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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2008 Judges' Report

Poetry

B-LEA-The-Other-Way-OutBronwyn Lea  The Other Way Out

In this collection of finely crafted and translucent poetry, Lea brings us poems of great sensitivity and attention to detail, as well as technical mastery and grace, with a voice that can be alternately tender, insightful and sharp. Lea clearly is an emerging major talent whose dextrous talent for rendering intensity and immediacy produces highly readable and accomplished poems. 

J-KINSELLA-shadesofthesublimeJohn Kinsella  shades of the sublimes and beautiful
Firmly and unashamedly situated in the specificities of place – of Western Australia and the wheat belt in particular – Kinsella’s poems are impelled by an energy to name, to know, to understand and communicate a contemporary view of the sublime, where the observed world and the particularity of the observer are forged together into the possibilities of something new. A masterly and intellectual display, bursting with vitality and erudition.

L-OXLEY-BuoyancyLouise Oxley  Buoyancy
Oxley’s beautifully crafted poems demonstrate intelligence and a heightened awareness of both the natural world and its human occupants. Her luminous meditations on landscape reveal a tremendous respect for the natural world; the title of the collection aptly reflects the rhythmic structures of her poetry and her attention to form. There is a wide scope of style and focus and a keen sense of the observing eye.

T-RYAN-Scar-RevisionTracy Ryan   Scar Revision
The dominant idea of minimising the evidence of past wounding provides fertile ground for  a wonderful exploration of a variety of themes – place, parenting, romantic and domestic love, personal loss –  as well as demonstrating a very intellectual interest in the business of writing, of using the craft of poetry to shape experience and the abstraction of emotion into the clear, transferable thing of the poem.

Non-Fiction

South SolitaryChloe Hooper  The Tall Man

Perfectly observed sentences and detailed observations traverse a set of issues which are of vital importance to contemporary Australia – the sorry history of settler-indigenous relations and its ongoing legacy right up to the present moment. As an observer and interpreter of a particular event, Hooper acknowledges her own participant status in a way that is both humble and engaging, reinforcing that this is an urgent story for every Australian. An exceptionally strong work, both in form and content.

Freudenburg-ChurchillGraham Freudenberg  Churchill and Australia
Freudenberg has produced a thorough and comprehensive conventional biography of Churchill’s relationship with Australia, as well as an Australian view of the implications of Churchill’s policies and actions on our region. Written with energy and real insight from historical papers and records, with excellent narrative skill, this is a lasting, valuable work, deserving of listing both as a textbook and an additional to Australian public libraries.

E-JUERS-House-of-ExileEvelyn Juers   The House of Exile
Written with freshness and humanity, Juers’ is an original and exploratory book where the lives of Heinrich and Nelly Mann and their various associates in Europe and in Australia are woven into a moving narrative of loss and displacement, of identification and dislocation from the idea of home. Moving between fact and imagination as she innovates the genre of biography through creative imaginings, Juers has produced a lyrically inventive yet highly scholarly work.

D-WATSON-American-JourneysDon Watson American Journeys

In his characteristic lively, sharp and often amusing voice, Watson’s tour of different places and aspects of contemporary America is a witty and insightful view into how America sees itself, with the benefits of the Australian-outside perspective. Pithy, entertaining yet with significant depth, the warmth and humility of Watson’s observations are rendered in impeccable prose.

Fiction

R-FLANAGAN-WantingRichard Flanagan   Wanting
In his courageous and beautiful book Flanagan weaves together a number of different stories and voices – Robinson, the protector of Aborigines, Charles Dickens, the child Mathinna, Sir John and Lady Franklin – to create a powerful study of a historical period and also to examine the idea of wanting: what different people might want, how able they are to say or to achieve it, and also what is wanting, lacking at the heart of the colonial experience. An important and disturbing Australian novel, elegant and eloquently written.


H-GARNER-The-Spare-RoomHelen Garner    The Spare Room
A book of excoriating honesty written with Garner’s characteristic wit and attention to detail, its craft is concealed by its casual, almost conversational style, its great insights into mortality and into friendship and its limits conveyed by a voice of unflinching self-reflection.  There are no shortcuts or tricky segues; as is often the case with Garner’s work, the deceptively simple prose enables those big themes to slide down as effortlessly as oysters.

