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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2012 Judges' Report

Children’s Literature

Childrens-Lit_Australian-Backyard-NaturalistPeter Macinnis
Australian Backyard Naturalist
National Library of Australia

This superb, comprehensive and engaging non-fiction book explores a myriad of facts about backyard creatures both obvious and obscure.  Accessible and child-friendly, with plentiful photographs and diagrams, and enriched with an extensive index, references and ideas for personal projects, this scientifically based natural history book will keep its readers both entranced and informed.

Childrens-Lit_Pookie-Aleera-is-Not-My-BoyfriendStephen Herrick
Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend
University of Queensland Press

Set in a remote outback town, this gentle and humorous verse novel is mainly narrated by the schoolchildren of class 6B.  With a deft and compassionate touch the author allows each character to emerge as a vividly drawn individual. Themes of kindness and warmth, grief and loss interweave this beautifully written story.

Childrens-Lit_Sophie-Scott-Goes-SouthAlison Lester
Sophie Scott Goes South
Penguin Group Australia

Written in the form of a diary, Sophie chronicles her five week voyage to the Antarctic with the use of a variety of media – illustrations in watercolour or pen and ink, photographs and diagrams of varying sizes. The story is entertaining and packed full of interesting facts and observations.

Childrens-Lit_The-CoatJulie Hunt (author) and Ron Brooks (illustrator)
The Coat
Allen & Unwin

When a lone traveller comes across a coat in the countryside, and dons it – magic happens.  Drab colours give way to flamboyant hues.  Thus, as the man has freed the jacket from its colourless and stationary life in the fields, so too does thecoat turn the man into a self-confident entertainer allowing him to stride out into a glorious future.  Beautiful illustrations, with a nod to Brueghel and Chagall, partner a lyrical narrative.  

Childrens-Lit_The-Terrible-Suitcase_300DPIEmma Allen (author) and Freya Blackwood (illustrator)
The Terrible Suitcase
Omnibus Books

On the first day of school, everyone has a new backpack except one little girl who only has an old suitcase in which to carry her lunch.  But in this beautifully illustrated, poignant and funny story of finding friendship through the magic power of imagination, even a terrible suitcase can become many useful things.

Childrens-Lit_TanglewoodMargaret Wild (author) and Vivienne Goodman (illustrator)
Tanglewood
Omnibus Books

A lone tree grows on a tiny, remote island, enduring heat, storms, lack of water and loneliness – until the arrival of a storm-tossed seagull changes everything.  Exquisitely beautiful illustrations of the tree, and sea- and sky-scapes in all seasons enrich this simple but profoundly moving tale for readers young and old.

Poetry

Poetry_Certain-Fathoms Bonny Cassidy
Certain Fathoms
Puncher & Wattmann

Certain Fathoms represents an exciting new contribution to the field of Australian poetry. Cassidy explores and follows the possibilities of the poetic line, finding there vaulting constellations and deep fathoms of unfolding images. Her work is both light and intense, taking the reader to often unexpected and surprising places. A dazzling poetic debut.

Poetry_Asymmetry Aidan Coleman
Asymmetry
Brandl & Schlesinger

In 2007 CoIeman had a brain tumour that induced a stroke which robbed him of motion and speech and hence his ability to write – a condition considerably resolved after a year of his constant effort which also involved his wife, friends and health professionals. If the effort was immense, so is the accomplishment: Asymmetry is a book devoid of the embarrassments common to the ‘writing-my-way-back’ genre. His sentiments are honest, modest and, toward others, grateful without being toady, the love poems to his wife almost too touching to continue reading. But if humility in Asymmetry elicits admiration, the word-choice and imagery is surgical, the poems hard-edged and hard-nosed, the poems worthy in themselves, like Milton’s “On His Blindness,” independent of who wrote them.

Poetry_Cumulus Robert Gray
Cumulus
John Leonard Press

Robert Gray is a long established and significant voice in Australian poetry. This collection includes work from his eight previous books – often significantly revised – as well as a new section of poems. This extensive range displays a virtuosic grasp on poetic form, revealing a lightness of touch, a luminosity of perception as well as an eye for experimentation and the intellectual. Cumulus is a compelling journey through the career of one of Australia’s leading poets.

