with a major catastrophe witnessed by eight-year-old Pearl, and goes on to trace its ramifications in a diverse and, initially, unrelated mixture of characters. There’s Pearl’s mother, drifting along on drugs and apathy; Adam, a young sculptor obsessed with death and the furthering of his career, and Sonia, the elegant widow of a Danish furniture maker who lets Adam use her late husband’s workshop as a studio. Other stories are interwoven also, especially that of Frank Lloyd Wright, a photograph of whose house Falling Water entrances Pearl when she attends counseling sessions, and which stands for an image of how art and artisanship can, like Sonia’s husband’s furniture, be positive and uplifting despite tragedy. The novel’s apparently haphazard, ‘careless’ structure is in fact the vehicle for subtly exploring the contingencies and convergences of lives in a modern city.
Mike Williams - The Music of Dunes
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
This is Mike Williams’ second novel, and although the events in it follow on from his first novel, Old Jazz, The Music of Dunes stands fully successfully as an independent work. Set on the south coast of Western Australia, the novel explores the complex relationships of Frank Harmon with his late parents, his sister who is not his sister, and the emotionally fragile Canadian woman whom he loves but who has left him. Harmon is somewhat of a loner, a writer who makes a living cleaning the local pub and organizing kayaking tours for backpackers. The novel gives a wonderful sense of the moods and shifting seasons and fluctuating weather of the south coast, which mirror the shifting relations between the characters. While these are shown to be subtle, fragile and potentially destructive, the novel demonstrates how decent people can avoid emotional disaster and achieve a measure of happiness.
Dennis Haskell - All the Time in the World
Dennis Haskell’s fifth collection of poetry displays the riches of wide experience of life and literature. Haskell pays tribute to some of his great precursors, in some cases explicitly by naming or citing them, more pervasively by maintaining their sense of deep moral commitment. This appears as a quickness of wit that sees through pretension or obfuscation with a language that often startles and amuses with its irreverent and satirical perceptiveness. Haskell has traveled much, and this has given his poetry a breadth of cultural perspective which is adroitly brought to bear on his experience. His awareness that ‘writing is [always] incomplete’ and can never equate to the experience it seeks to apprehend makes many poems, and especially a number of elegies towards the end of the book, particularly moving in their acknowledgement of how things slip from our grasp no matter how much they are loved.
John Kinsella - Sacré Coeur: A Salt Tragedy
John Kinsella is well known for the passion with which he considers both the good things and the tragedies of the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Sacré Coeur is a book-length suite of brief, mostly short line poems that dart onto their subject matter with the agility and precision of an egret fishing. Kinsella has often attacked traditional notions of Pastoral, and this book is neither Pastoral nor nature poetry in the traditional sense, though the world of bush and salt-scarred farmland is profusely populated with trees and birds in minute detail, as well as the people who live there. It is poetry of first-hand experience and local knowledge, which is both precise and wide-ranging, unsentimental in its deeply held commitment to the health of the natural world and its perception of its ills. The imaginative vitality so characteristic of Kinsella’s language makes this a distinctive and compelling book.
Deanne Leber - Book of Days
Book of Days is Deanne Leber’s first collection of poetry and a very ambitious one. Described as ‘an autobiographical journey into the ways we remember’, it has a structure akin to music. It is divided into three sections, each of thirty-one sub-sections. These in turn are collages of seemingly disconnected phrases which recur, with variations, as numerous leitmotifs that weave their way through the whole book, giving it a kind of subtle coherence akin to that of a small Wagnerian opera. There is no obvious narrative to hold its ninety-three pages together, yet we can discern story and progression within the subtle recurrence and development of these phrases as they trace the emergence of memories and act out its fleeting yet persistent qualities. There are no easy satisfactions for the lazy reader, but the book is immensely rewarding if given patient and attentive reading.
Graeme Miles - Phosphorescence
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
Graeme Miles’ first collection of poetry is extremely accomplished and sophisticated. In one poem he praises ‘a thin thought passed from hand to hand / while nothing in the system fails.’ If ‘thin’ here means not bloated, not over-worked, but pared down to a lean necessity, then this is a good description of Miles’ poetry. The language is spare, unemphatic, non-rhetorical, yet it continually surprises by new and unexpected insights and comparisons that give the poems considerable metaphorical complexity while appearing not to try. Miles also has an unerring ear for rhythm, so that in its balance of phrases and silence the language steps adroitly and with considerable elegance. But this is not merely cerebral or aesthete. Underneath the shimmer of Phosphoresence there is a firmly realized grasp of, and engagement with, the everyday physical and emotional world.