K-GRENVILLE-The-LieutenantKate Grenville   The Lieutenant
Written with Grenville’s easy mastery of style, this is an important story – another take on the bitter nub of our colonial history, on the complex and painful ways in which difference was confronted. The poignant image of the young English solider and astronomer learning the language of an indigenous girl child, and sharing his own with her, stands as a sharp contrast to the wider violence of colonialism – and is thus a challenge to contemporary Australia. Grenville’s prose is always controlled, with an eye for detail that captures the landscape and the conflicts.

LE-The-BoatNam Le    The Boat
Exhibiting a range as wide as his themes, this collection is a superb and accomplished set of stories from an important new voice in Australian literature.  The stories are varied in subject and technically brilliant, offering insights into the human experience across all manner of borders.

J-LEIGH-DisquietJulia Leigh    Disquiet
Leigh’s novella is an intense and powerful exposition of family, multiple stories and secrets and the overriding loss of a child. Brilliantly crafted, stark and moving in its apparent simplicity, almost poetic in its evocation of detail and imagery to carry things which are otherwise unbearable, Disquiet is hypnotic, disturbing and masterful.

T-WINTON-BreathTim Winton     Breath
Reaffirming Winton’s capacity for portraying palpable emotion and his ability to capture a sense of place, Breath is a beautiful and moving book, about life lived at the dangerous limits of risk, the ecstatic breathlessness which comes perilously close to the absence of breath. Grounded in place and in the specificity of the sea and of riding the surf, Winton brings us another penetrating study of the Australian male psyche, the desire to fly and the bitter consequences of falling.

Children's Books

B-GRAHAM-How-to-Heal-a-Broken-WingBob Graham    How to Heal a Broken Wing

A magical combination of beautiful design, delightful soft wash and ink illustrations and the perfect simplicity of the written text make this a touching and enduring story of a child’s ability to see what adults sometimes miss, and to keep alive the dream of restoration in the face of pragmatism. A wonderful story for children and adults alike, reinforcing the values of compassion, empathy and hope and the value of a child-centred perspective.

K-DUNSTAN-Collecting-ColourKylie Dunstan   Collecting Colour
Saturated with glorious colour and energy, brilliant illustrations bring to life the story of two girls – one white, one indigenous -- learning to collect pandanus leaves and dyes to make beautiful traditional baskets. This is an entertaining picture book which interweaves informative facts about Aboriginal culture and lifestyle through the story.

M-GREENWOOD-F-LESSAC-Simpson-and-his-DonkeyMark Greenwood and Frané Lessac   Simpson and his Donkey
The importance of this story is translated for children, offering a living view of Anzac history and the courage of an ordinary individual. Told with just the right amount of information to make the story appealing and comprehensible to a young audience, Greenwood's simple straightforward text makes the story accessible and adds poignancy while Lessac’s colourful naive style artwork beautifully illustrates the narrative.

G-MILLARD-ApplesauceGlenda Millard    Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle
The power of family and friendship are central themes of this touching and fun retelling of the Christmas story in the context of an Australian landscape ravaged by bushfire. The perennial miracle of new life is seen, at last, by the small figure of Applesauce the pig, the promise among the ashes. Millard’s delicate and humorous illustrations team superbly with her simply written rhythmic text.

G-MILLARD-Perry-Angels-SuitcaseGlenda Millard    Perry Angel’s Suitcase
This heart warming story of a young orphan boy who finally finds a home is depicted with beautiful use of language. Millard offers young readers moving insights into the business of being family, and how ‘belonging’ can be a wide and generous experience. Neatly sidestepping overt sentimentality, much of the charm of this work lies in the gentleness and goodness inherent in the people who inhabit the book.

T-RIDDLE-Nobody-owns-the-MoonTohby Riddle    Nobody Owns the Moon
With its clever and engaging collages and insightful text, this book teaches children about valuing difference, and how to find one’s way positively through modern life, as well as offering a whimsical story of fun and friendship.  A gentle bittersweet satire of human society is cleverly encapsulated in what appears to be a simple picture book about friendship between fox and donkey.

Young Adults

suburbiathShaun Tan    Tales from Outer Suburbia
With exquisite pen and ink sketches, paintings and pencil drawings complementing his perceptive prose, Tan continues to offer significant insights into the experience of Australians in all their diversity. Subtle and rich stories consider the quiet mysteries of everyday life: homemade pats, dangerous weddings, stranded sea mammals, tiny exchange students and secret rooms filled with darkness and delight. Outlandish yet so believable, this is a book to treasure.

