Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2007 Judges' Report
Comments from the Judging Panel
The Judges read a total of 179 entries received for the 2007 Awards,
an increase of twenty one books from 2006, and an indication of the
healthy state of writing in Western Australia. The panel considered
these works in seven categories: non-fiction, fiction, poetry,
children’s books, writing for young adults, scripts and West Australian
history, one winner being awarded for each category. The overall winner
for the Premier’s Prize was then selected from those category winners.
Self-published entries were considered as well as those from Western Australian, national and international publishers, who again should be congratulated on their support for many fine authors and illustrators, both established and new. Themes and genres this year included a broad field of biographies, and many works within all categories expressing a range of Aboriginal voices and experiences. Children’s books included excellent works with high child appeal for all age groups from the very young to novels for older children, and across a range of topics including environmental themes and ethnic diversity. Although small in number, the novels for young adults featured engrossing and complex writing, particularly in rites of passage and fantasy genres.
There were so many well-written and interesting works to assess, with strong contenders in every category, that the task of judging, though time-consuming, was a privilege and a pleasure. Our collaborative decisions were reached after focused and reasoned discussion as each judge applied their wide experience and specialist expertise to reading and decision making.
It has been of some concern to the judges that, due to differing
time-frames, one consequence of introducing the exciting, inaugural
Australia-Asia Literary Award has been that announcements of the
short-list and winners of the WA Premier’s Awards have been delayed by
some months, to the disadvantage of all entrants in this competition.
However, we now heartily congratulate all the short-listed and winning
authors in every category, acknowledge the excellence of their work and
commend their books to you all.
The 2007 Judges
Chloe Mauger (Chair)
Stephen Scourfield - Other Country
(Allen & Unwin)
A travel editor who with this debut novel has reached leagues beyond mere recall and genial publicity, Scourfield rubs our noses in the dust of his fictional terrain of dysfunction.
If we had not previously listened to men with “raspy chainsaw voices”, we have now. The author’s talent for authentic dialogue is just one of the qualities making these characters of a harsh northern Australia so credible. There’s a town “clinging on…torn between booming mines, pastoralists struggling in a degraded landscape and families on welfare”. On the rough face of it, this is a story of two brothers and their father, but at a deeper level the book evokes many other varieties of creaky relationship. We learn a little of how a real public war, far away in Europe, launched the many private conflicts into which this particular family fell. A glossary, by the way, might have helped overseas readers drawn into the otherness of this Top End but perhaps unable to distinguish “swags” from “ringers” who are “larrikining and chiacking”. Other Country has pathos and grit in equal measure.
Susan Midalia - The History of the Beanbag
Vignettes of poignant discovery, loss and regret, these short stories linger in the mind long after each narrative has snapped shut. Plenty of writers have found humour in Aussie oddities such as the request to “bring a plate,” but Midalia finds a fresh frame for this verbal/social quirk. The story “Fitting In” brings more than a plate – it offers a discomforting dose of petty bullying. A consistent theme is endurance. The central figures, such as the plucky wife in “Put On Your Dancing Shoes”, often recollect with a proud grin the hard road they ploughed and survived. The writer is to be commended for avoiding neat and tidy endings. Here is an author with the confidence to leave life blowing in the wind rather than screwed down.
Geraldine Wooller - The Seamstress
Families, eh? Without them, what would we have to share. The narrator, Jo, recalls marriages that end in a heap; a mother, Willa, whose body naggingly outlives her mind; and in-laws who drink an awful lot. The author, who dedicates the novel to her own mother, picks carefully and entertainingly at the seams of humanity that form the best and worst of blood ties. There’s a sure authorial touch in going backwards and forwards in time, trying to make sense of this crazy little thing called love. Surely most of us could identify with this hammer-blow to filial complacency such as when Jo is visiting her institutionalised, sedated parent: '"I hate it here,’ she says . . . without warning. Then she repeats it in a Scots accent, driving the point home. This time I have brought the dog to visit her. ‘Lifewel soddie.’ She fondles Juno’s head. Was this Gaelic?” Whatever it is linguistically, it is unquestionably painful. Wooller’s fictional chronicle is as real a portrait as you’d find in any family album.