Mark Reid - A Difficult Faith
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
A Difficult Faith is a very carefully organized collection, with a number of longish sequences interspersed with brief individual poems. Titles such as ‘Goddess’ and ‘The Desire of Angels’ recur, although heralding each time different poems. This gives the collection a sense of unity in diversity: diversity of length and form, also of subject matter; yet unity of voice and a recurrence of preoccupation and theme. The language is spare, almost minimal in places, less explicit than allusive and even, at times elusive, as though care must be taken in bringing language and experience together in case the latter be distorted or misapprehended. For all this, the beach and the ocean at Fremantle, the poet’s garden with his tomatoes and other plants, an old patient in a hospital and her daughters, and even Noah and his Ark loaded with problematic animals, show the poet’s attention to the things of this world.
Quentin Beresford - Rob Riley: an Aboriginal Leader’s Quest for Justice
Aboriginal Studies Press
This is much more than the biography of one of the Nyoongah people’s best-known modern day leaders. It is a passionate analysis of a lifetime of political activism, a powerful and compelling story revealing how Riley’s childhood experiences had a profound effect on his adult life. As an activist he struggled not only against the intransigence and ignorance of federal and state governments, but also his critics within the Nyoongah community. They resented his public profile attained through his fearless advocacy of justice for his people – whether he was opposing police violence and intimidation, the intolerance of a rapacious mining community, or resistance to the concept of native title. Riley lost more battles than he won; however, as Quentin Beresford explains in this magisterial study, he gained enormous respect in the Western Australian and national communities for his tireless advocacy on behalf of indigenous Australians.
Sally Clarke - In The Space Behind His Eyes
Claverton House (Self published Claverton House)
Clarke was moved to write her biography of Stuart, a man she did not know and who died in 1983, by the wish to keep his writing alive. Her subject was a complex one, an uncompromising larrikin who did it tough, and wrote about it. Complementing her considerable research with excerpts from his writing, some fact, some fiction, she tracks his life from the early days on the road during the Depression, his war exploits, his work in remote areas of Northern Western Australia to his fights for causes and his literary affiliations. Clarke’s portrait reveals a “splendid rebel” whose work documents an Australia that should not be forgotten.
Peter Edwards - Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins
Allen & Unwin
Sir Arthur Tange was one of Australia’s most powerful and influential public servants, working with a succession of Prime Ministers from Chifley to Fraser. A man of great intellectual capacity, who was always willing to give ‘frank and fearless advice’ to ministers on both sides of politics, in this life story Peter Edwards explores Tange’s private life and public career, including his role in reforming two major Departments of State. He headed the first, External Affairs, from 1953 to 1965, then after a five-year interlude as High Commissioner to India was in charge of Defence from 1970 to 1979. Today the organization of both departments still bears his imprint. In this elegantly written study Edwards convincingly argues that Tange was one of the most influential of those mandarins, Dr H C Coombs among them, who guided Australia’s development in the mid-twentieth century.
Caroline Lurie - Learning to Dance - Elizabeth Jolley, Her Life and Work
Lurie’s selection of Jolley’s short stories, essays and poetry make up something of a biography of the writer, who died this year. Though she drew on her own life experiences for her exploration of themes such as isolation, loneliness, homesickness and love in its many guises, Jolley remained somewhat of an enigma. This volume gives insights on her childhood, her marriage and the writing career that made her an international celebrity and one of Australia’s best-loved authors. The pleasure of reading her fiction will be enhanced by this “companion piece” collection.
