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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2009 Judges' Report

Non-Fiction

I-McCALMAN-Darwins-ArmadaIain McCalman   Darwin's Armada
An absolutely superb achievement — rigorously researched, elegantly constructed and narrated with flair, wit and wonder. McCalman brings to vivid life one of the greatest scientific achievements and controversies.

K-BOEY-Between-StationsKim Cheng Boey  Between Stations
Kim Cheng Boey’s fluid and sensually evocative essays trace his journey through India, China and Pakistan to Egypt and Morocco. More than a collection of traveller’s tales, this philosophical and poetic memoir creates a resonance that lingers long after the last page has been read.
Between Stations serves as a vehicle for the writer’s physical and emotional meandering through time and place, prompting an exploration of memory and belonging.

T-KENEALLY-AustraliansThomas Keneally   Australians: Origins to Eureka
This book is a lovely feast. Keneally brings a wide cast of characters to life and, in doing so, traces a thoughtful portrait of a continent’s origins to the coming into being of a modern nation.

A-McGREGOR-Grand-ObsessionsAlasdair McGregor   Grand Obsessions
In this fascinating biography, Alasdair McGregor draws on meticulous research to tell the story of Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. Through this multi-layered and controlled narrative, he examines the role each played in their personal and professional relationship, and encourages us to look with new eyes at the rich legacy they left behind.

FICTION

JM-COETZEE-SummertimeJM Coetzee    Summertime
Appearing almost prosaic in its economy, the writing in Summertime nevertheless reminds us continually of Coetzee’s formidable talent. While seemingly intent on telling us that Coetzee the man is, at best, inconsequential, the assured nature of the writer and his brilliant controlled manipulation of reality, memory and truth make it certain that he appears anything but this.

C-SILVEY-Jasper-JonesCraig Silvey    Jasper Jones
Carig Silvey’s second novel Jasper Jones does everything to confirm his position as one of Australia’s foremost storytellers. Within the first few paragraphs he drags the reader headlong into the story and doesn’t let go until the very last page. In this deliberate homage to Harper Lee and Mark Twain, Craig Silvey has written a perfectly crafted coming of age novel that will speak to a wide audience, defying the notion of intended readership.


D-MALOUF-RansomDavid Malouf   Ransom
This is a rich, layered, delicate and sometimes disturbing reworking of one fragment of Homer’s Iliad. Written in beautifully poetic prose, this fine book makes craft look effortless and haunts us long after the last page has been read.

G-MURNANE-Barley-PatchGerald Murnane   Barley Patch
Murnane is an intriguing and disciplined writer. He pulls off an experimental, concentrated and self-referential book that quietly and precisely draws us into the magic at the heart of story telling itself.

WA History

P-HEATHERINGTON-Paupers,-Poor-ReliefPenelope Hetherington  Paupers, Poor Relief and Poor Houses in WA, 1829-1910
Meticulously researched, the narrative is illuminated with numerous case studies of unemployed paupers, of the sick and insane, of destitute widows and unmarried pregnant servant girls and of abandoned children. The author asks questions whether the Poor Houses were administered to assist the poor or to punish them and what was the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Much of Western Australian history is written from the point of view of elites, and this work provides a much needed balance.

S-ADAMS-The-Unforgiving-RopeSimon Adams   The Unforgiving Rope, Murder and Hanging on Australia’s Western Frontier
In eleven chapters focusing on the period between 1840 and 1909, historian Simon Adams skilfully places the circumstances of victims and perpetrators against the backdrop of their era revealing the stories behind the hangings.
In the final chapter, the author’s passion is fully revealed. It touches on such issues as the continued influence of the penal period, and the disproportionate percentage of Aborigines hanged. Western Australia was the last state to abolish capital punishment in 1984, though a petition was circulated calling for its reintroduction in 2000.

J-GREGORY-J-GOTHARD-Historical-EncyclopediaJenny Gregory and Jan Gothard (editors)  Historical Encyclopedia of WA
This is a landmark of historical scholarship and provides an authoritative and comprehensive guide to Western Australian history. The scope of this historical encyclopedia has been expanded, historical sources have been interpreted anew and the histories of groups once marginalised or ignored have been included. Contributions have come from a wide range of disciplines with scientists, socials scientists and other scholars of the humanities joining with historians to contribute to this endeavour.  The high standard of articles is maintained throughout and the editors are to be congratulated.

T-SHELLAM-Shaking-Hands-on-the-FringeTiffany Shellam   Shaking Hands on the Fringe: Negotiating the Aboriginal World at King George’s Sound
This ethnographic history narrates episodes of the developing relationships between British and aboriginal individuals, transcending the common ‘friendly’ and ‘violent’ encounters. A particularly impressive feature is the reflections that follow each chapter.

Young Adults

J-LARBALESTIER-LiarJustine Larbalestier  Liar
This book is cleverly written, with unreliable narration that is brilliantly done. It's not a book that you can dip in and out of – you have to read this one from start to finish, and then you'll immediately turn back to the start and begin again because you'll find it so intriguing. It’s a complex style that is extremely successful here.

L-HILLS-The-Beginners-Guide-to-LivingLia Hills    The Beginner's Guide to Living
The concept of a young man finding himself through philosophy is a fascinating and challenging one. The overall read was intriguing, and it offers a different viewpoint from a usual male-gaze book. Pleasant to find stories that offer something to kids who are less than mainstream by nature, and this book succeeds in that.