Jessica White - A Curious Intimacy
This superbly-crafted first-person novel centres on the intense relationship between two women in the south-west of WA in the 1870s. Here is another debut novel from a writer of whom we expect to hear much more. The botanist, Ingrid, is trained to collect and classify. Chance takes her to the isolated home of Ellyn, a transplanted English bloom in danger of withering for several strong reasons, including the death of her baby daughter. White creates a convincing backdrop of hostile elements, both physical and human, against which the inconvenient truth of this female bond is digested. The pioneer Ingrid is often buoyed by a regular and reassuring correspondence with her father in Adelaide. Their letters reveal a family intimacy that must be the envy of adventurers of that or any other era.
Hal Colebatch - The Light River
Colebatch is one of those versatile literary voices that our 21st century society needs – celebrating both the utterly local, such as the minute glory of shells on Rottnest shores, and the distant “scream of jet fighters” above the hills of Lebanon. As Les Murray says in his foreword, this collection is “more tranquil than some of his earlier ones”. It is indeed a “light river” rather than the polemical white-water raftings that Colebatch has sometimes released. Even so, in “The Heroes” he savages a couple of Australian ex-prime ministers. Colebatch, who in his day jobs as lawyer and media commentator is usually restrained by verbal decorum, can be virulent in verse. Calming down again, he is an assured host, inviting us to share his praise for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and for more ephemeral high points such as para-sailers soaring above the Swan River.
Murray Jennings - Flash Company
Playfully asking “Didjeri do anything today?” Jennings enjoys the very sound of words, as befits a veteran radio presenter and newsreader. His mellifluous voice is no longer heard on ABC radio, but this is the next best thing, tuning into a poet impelling his audience to listen as well as read. This is a witty “chat show” for subjects such as Billy, who probably stank, certainly drank and died face down in a muddy ditch. He had thanked the writer “for playing his requests on the radio years ago,” but would now, alas, “never sing Hank Williams again.”
Though we must never assume a poem to be non-fiction, we can reckon on seeing some authentic troughs and crests of the Unmasked Life of Jennings in Flash Company. It is not hard to see how The Cuckold Cycle won the Tom Collins Poetry Award for 2006.
Caroline Caddy - Esperance
This is a bold reader-stretching compilation honed over nearly 30 years, testament to Caddy’s stamina and range of platforms on which she stands and beckons. “Feel this!” she urges in High Seas, where the water is “bashing to get in” and engulf. In more tranquil mode, Caddy stirs the pot of WA rural/domestic rhythms. Rain personalises that supreme climatic perennial for farmers: “a solid thing tonight, with feet… there is no softness in it.” This is a forceful and often challenging voice, especially in the section entitled Antarctica. The writer has turned, so to speak, from Wheatbelt to Whitebelt. While admiring the immensity of that Greater Southern Land, she makes writing almost an extreme sport, a drumbeat from that wilderness “where the compass declines to point south”.
Antonio Buti - Sir Ronald Wilson: A Matter of Conscience
A meticulously researched biography of a remarkable man who rose from modest beginnings to become WA Attorney-General, High Court Judge, President of the Uniting Church and co-author of the controversial Bringing Them Home report on the Stolen Generation: Aborigines who had been taken away from their families. Buti, a lawyer himself, gives a keen insight into many complex cases in which Wilson was involved, including his zealous prosecutions of John Button and Darryl Beamish, whose murder convictions were quashed after they had spent many years in jail. The book is authoritative, accessible and readable, enlivened by comments made during many personal interviews. Buti gives a comprehensive and detailed account of Wilson’s personal and professional life, tracing his evolution from fierce prosecutor and conservative judge to champion of the under-privileged following the life-changing experience of the Stolen Generation inquiry. One unfortunate flaw was noted: the misspelling of the name of the leading criminal lawyer Leo Wood as “Woods”.
