The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

Well, here we are again: it will be Christ­mas be­fore we know it and no word on the book prizes that should have claims to be­ing the na­tion’s most im­por­tant, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Literary Awards. It’s a re­gret­table re-run of last year, when the short­lists were an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 19 and the win­ners on De­cem­ber 8, by which time most of the books were a bit long in the tooth. Hav­ing said that, the big night it­self, presided over by Tony Ab­bott, was the best since the awards were in­au­gu­rated by Kevin Rudd in 2008, full of colour and move­ment and with a dash of the sort of con­tro­versy — the prime min­is­te­rial in­ter­ven­tion in the fic­tion prize — that has made the Man Booker Prize what it is. But the on­go­ing un­cer­tainty over the fu­ture of the PM’s awards is un­sat­is­fac­tory.

I ap­pre­ci­ate that new Arts Min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field has barely had time to dust Ge­orge Bran­dis’s book­shelves, but even so I hoped for more when I in­quired about the awards this week. I had heard the short­lists would be an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 7, but that date came and went. A spokesper­son for the min­is­ter con­firmed there would be a de­lay, again, but be­yond that had lit­tle to add: “The date of the awards event has been post­poned and fur­ther de­tails will be an­nounced at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity. The short­listed books for each cat­e­gory are ex­pected to be an­nounced in the near fu­ture.’’ When I fol­lowed-up to ask if that state­ment could at least be taken as an as­sur­ance there would be a 2015 Prime Min­is­ter’s Literary Awards, the re­sponse was: “Fur­ther de­tails about the awards will be an­nounced at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity.’’ That was the state of play when this col­umn went to print. The awards, if they hap­pen, are worth $80,000 to the win­ners (and $5000 to the un­suc­cess­ful short­lis­tees) in six cat­e­gories: fic­tion, non­fic­tion, po­etry, history, young adult fic­tion and chil­dren’s books. It’s a lot sun­nier in Queens­land. The Queens­land Literary Awards, scrapped by Camp­bell New­man in 2012, are well and truly back on track, thanks to a grass­roots cam­paign that kept them alive in the first place and now the sup­port of Premier (and Arts Min­is­ter) An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk. This year’s win­ners were an­nounced last night at the State Li­brary of Queens­land, with lo­cal aca­demic Libby Con­nors col­lect­ing the big one, a new award that recog­nises a “work of state sig­nif­i­cance”, worth $25,000. She won for War­rior, her book about colo­nial in­dige­nous war­rior Dun­dalli.

The other awards, each worth $10,000, were dis­persed far and wide. Fre­man­tle au­thor Joan Lon­don won the fic­tion prize for The Golden Age, Mel­bourne writer Christos Tsi­olkas took home the short-story award for his provoca­tive col­lec­tion Mer­ci­less Gods, and the bard of Bun­yah in north­ern NSW, Les Mur­ray, won the po­etry prize for Wait­ing for the Past. Mel­bourne dom­i­nated the non­fic­tion cat­e­gories with writer and word nerd Don Wat­son win­ning the non­fic­tion award for The Bush: Trav­els in the Heart of Aus­tralia and Monash aca­demic Carolyn Hol­brook col­lect­ing the history prize for AN­ZAC: The Unau­tho­rised Bi­og­ra­phy.

The young adult fic­tion and chil­dren’s books awards went re­spec­tively to Syd­ney writer John Larkin for The Pause and Fre­man­tle-based Meg McKin­lay for A Sin­gle Stone. Fi­nally, the David Unaipon Award for an un­pub­lished in­dige­nous writer, the pre­vi­ous win­ners of which in­clude Sa­muel Wa­gan Wat­son, Larissa Behrendt, Tara June Winch and Ellen van Neer­ven, went to An­drew Booth for The First Oc­toroon or Re­port on an Ex­per­i­men­tal Child. Con­grat­u­la­tions to all. Quote of the week: ‘’That was a bad po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion.’’ Camp­bell New­man on ditch­ing the literary awards, in Gavin King’s just-pub­lished au­tho­rised bi­og­ra­phy, Can Do: Camp­bell New­man and the Chal­lenge of Re­form, which some book­stores are re­fus­ing to stock.

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