Monique La Fontaine - New Legend: a Story of Law and Culture and the Fight for Self-Determination in the Kimberley
Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre
In April 2007 at Noonkanbah Station in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, the Federal Court recognized the Yungngora people’s claim to ownership of their land. Twenty-seven years earlier, violent protests over these land rights sparked the formation of the Kimberley Land Council, marking another stage in the indigenous people’s continuing struggle in the face of almost overwhelming adversity to maintain their law, languages, culture and land. New Legend provides the historical context for this, revealing how the people have survived the impact of the past, in the process proceeding to politically empower themselves. It also allows them to speak for themselves, in their own voices, while their conversation with the readers is supplemented by remarkable photographic evidence of their culture, adding life and meaning to a narrative of survival as well as achievement.
*West Australian History Award
James Cameron (ed)- The Millendon Memoirs. George Fletcher Moore's Western Australian Diaries and Letters, 1830-1841
Irish born George Fletcher Moore, who arrived in Western Australia in 1830 and finally departed in 1852, was for most of that period an important member of the colony’s ruling elite. At various times landowner, explorer, lawyer and legislator, Moore was also a sharp-eyed observer of the indigenous peoples, as well as the flora, fauna and topography of his adopted land. James Cameron has now presented him to a modern day audience (a more limited edition of Moore’s writings was published in 1884), providing a succinct introductory essay and detailed annotations. Meticulously edited this volume provides an insider’s perspective on a crucial period in the colony’s establishment.
Bobbie Oliver and Patrick Bertola - The Workshops: A History of the Midland Government Railway Workshops
University of Western Australia Press
For ninety years from 1904 Midland’s Railway Workshops were one of Western Australia’s best known industrial sites, where several thousand employees laboured to build and repair locomotive engines and rolling stock. Twelve authors, headed by Patrick Bertola and Bobbie Oliver, have collaborated to write an exemplary history of this important industrial facility which was constructed and then closed amid political controversy. The authors’ contributions are grouped into four sections : Context; The Working Factory; Culture and Leisure; Closure and Afterwards; exploring every dimension of the workplace from the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s office to the factory floor, together with the employment of women munitions workers in World War 11. This is a major contribution to Australian industrial history.
Wes Olson - Gallipoli: The Western Australian Story
University of Western Australia Press
At a time when young Australians are demonstrating a growing awareness of the national significance of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign during World War I, Wes Olson’s book will attract an appreciative audience. Enhanced by a stunning collection of photos which personalize the futility of the campaign, this is a definitive study of the Western Australian soldiers, from recruitment to eventual evacuation. What sets it apart from many other wartime histories is the skilful way in which Olson seamlessly weaves dozens of personal accounts with official sources, producing a narrative which helps to understand why Gallipoli was a defining moment in Australia’s history.
* These books are also considered short listed for the Non-fiction Award
Raewyn Caisley - Tai’s Penguin
Penguin Group Australia
In this gentle story of young Tai finding and trying to save a penguin washed up on the beach after a storm, the warm relationship between Tai and his mother is beautifully captured in words and Ann James’ charming illustrations. Tai’s see-sawing emotions are subtly explored, from the joy of carrying a parcel of hot fish and chips clutched to his chest, to his fears about the fate of the injured penguin. While hinting to Tai that there may be a sad outcome, and with some quietly interwoven advice about how to care for injured wildlife, the open-ended but satisfying conclusion ensures that this will be a delightful addition to the Aussie Nibbles series of early chapter books for beginner readers.
Anthony Eaton - Nathan Nuttboard Family Matters
University of Queensland Press
Already coping with the usual complications of family dynamics with his Mum, Dad, 16 year-old Narelle and sassy little Nadine, Nathan’s life is seriously disrupted when his grumpy Scottish Grandfather comes to live with them. Nathan and his friend Gnarly decide on a series of guerilla attacks to force Grandpa to leave again. The cover illustration captures the essence of this lively and entertaining novel, where hilarious misunderstandings, confusion and embarrassment arise from Nathan’s efforts. The whole tale is underpinned with warmth, humour and dawning understanding and tolerance as the Nuttboards realize that family matters.
Joy & Mike Lefroy and Marion Duke (Illustrator) - The Catalpa Escape
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
An amazing amount of fascinating detail is artfully condensed into this engrossing true story of the escape, in 1876, of six Irish prisoners from Fremantle Gaol on the US whaling ship, the Catalpa. From the vivid Stars and Stripes endpapers, every page is full of interest in words and illustrations in a wide range of styles and media forms: portraits, maps, newspaper articles and ship’s log entries being interwoven through the text capturing the dramatic events. Concluding with two pages of factual information plus words and music of The Catalpa Song, this colourful book has high child appeal, combining the exciting story of an event in West Australian history with Marion Duke’s bold and creative artworks.