Paul Toohey - The Killer Within
Allen & Unwin)
A well-written, carefully researched and engrossing book on the murderer Bradley John Murdoch, written by a Darwin-based journalist who covered the Murdoch trial and conviction for killing the British backpacker Peter Falconio in the Northern Territory outback in 2001.. Toohey’s depth of knowledge of Australia’s rugged north adds greatly to the book’s authentic flavour. He gives a vivid picture of Murdoch as a manipulating redneck loner who loves cars, guns, tattoos and alcohol, despises the law and lives by trafficking illegal drugs. Though Toohey is not impressed by the uncommunicative public stance of Joanne Lees, who miraculously escaped her bonds and eluded the vicious Murdoch after he killed her travelling companion, the author makes it clear that, unlike her detractors, he is convinced that she is telling the truth.
Gina Wilkinson - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sky
(East Street Publications)
A lively account of life in Baghdad before and after the fall of Saddam Hussein, by a journalist who, as the wife of an aid worker, had a unique opportunity to record events. Initially Wilkinson was banned from working, but when war broke out she seized the opportunity to become a war correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The book gives a fascinating insight into the fear, repression, spying and torture endemic during the Saddam regime and the increased violence between religious factions after the tyrant’s ruthless control was withdrawn and Iraq was occupied by American troops who seemed to know little about the country and its people.
Estelle Blackburn - The End of Innocence
(Hardie Grant Books)
Remarkable story of how an exceptional investigative journalist pursued a case, digging up evidence the police had ignored or overlooked. The author’s determination and skilled research resulted in the acquittal of John Button and Darryl Beamish, who had spent many years in jail after being unfairly convicted of murder. Blackburn has been acclaimed for her book Broken Lives, the account of the two men’s their fight for justice, and this latest book is a gripping record of her dogged inquiries and resourcefulness. Not only is it an engrossing read, but on a practical level, it is an excellent guide for journalists and other investigators.
Russell Gueho - Rhythms of the Kimberley
An impressive overview of the Kimberley country, its wildlife, flora and changing seasons, written by a man with an exceptional knowledge and deep love of the north, with beautiful photographs by the author. The book is knowledgeable and scientific but easily accessible to the general public, with comprehensive referencing. A Kimberley resident of more than 18 years, Gueho is a passionate environmentalist who is deeply concerned about the effect of inappropriate and unsustainable development. Already increasing numbers of tourists are damaging iconic areas like Purnululu National Park, the Mitchell Plateau and the Gibb River gorges, and the Kimberley is under continual threat from our insatiable thirst for oil and gas resources. This book is a timely reminder of the need to understand the natural rhythms of the earth and the need to preserve its fragile ecology for future generations.
*West Australian History Award
Ruth Marchant James - Cottesloe: A Town of Distinction
(Town of Cottesloe)
An expansion of her earlier book, Heritage of the Pines (1977) which concluded at World War II, this volume begins with the period of the “first inhabitants” and early European settlement and brings the story to the present day. It includes extensive new research and interviews, and previously unseen photographs. It combines big picture issues with the minutiae of everyday life, and ranges across everything from geology to social history, from education to business, from religion to beach culture. Though focussed on one area of Perth’s coastal strip, it also offers some broader reflections about life in Perth. The book is well designed, its large format lending itself to the attractive use of photographs. The referencing procedures are excellent, with useful appendices and a comprehensive bibliography. The writing is readable and attractive. In all, the author shows her knack for a thorough mining of the past for the information and entertainment of the present.
Graeme Henderson - Unfinished Voyages
An updated version of an earlier work, with much new information that has come to light since the first edition, this book combines marine archaeology with diaries, newspaper reports and anecdotes. A fascinating story, attractively presented and lavishly illustrated, it includes background on other issues such as Australia’s relations with its neighbours, and descriptions of wrecked lives, black and white, in the early years of the Swan River Colony. Each chapter contains extensive references, and useful appendices include maps and a glossary of nautical terms.