Poetry_Darger-His-GirlsJulie Chevalier
Darger: his girls
Puncher & Wattmann

Chevalier half documents/half imagines the life of Henry Darger (1892-1973): a Chicago recluse who wrote some 30,000 pages of never-published work, including an autobiography; a figuratively priapic, prolific artist who never exhibited his hundreds of images of children with bulging eyes and protruding tongues, including little girls with penises; a man who might have been a serial killer. Chevalier’s poems, improbably but persuasively, conjure both empathy for Darger and sympathy for his victims. Darger is a remarkable tour de force.

Brook Emery
Collusion
John Leonard Press

Emery, a poet of great technical skill, has an enviable capacity to create supple, sensuous lines which perfectly accommodate his long, seamless descriptions and reflections as well as his observations and speculations upon them, sometimes metaphysical, sometimes mundane. His poem “…seagulls” reveals his technique in miniature, especially in the last three lines: “…seagulls/and a sacred ibis and two black crows / dipping their fierce beaks into fish guts / on the wharf. Men in boots tramping decks, / laughing and smoking and inviting the sun / into their weathered skin. One pelican / is statuesque on a pylon, another trails ripples / across the bay. The wind just registers / its drifting messages on flags and leaves, / coming and going, lifting and letting go…" Emery’s narrator is as awed as he is insightful.


Poetry_-Crimson-Crop Peter Rose
Crimson Crop
UWA Publishing

In Crimson Crop, demonstrates an assuredness of style that has become his trademark – witty, intellectual, acerbic, evocative of loss and the specificity of memory. As the book’s title suggests, these poems range across both the vividness of crimson with its associations with blood, the regal, the artist’s dramatic swathe of colour – and the doubleness of a ‘crop’ which might harvest and/or truncate. An important voice in Australian letters, Rose is a poet at the height of his powers.    

Young Adult

Young-Adult_A-Corner-of-White Jaclyn Moriarty
A Corner of White
Pan Macmillan Australia

A girl called Madeleine lives in Cambridge, England, The World. A boy called Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello, where a Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar and there is a danger of being attacked by dangerous Colours. A crack appears between the two worlds and through this tiny corner of white, the two begin to correspond. In this book, the first of a trilogy, Jaclyn Moriarty has created a landscape that is wildly original, intricate, quirky, comical and utterly delicious.


Young-Adult_Friday-BrownVikki Wakefield
Friday Brown
Text Publishing

Friday Brown is seventeen. When her mother dies of cancer she takes to the streets, living in a ramshackle squat with a motley crew of homeless misfits, including an enigmatic boy called Silence. When things get tricky, they head for the outback in a stolen car. This is a raw and honest book, beautifully written, with strong characters, great narrative pace and a satisfying ending.


Young-Adult_Sea-HeartsMargo Lanagan
Sea Hearts
Allen & Unwin

In an abuse of her special inherited powers, the ‘witch’ Misskaella sings forth beautiful, compliant brides from the bodies of seals for the shallow men of Rollrock Island. Recreating the legend of the selkies, Margo Lanagan in Sea Hearts weaves a tale of cruelty, revenge, greed, human frailty, filial love and redemption. Six distinct voices, spanning three generations, narrate the context and describe the consequences to nature and community life on the island. The orchestrated plot surges to a dramatic, shocking climax, before a dawn-like denouement which is just as powerful in its tranquillity and hope. Lanagan presents a fantasy that enthrals, in a language that sings and delights.


Young-Adult_Fog-a-DoxBruce Pascoe
Fog a Dox
Magabala Books

Alfred and Dave are sustainable loggers living solitary lives in the Australian bush; Maria is a spirited young girl who is dying of cancer; and Fog is a fox who thinks he is a dog. A series of chance events, loyal and heroic acts and a love of nature bring these disparate characters together in relationships that are transforming and healing. Bruce Pascoe’s empathy for the beauty and sounds of the bush and for his characters capture the reader in this lovely, refreshing tale of kindness, laconic humour, respectful mateship and optimism. Fog a Dox is a balance of stillness and tranquillity, action and drama. It portrays the best of human qualities and is a book accessible to all readers.