B-JEFFREY-Brown-Skin-BlueBelinda Jeffrey   Brown Skin Blue
Definitely for the older end of YA spectrum and quite gripping, Brown Skin Blue is topical and well written. There is some shocking content in these pages, but it is powerfully and appropriately drawn. This is challenging subject matter to write, and Jeffrey has handled it very well.

D-METZENTHEN-Jarvis-24David Metzenthen   Jarvis 24
Though this book may not appeal to all, it's a solid "male" book that has more depth than just sport or rough-housing. It is a great counter balance to the plethora of female-targeted YA fiction, handling some excellent relationship and gender issues in a way that won't be off-putting to boys.

P-TANGEY-Loving-Richard-FeynmanPenny Tangey   Loving Richard Feynman
A very interesting book, quite different from most of the rest of the field, but very well written and thoroughly enjoyable. The characterisation of the protagonist was perhaps a little problematic, not quite ringing true as an adolescent character, but it didn't seem to distract from the story. With an engaging style and fascinating concepts, this is well worth reading.

Children’s Books

M-WILD-F-BLACKWOOD-Harry-_and_-HopperMargaret Wild, illustrations by Freya Blackwood     Harry & Hopper
Harry & Hopper is such a sad story, but is an extraordinarily good book for dealing with grief. With a beautiful story, gorgeous and unusual illustrations, and excellent examination of the theme, this is a great package.

C-HARRIS-Audreys-Big-SecretChristine Harris, illustrations by Ann James      Audrey's Big Secret
An enjoyable read, covering issues such as the stolen generation and gender, with a solid narrative at an age-appropriate level while still being highly entertaining. It suffers very slightly from being the third in a series, with some elements of story/character somewhat vague, but is otherwise excellent.

P-MORGAN-C-NIXON-Crocodile-CakePalo Morgan, illustrations by Chris Nixon      Crocodile Cake
This book is an overall highly entertaining story with a ripping pace, clever rhyming and great illustration. Crocodile Cake was one of the favourites with the children, out of all the books read aloud from the entries.

S-MURPHY-Pearl-Verses-the-WorldSally Murphy, illustrations by Heather Potter      Pearl Verses the World
This story is an unexpected gem with poetic meta-text. Written as a verse novel, the book sensitively and realistically deals with the issues of bullying, grief and the things kids struggle with. It’s a very difficult form to do well, and is achieved here with great success.

D-WOLFER-Lighthouse-GirlDianne Wolfer, illustrations by Brian Simmonds     Lighthouse Girl
Using real historical material and based on a true story, this book is cleverly put together to be both appealing and realistic as a story. With beautiful artwork and what can only be described as a “mashup” of historical documents, fictional story and art, this is a gorgeous package in total.

Scripts

2009 WinnerShirley Barrett   South Solitary
Tortuous emotional narratives are sharpened by geographic isolation. The script revealed Barrett as a very talented and imaginative writer; her dialogues are an example of fine, crisp writing. The setting would have appealed to any practical producer, and there were clear indications the script would make a smooth transition to the screen.

A-ADDISON-My-Place-1948-JenAlice Addison   My Place 1948
A fine piece of work; well-crafted dialogue and directions that keep the mind sprinting along with a young girl's thoughts. The lead character comes to terms with the fact that her "handsome and brave father," killed in the war, cannot grow with the family and that change in the family unit is inevitable. The final few scenes are beautifully done, maintaining the rural atmospherics and attending symbolism.

R-CRIBB-KrakouerReg Cribb    Krakouer
The rise and fall of one of Western Australia's sporting identities traced in powerful word pictures, from Krakouer's schooldays through success in the field, then a very public fall from grace.

P-GALLOWAY-RealismPaul Galloway   Realism
A challenge of major dimensions; a writer of impressive intellect and firm grasp of history has written a play for audiences that today perhaps know little of the Stalinist era of Russia. The Melbourne Theatre Company staged Realism for six weeks from 4 April to 17 May 2009, thus it struck a chord.

K-LEFEVER-The-CircuitKelly Lefever   The Circuit - Series 2: Sorry Business
An intense set of courtroom scenes in the far northwest that test the sensitivities to native law and fundamental morality in a series of thrilling exchanges. Unsurprisingly, this was one of a series of successful television series.

K-THOMSON-Darwin-Ep1-OriginsKatherine Thomson  Darwin's Brave New World: Episode 1: Origins
Scripting from complex narratives is always a challenge and the judges felt Katherine Thomson produced a fine script based on lain McCalman's outstanding book. The script was worthy of translating into a three-part television series.

Poetry

K-MIDDLETON-Fire-SeasonKate Middleton   Fire Season
This collection of poems moves effortlessly between the divas of film culture and everyday experience. Ideas about representations of the self, a touchstone for this book, are never a straightforward business, and lush imagery is contained by a wonderful sense of where to end a line

E-BALLOU-The-Darwin-PoemsEmily Ballou    The Darwin Poems
This is a meticulously researched and realised verse narrative, which avoids the charm-school pitfalls of many representations of Victorian England to bring the reader close to the life of such an influential figure.

F-PLUNKETT-Vanishing-PointFelicity Plunkett   Vanishing Point
Impressive in its honesty and grace, Vanishing Point is the intensely lived-in world in which Plunkett represents the experience of mothering.

A-TAYLOR-the-unhauntingAndrew Taylor   The Unhaunting
Another honest book with great appeal, this subtle charting of aging and holding close what is important was much admired.