Bob Reece - Daisy Bates
(National Library of Australia)
A lively narrative, based on extensive archival research into her letters, articles and other writings. The author offers new perspectives on Bates’ life and times and adopts a stance which is at once sympathetic and critical in the best sense of the word, i.e., he tackles major questions about her character and her strange hobby horse ideas, including her notion of the Aborigines as a dying race. Although the book is thoroughly referenced, with extensive notes, bibliography and index, the overall presentation is unattractive. The text is small and densely crowded, black and white photographs do not always reproduce well, and some pages fell out. This is unfortunate, given that it is published by the National Library of Australia as the third volume in a series of “Australian Lives”
J deB Norman and Verity Norman - A Pearling Master’s Journey
A beautifully produced volume based on a family archive over three generations of the Norman family. The photographic record is superb: not only of the boats themselves, but providing insights into the social history of the period, the crewmen, the racial tensions, the dangers of pearling, cyclones, mutiny and murder, the development of industry, economic and political problems, and images of domestic life. The book is well referenced, and indexed, however the narrative is inclined to jump around and is sometimes confusing, with little interpretation of the evidence.
* These books are also considered short listed for the Non-fiction Award
Wendy Binks - Scrambled Egg
(Stunned Emu Designs)
Full of fast-paced action, misunderstandings, amusing dialogue and an eclectic cast of bush creatures, this picture book gives us further lively adventures of Stripey and Sheila, the hilarious emu chicks, as they try to find the right home for a lost egg. With not a word wasted, not a drawing overdone, the author’s colourful paintings are lively and varied, often incorporating unusual perspectives and viewpoints. Enhanced with a brief fact section about a range of egg-laying Australian animals, this charming story combines humour and suspense to delight any young reader.
Liz Lofthouse and Robert Ingpen (illustrator) - Ziba Came on a Boat (Penguin/Viking)
Beautifully written with spare, lyrical text and deeply moving illustrations, this picture book captures the experiences of a young Afghani girl and her mother escaping to Australia in a small boat. Moods and movement of the story echo the motion of the sea. Using a strong, often monochromatic colour palette, with cover images and endpapers capturing the microcosm of the boat adrift in the deep blues of night and ocean, Ingpen’s incomparable illustrations capture haunting portraits, moments of domestic warmth and the vastness of the sea in its differing moods. Universal experiences of refugees are condensed into the intimate story of one little girl, as Ziba’s fears and confusion are soothed by memories of home and the comfort of her mother’s presence. Poignant and restrained, open ended but in a hopeful mood, this picture book will have wide appeal to a broad audience as well as young children.
Meg McKinlay - Annabel Again
When best friend Annabel goes away Livvy is devastated, but heeding her mother’s advice to learn to live without Annabel, she cuts all contact and throws herself into a riot of new projects. Against all expectations Annabel returns, but is so hurt by Livvy’s failure to keep in touch that the old friendship seems irreparable. Both girls find it impossible to apologise or to break the deadlock caused by loneliness and jealousy, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. These are universal themes - everyone has experienced the pain of friendships lost, or been embarrassed by a difficult parent. With believable characters, lively dialogue and authentically expressed emotions, this engrossing novel explores the shifting grounds of friendship and complexities of growing up.
Brian Harrison-Lever - Three Kings
With a new twist to the traditional story, this picture book is as glowing with medieval, colours and heraldic designs as a stained glass window. Deliberately not specifying its Christian origin but universal in its moral message, in this version the three Kings set out from their distant lands to bring gifts to the “son of the Lord of the Universe”. Dispensing hope along with most of their treasures to the poor and dispossessed peoples they meet on their journey, the Kings still find special gifts to give the new child. The beautiful illustrations, rich as a tapestry, explore the changing landscapes and varied communities along the way, and bring to new life the age-old journey of the three Kings.
Ambelin Kwaymullina - Crow and Waterhole
Vibrant illustrations greatly enrich this tale of a crow entranced by a wonderful crow-in-the-waterhole – in fact her own reflection. Seeking her own destiny, crow rescues a range of different creatures from trouble and finally comes to believe in herself. Clear black or white text on each bright left-hand page faces bold, strongly coloured, artfully simple pictures on the opposite page. While absorbing the gently inferred moral “your destiny lies within you”, young readers of this picture book will also be charmed to discover the little frog hopping across every page.
Writing for Young Adults
Anthony Eaton - Skyfall: the Darklands Trilogy book 2
(University of Queensland Press)
An absorbing, well-written, cleverly constructed science-fiction story set in a man-made tower city built after a nuclear disaster, Skyfall grips from the first page. Bored and resentful Lari is the son of cold and powerful parents, but is soon drawn into the frightening and dangerous depths of the Underworld far below the city towers, where poverty and conflict drive people to extremes. Authentic dialogue, good character development and a consistently exciting plot carry the reader into this world. As the second book in a trilogy, Skyfall stands very well on its own merits, with an intriguing new setting and new set of characters.