Young-Adult_Night-Beach Kirsty Eagar
Night Beach
Penguin Group Australia

Abbie (“Anxiety Girl”) has family issues and confesses to “a hollow ache in my guts” that only surfing, painting and drawing can assuage. She plans to combine these in her two-week holiday break during which she must complete her Year 12 Visual Arts Project. Enter Kane, her other obsession, whose return throws her into turmoil. In Night Beach, Kirsty Eagar masterfully creates a canvas which reflects the mind and experience of her protagonist; she charges her writing with foreboding and sexual and creative tension, with integral references to well-known paintings, songs and literature. The lines of reality, the surreal, nightmare and the paranoiac are blurred and the reader is carried along with Abbie, constantly asking: What is real? What is going on here?


Young-Adult_The-Ink-Bridge  Neil Grant
The Ink Bridge
Allen & Unwin

Omed is an Afghani refugee who has narrowly escaped the Taliban and arrived in Melbourne after a perilous boat journey.  His tongue has been ripped out by his torturers. Hector is an Australian boy, grieving his mother, who has withdrawn into sorrow and silence. They become friends through their jobs at a candle factory and the impact of their relationship reaches forward into their adult lives. This excellent book, which tackles important political issues, is both a thriller and a moving story about friendship and the depths of human emotion.

Scripts

Sue Smith
Mabo
Blackfella Films

The true life travails – public and private – as well as the nation-changing posthumous triumph of Murray Island elder Eddie Mabo are movingly and  accurately captured by veteran screenwriter Sue Smith’s beautifully structured and compelling television-performance writing.

Melissa Reeves
Happy Ending
Melbourne Theatre Company

Melissa Reeves’ cheeky and provocative Anglo-Asian farce concerning a middle aged woman’s overheated cross-cultural obsession, neatly breaks some innovative bilingual stage ground. The script deftly massages audience expectations, whether north or south of the equator.

Scripts_Fearless Mirra Todd
Fearless
Currency Press

Milk Crate Theatre and Mirra Todd take us deep into the milieu and lives of a group of damaged and fractured souls who have fallen through the cracks of the welfare state. Fearless offers what good theatre does best: we enter the uncomfortable skin and psyche of sisters and brothers we perhaps wish were not truly our immediate kin and family.


Scripts_The-Fremantle-Candidate Ingle Knight
The Fremantle Candidate
Prickly Pear Playscripts

In this engaging play, Knight  creates a putative friendship between Western  Australia’s Mark Twain-like popular essayist (though also patrician academic), Walter Murdoch, and the Labor Party’s flawed, but soon-to-be severely tested, war-time Prime Minister, John Curtin. Their encounter is situated at a pivotal and dramatic moment of personal and political crisis.   The deceptive ease of this theatrical construction reveals a playwright at the peak of his craft.

Kate Mulvany & Anne-Louise Sarks
Medea
Belvoir Street Theatre

Mulvaney and Sarks demonstrate that they are alive to the challenge of delivering the classics to the contemporary world, as well as being alert to the sensibilities a contemporary era. They reveal in their performance script – which deftly allows for judicious improvisation by the core  juvenile cast – that they are clearly pursuing  the Renaissance aim to “imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new’’.

Tee O’Neill
Barassi
Currency Press

O’Neill brings us an example of proudly populist autobiographical theatre which celebrates a cultural - and dare we say – significant social hero. Through the character of Barassi, the play convincingly presents a moving narrative of the ordinary person with humble beginnings who, through talent and good fortune, undertakes a journey to success. Heart-warming and entertaining theatre.

Digital Narrative

My Planets Reunion MemoirDavid P Reiter
My Planets Reunion Memoir http://ipoz.biz/myplanets
(Interactive Publications)

David Reiter's provocative fictional multimedia memoir combines a textual narrative with a rich tapestry of audio, video and animation to explore the meaning of family, connectivity and identity. The planets provide both a narrative structure and a shifting series of perspectives asking not just how we understand who we are, but how that story shifts with different sets of eyes. This is a profoud digital narrative which both makes the most of the various possibilities of the digital realm whilst weaving a provocative, engaging and all too human tale.