Jan Ormerod - Water Witcher
Little Hare Books
This charming picture book about a 1920s farming family working together to survive a drought is captured in Ormerod’s beautiful illustrations, evocative dialogue and clear text. Tenderly observed drawings of the children working and playing together are set in a sun-baked landscape where white-trunked mallee trees are silhouetted against endless blue skies and red dirt. Family and pets watch in amusement at Dougie’s earnest, seemingly fruitless efforts to find a water source with a bent stick – yet the final surprising outcome justifies his belief that he is a water witcher just like his grandfather. The timely depiction of the life of this struggling country family should evoke empathy and understanding in modern children at this present time of drought and water restrictions.
Liliana Stafford and Sophia Zielinski (Illustrator) - The Shy Mala
Windy Hollow Books
Highly endangered in their Central Australian natural environment and threatened by predators and loss of habitat, in 1998 thirty Mala (rufus hare wallabies) were captured and sent to the West Australian Dryandra Woodland reserve. Seventeen years later a number of Mala were re-introduced into the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory. This heartening true story of the successful regeneration of Mala is charmingly illustrated in appropriately strong earthy colours, with borders of animal and human tracks surrounding paintings of the gentle little wallabies while the caring responses of the Anangu Aboriginal Elders are strongly and authentically depicted. With the support and approval of the Warlpiri People, the text of Stafford’s story stands out clearly against the vivid landscapes in this appealing picture book for young readers with its encouraging story of successful cooperation and conservation.
Shaun Tan - The Arrival
Hachette Livre Australia
Through his intriguing and elegant artwork in this ground-breaking 128-page wordless picture book/graphic novel, Tan captures both intimate personal moments (note his studies of hands) and the vast scale of human movement across time, space and cultures. Travelling from his family in a city overshadowed by some nameless threat to a foreign land, the un-named protagonist encounters many strange customs as well as other new arrivals, each with compelling reasons for starting a new life. The journey unfolds through varied illustrations in sepia tones, drawing the viewer deeply into the immigrant experience. The storytelling is both simple and complex, with close views of small, familiar details of daily life set in a wide and surreal landscape. Between its endpapers with their sixty ‘passport portraits’ of immigrants from many cultures, this beautifully designed book conveys a universal message of hope and humanity.
Young Adult's Books
Diana Chase - No More Borders For Josef
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
After his village in Bosnia is attacked and his parents killed, thirteen-year old Josef reluctantly helps the women and children of the village flee across the border to safety. During months at a refugee camp, rebellious Josef learns some rudimentary English while constantly re-living thoughts of death and revenge. Sent to Western Australia to live with an unknown uncle, Josef - deeply suspicious, angry and traumatized – resists fitting into his new life. His involvement in a fight at school camp results in the death of a wallaby – an event which forces Josef into a new direction and re-evaluation of his life. Through Josef’s personal journey, this sympathetic novel reveals the many emotional and physical traumas, mental anguish and disruptions facing refugees everywhere.
Julia Lawrinson - Bye, Beautiful
Penguin Group Australia
Set in the 1960s, this is a powerful and evocative novel of loss of innocence. Moving with their policeman father to a country town, beautiful Marianne and her younger sister Sandy face the challenges of making new relationships in an alien social milieu. Set in an open, sunny landscape a growing sense of menace arises as attitudes of male aggression, racial tension and social oppression are gradually revealed. A forbidden romance reaches a horrifying conclusion and the only escape is shameful flight. Captured through the observations and dawning awareness of Sandy in this painful rite of passage for both sisters, the author authentically captures the tensions of time and place in a closed and darkly claustrophobic community.