Brigid Lowry - Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful
(Allen & Unwin)
A series of beautifully written short stories, in turn imaginative, witty, touching and lyrical, this is in essence a scrapbook of thoughts and experiences. The many phases of adolescence are addressed, from friendships and family relationships, to leaving home, the finding of self and making a life. While some stories are strong, depicting drugs, depression and suicide, others are warm and amusing trifles. The varied fonts of the cover design capture the changing moods of the stories. Enlivened with soft charcoal sketches, this very enjoyable and varied compendium of moods and emotions, stories and poems should appeal to both teenage girls and young women.
Juliet Marillier - Cybele’s Secret
This is an enthralling and thought-provoking magic fantasy entwined with fascinating historical details of Turkey in the Ottoman period. Scholarly Paula (one of the sisters from Wildwood Dancing) goes as her father’s secretary to Istanbul only to be caught up in a dangerous bidding war between rival traders for a mysterious treasure- “an artefact of a lost faith”. Set in an intriguing city with a cast of fascinating characters and a brave, clever young heroine who triumphs over her adversaries’ machinations, this well-crafted story successfully combines dreams and dangers, riddles, betrayals, adventure and love. Close inspection reveals that many of these threads are encapsulated in the extraordinary, beautifully designed cover.
Ken Spillman - Love is a UFO
For Oscar, life is “weird and getting weirder” after his parents separate, his father moves on to a new relationship, and then Dad suddenly dies. Confused about what he is supposed to feel, Oscar finds some enlightenment discussing his problems with sympathetic adults, but when his attention is captured by a cute new girl in the park he has yet one more problem to figure out. Family relationships under stress are vividly conveyed through wildly veering emotions. Chapters are short and punchy, leavened with email exchanges and perfectly capturing the tone and mood of a young teenage boy dealing with complex life issues in the 21st century. How Oscar navigates his way through his adolescent grief with an angry mother, “zombie” sister, Dad’s girlfriend and assorted school problems could be a story drowned in angst, but in the skilful hands of this author, Oscar’s emotional journey is told with sensitivity and a lively dollop of humour.
Elissa Down - The Black Balloon
(Black Balloon Film Productions)
Down skilfully portrays the touching story of a teenage boy, Tom, struggling to deal with his autistic and sometimes embarrassing brother while trying to fit in with his classmates in a new school in a new town. The author draws a convincing portrait of Tom’s family, with his pregnant mother relying on his help to deal with the unpredictable antics of autistic Charlie. The story of Tom’s growing relationship with school friend Jackie, his genuine affection for Charlie and the challenges he faces with Charlie’s embarrassing behaviour, reaches a dramatic climax with Tom’s explosion of anger when Charlie ruins his birthday party and humiliates him in front of Jackie. Down’s script is truthful, warm and thought-provoking, based on her own family experiences.
Kelly Lefever - The Circuit
This is the first of six episodes depicting the magistrate’s circuit in the Kimberleys, focussing on Drew, a young, ambitious Aboriginal lawyer newly appointed to the Aboriginal Legal Service in Broome, as he tries to come to terms with the hectic workload, the many repeat Aboriginal offenders and the often degrading conditions they live in. There is good character development as Drew tries to reconcile his disapproval of the lifestyle of many of the Aborigines with his need to be accepted by the community and to know something of his own family background. Laced with wit and humour, the script paints a lively and authentic picture of life in the north.
John Bishop - The Greatest Woman in the World
(Prickly Pear Playscripts)
Bishop’s intriguing script give a revealing portrait of the little-known personal life of the eminent educator Maria Montessori, with scenes of her early trailblazing years contrasting with scenes 50 years later where her illegitimate son presses her to answer why she abandoned him as a baby. The writing is entertaining and dramatic with excellent dialogue but Bishop gives only tantalising glimpses of the Montessori teaching method with scant mention of why its creator should be called the Greatest Woman in the World.