Lana Young
The Box that Changed Bea’s Life

Lana Faith Young's hypertextual narrative about the discovery of a mysterious stone cube expands an engaging story with correspondence and a completely realised world of ancient symbolic art woven together online to outline a mystery that is not easily solved.

Non-fiction

Non-fiction-_MontebelloRobert Drewe
Montebello
Penguin Group Australia

This second instalment of Robert Drewe’s memoir follows the immensely successful The Shark Net. Here, Drewe’s writing is both vivid and assured. Thematically the book has a wide and contemporary relevance as it takes as its central preoccupation Britain's 1960s nuclear explosions on the Montebello Archipelago.


Non-fiction_The-Mind-of-a-Thief Patti Miller
The Mind of a Thief
University of Queensland Press

This beautifully written memoir is a deeply personal response to important issues surrounding Native Title. Miller intertwines the search for personal identity and the discovery of her Aboriginal heritage with the larger political issues between black and white Australia.


Non-fiction_Earth-WarsGeoff Hiscock
Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources
John Wiley & Sons

Jargon-free and written with precise journalistic clarity, this book tightly lays out the pressures on the earth's resources from a global economic and political perspective. Hiscock offers a comprehensive understanding and deep insight into the forces that are shaping both our present and future. He combines ‘authority’ with the ability to communicate complex issues easily in an engaging writing style.


Non-fiction_Mr-JW-LewinRichard Neville
Mr JW Lewin, Painter & Naturalist
New South Publishing

This is a well researched and told story of an important Australian colonial figure and his times. Beautifully designed, the illustrations are more than an illustrative account of an artist’s work, giving an insight into how early Australian settler society viewed and interpreted their unfamiliar surroundings, becoming, in effect, “a fascinating statement of colonial self-representation.”

Non-fiction_ExileRoger Averill
Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz
Transit Lounge

Written with great tenderness, this joint portrait of biographer and subject explores their relationship. Slowly building in complexity and power, Averill’s is a compelling journey of discovery into Werner Pelz’s life and the existential questions that provide it, and his own, with meaning.


Non-fiction_SandakanPaul Ham
Sandakan
Random House Australia

In this extraordinary account, the excesses of war are revealed with an immediacy and a relentlessness that is unflinching. Ham's research is meticulous and he is able to create a balance between the personal stories of the experience of Allied prisoners of the Japanese in Borneo and the overarching politics of the Pacific war.  This book is an important contribution to the documentation and understanding of Australia’s war history.

WA History

Kurlumarniny:  We Come from the Desert
Aboriginal Studies Press

This is a story about an ordinary man involved in great movements close to his people. This is his autobiography, a tale of everyday life and significant moments over sixty years in Western Australia’s Pilbara. It is also a story told in two languages, his own Nyangumarta and English, for he is a passionate advocate for indigenous languages.  His story, then, combines an absorbing narrative with a powerful political message about Aboriginal history and Aboriginal language. 


WA-History_Shipwrecks Michael McCarthy (ed)
Shipwrecks of Australia's West Coast
Western Australian Museum

This captivating and comprehensive account of the shipwrecks lying off Western Australia offers a fresh perspective on the state’s history. With stunning photographs and useful maps, the collection has interest far beyond its obvious value as a record of how the ships were lost, their passengers and crew, their cargoes, and subsequent salvage operations.  Written by experts from the Western Australian Museum, the stories of the wrecks are the springboard for an economic, industrial and social history of Western Australia, within a broad geographical and historical context.

WA-History_Guy-Grey-Smith Andrew Gaynor
Guy Grey-Smith: Life Force
UWA Publishing

Read either as a tribute to an outstanding if neglected Western Australian artist, or an exposition on art history, this publication is a must for art lovers and history buffs.  Gaynor handles the difficult art of biography with ease while writing with authority on the history of art, but he doesn’t whitewash his subject, who emerges as a fascinating but sometimes difficult and wilful man. This is a skilful example of the biographer’s craft.