Julia Lawrinson - Suburban Freak Show
Hachette Livre Australia
Entertaining, sharply observed and witty revelations of first-year university life are captured in this lively novel. Clever and cynical Joy soon escapes the boredom of a student village into the wilder madness in a household of manic greenies and laid-back hippies. Obsessing over exams, Joy is nevertheless drawn into the bizarre experience of an environmental protest camp. Hilarious, self-mocking and insightful, this novel reveals the challenges of navigating through new choices and relationships towards self-discovery in the liberating freedom of university life. Amusing characterization, ludicrously exaggerated incidents, broad range of ‘voice’ and clever use of language enrich this satirical romp.
Kate McCaffrey - Destroying Avalon
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
Moving to a new school, Avalon has difficulty in finding friends – and then the real terror starts. The victim of relentless, vicious defamatory messages on the internet, Avalon is too devastated and confused to think how to defend herself until a tragedy brings release. This strong novel is grounded in the realities of secondary school culture, dialogue and relationships, where peer pressure has escalated into a new and dangerous realm. There are important messages in this riveting, fast paced story with high appeal for its target audience of young adult readers. A gripping, thought-provoking story of cyber-bullying, this novel may be a timely warning to parents and teachers of the present and rapidly evolving dangers facing young people today.
Katy Watson-Kell - Mama’s Trippin’
Fremantle Arts Centre Press
Essentially a search for family, this intriguing novel leads its hero, part-Maori Von, from his Fremantle home where he lives with his father to some isolated islands off New Zealand. Invited to visit the mother he has not seen for ten years, Von finds himself caught up in her wildly chaotic lifestyle, while having to baby-sit his two-year-old half sister. Gradually enmeshed in the dangerous consequences of some serious crimes, Von escapes to the lonely Chatham Islands where he seeks to solve the mysteries of his ancestry, and find a way forward. Enriched with strong characters, credible dialogue and relationships and an unusual setting, this is an engrossing and exciting personal journey into a little-known culture.
John Aitken - The Ships Pass Quietly
Blue Room - Prickley Pear Ensemble
When Anna Akhmatova’s poetry was banned in Russia in the 1920s, she turned to friends such as Lydia Chukovskaya for help in a bid to preserve her work. In secret meetings and in constant fear of being found out by the authorities, Lydia memorized the verse. Aitken’s strong female leads and good use of poetry combine to show a time of suffering and oppression, when a knock at the door could mean imprisonment, torture or death. Aitken has illuminated a dark period in history with this tale of individual courage and the power of poetry.
Melissa Cantwell - Marmalade and Egg
Perth Theatre Company
With characters named Egg and Marmalade and a wedding dress made from chicken feathers, the stage is set for fun. And there is plenty of it, with Cantwell using rhyme, word play, witty analogies and lots of puns as her off-beat rural family prepare for daughter Egg’s wedding. But there’s also a dark side to this bittersweet play as Egg’s cake-baking mother, a fading former beauty queen, and chicken farmer father, a man isolated from his family, set themselves up for disappointment and worse in this entertaining work.
Sarah Rossetti - Lockie Leonard: Pure Poetry
Lockie’s in love, and it’s not just with surfing. But how can he show Vicki his feelings without messing up? Discovering the “language of romance” in poetry and putting it into practice as well as starting a school surfing club offer many opportunities for mishaps and misunderstandings in true Lockie style. Rossetti has again produced an entertaining script which will appeal to those adolescents taking tentative steps into the mysterious world of romance while not yet ready to leave behind their other loves.
Hellie Turner - Sardines
Tropic Sun Theatre Queensland
An accidental encounter by two damaged people has unexpected results in this absorbing two-hander. In the confined setting of a bed-sitter, Jason, an opportunistic thief, confronts and is confronted by Gloria, an agoraphobic physically and emotionally wounded by her past. With sensitivity Turner moves these very different characters seamlessly from a verbal battleground to a resolution, whereby they come to a tentative understanding of the other’s choice of lifestyle and offer each other a new way of looking at the world and their position in it.
Ian Wilding - The Carnivores
Black Swan Theatre Company The worlds of corporate bullying and petty crime are found to be not so different in Wilding’s contemporary look at business at both ends of the spectrum. Thom has a professional job and family; pill-popping brother Gramme is setting up a porn satire website. As a takeover threatens Thom’s well-ordered life and Gramme comes under pressure from a drug supplier, both find themselves vulnerable to others’ appetites for power. This no-holds-barred view of the individual’s plight in a greedy world will resonate with many.