A-GOODMAN-The-Two-Pearls-of-WisdomAlison Goodman    The Two Pearls of Wisdom
Set in a fantasy version of ancient China, a girl disguises herself as a boy in order to become a powerful Dragonmaster. Goodman presents us with a densely textured world of intrigue, adventure and the complexities of love with its basis in Chinese astrology and legend. A complex and richly woven tapestry of plot and sub plot, good versus evil, female against male.

N-JORGENSEN-Jacks-IslandNorman Jorgensen   Jack’s Island
Themes of mateship, community spirit, racism and family relationships underpin this lively and entertaining story of a boy’s life and friendships on Rottnest Island during the Second World War. Written with humour, a light touch and good control of dialogue, historical facts and insight are presented in an easily digestible form for children. 

M-MARCHETTA-Finnikin-of-the-RockMelina Marchetta   Finnikin of the Rock
This complex fantasy narrative of quest and restoration marks a significant departure in style for Marchetta. Written with contemporary views about gender and power in mind, the powerful plot and multifaceted, believable characters make this allegory engrossing and pacy, and highly successful in its ambitions.

A-STIRLING-Broken-GlassAdrian Stirling   Broken Glass
As jagged and pointed as its title, Stirling’s book is a powerful and disturbing story of dislocated and violent youth, as well as the sometimes murky business of friendships and loyalties, and how it might be possible for a young person to forge their own path in life. This dark, very credible story is harrowing but totally absorbing.

SCRIPTS

D-MILLAR-The-Modern-InternationalDamian Miller   The Modern International Dead
A bizarre and haunting exploration of areas of recent war and conflict – East Timor, Iraq, Cambodia, Rwanda. This is a fiercely intelligent and imaginative exploration of individuals in situations of intolerable compromise and suffering.

T-MCNAMARA-The-GreatTony McNamara;The Great
A playful romp through the bawdy and violent life of Catherine the Great of Russia, The Great explores sex, power and appetite with bawdiness and wit. McNamara’s sharp sense of humour and economy of words and a jigsaw of Russian history¬ensure a lively and entertaining narrative.

L-NOWRA-B-COLE-First-AustraliansLouis Nowra and Beck Cole          First Australians: The Cultivation of Whiteness
A well-written script for television that traces ways in which the ideal of whiteness was made dominant – as blackness was encouraged to be ‘bred out,’ as indigenous people were pushed off traditional lands and forced into positions of dislocation and dependence.

H-TURNER-Bone-DryHellie Turner Bone Dry
A poignant look at Australian rural life brought to the brink by drought, death, isolation and family expectations, this is a finely written pastoral tragedy about no rain, no profit and no love.  Lyrical and affecting.

WA HISTORY

B-DIBBLE---Doing-Life---Elizabeth-JolleyBrian Dibble Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley

A longstanding friend of Elizabeth Jolley, Dibble’s highly readable biography honours the life of one of Australia’s literary giants. Thorough and scrupulous research undertaken in Australia and overseas coupled with access to his subject’s personal papers have resulted in a comprehensive and important instalment in Australia’s literary history.

G-BOLTON--land-of-vision-and-mirageGeoffrey Bolton    Land of Vision and Mirage: Western Australia since 1826
The story of any state is dynamic and needs to be periodically re-examined. Bolton’s modern history of Western Australia is informative and accessible. Despite being a concise volume, Bolton is generous in his scope. A valuable addition to the collection of state histories.  

M-HELEN---Other-peoples-countryMaureen Helen    Other People’s Country
An important insight into rarely seen life in remote Australia, Helen’s memoir of her thorny experience of being a remote area nurse in the Aboriginal community of Jigalong is written in clear accessible prose. The cultural clash between white and Aboriginal Australia is depicted with unflinching, matter of fact honesty.

MA-JEBB-Mowanjum-50-yearsMary Anne Jebb    Mowanjum: 50 Years Community History
Jebb has produced a beautiful work commemorating 50 years of the Mowanjum (meaning settled at last) community near Derby. A tribute to the perseverance of the community and a valuable window into their world, the book is adeptly compiled and well researched.