WA-History_True-North Brenda Niall
True North
Text Publishing

The story of the Durack family embodies the history of white settlement of the northern pastoral lands across Australia, and Brenda Niall’s biography of writer Mary and painter Elizabeth Durack provides valuable new information and insights. While detailing the lives and work of the two sisters, and the inspirations for their artistic creations, True North also evaluates the legacy of the early Duracks. Niall considers the women’s achievements within a framework of the social and cultural development of twentieth century Western Australia, and against the background of the indigenous people admired by the Durack family but paradoxically dispossessed by their endeavours.

WA-History_110-in-the-Waterbag Lenore Layman and Criena Fitzgerald (eds)
110° in the Waterbag
Western Australian Museum

This is a fascinating collection of essays, written by a group of historians all expert at their craft. It tells the stories of an outback town that no longer exists, a mining boom-town and a district, seemingly always on the edge of something. It is a story of their people, a mix of ethnicities that was years before its time. Powerfully written, inclusive in its subject material, based on painstaking research, it is a model of its kind.

WA-History_Voices-from-the-West-End Paul Longley Arthur and Geoffrey Bolton (eds)
Voices from the West End
Western Australian Museum

This enthralling collection of writings on Fremantle’s most famous and historic section is a significant addition to the history of the port city and indeed of the state. Its journey from sandy wasteland in 1829, to rough and ready fishing town through to the sophisticated city of the twenty-first century is recounted through an eclectic range of topics, including plague, capital punishment, religion, migration, fishing, trade, labour relations and more. Importantly, Voices from the West End gives a compelling account of Fremantle’s rich social and ethnic history, from the original Nyungar people and successive waves of European migrants, on to twenty-first century residents and visitors.

Fiction

Murray-Bail_The-Voyage_Low-ResMurray Bail
The Voyage
Text Publishing

With a disconcerting recklessness Murray Bail abandons the rule-book and gives the reader a splendid novel that only a very assured writer could produce. Slipping between countries, characters and times, often intriguingly in one sentence, Bail takes us, his readers, on a voyage. We are never quite sure where we are being taken but we go, more than willingly – a testament to the power and originality of Bail’s writing.

David-Brooks_The-Conversation_Low-ResDavid Brooks
The Conversation
University of Queensland Press

An accidental meeting between a young woman and an older man and their consequent conversation over dinner in a restaurant in Trieste allows David Brooks, in magnificent poetic language, to dissect love. The unresolved tension has the reader yearning for more but Brooks is the master of restraint and controls his story masterfully to the very last page.

Michelle-De-Kretser_Questions-of-Travel_Low-ResMichelle De Kretser
Questions of Travel
Allen & Unwin

Yet again, Michelle de Kretser delivers an extraordinary novel, possibly her best yet.  Topical in its subject matter of asylum and belonging, deft and delicate in its portrayal of tragedy, Questions of Travel has already garnered significant acclaim nationally and internationally, and deservedly so.


Deborah-Forster_The-Meaning-of-Grace_Low-ResDeborah Forster
The Meaning Of Grace
Random House Australia

A simple premise is handled with assurance by Deborah Forster in The Meaning of Grace, only her second novel.  A mother's cancer diagnosis brings together her three adult children and Forster scrapes back their relationships to the bone with both compassion and generosity but certainly no sugar-coating. The ease of the story-telling belies the skill behind the writing.

Drusilla-Modjeska_The-Mountain_Low-ResDrusilla Modjeska
The Mountain
Random House Australia

The Mountain explores the politics and history of Papua New Guinea. Complex and richly textured, this epic tale is a substantial book in size, ambition and scope. For years, Modjeska has been lauded for her body of nonfiction work; this first novel is testament to her narrative skill and capacity as a storyteller.


Carrie-Tiffany_Mateship-with-Birds_Low-ResCarrie Tiffany
Mateship with Birds
Pan Macmillan Australia

Mateship with Birds is an examination of the interrelations between humanity and nature. Taking desire as its central theme, Carrie Tiffany’s novel is deceptively understated; its gentle tone belies the keen observation at its core. Structurally interesting, unsentimental but at the same time tender, this is a carefully crafted and deeply enjoyable book.