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Split decisions but united front at PM’s literary awards

15 December 2015 265 views No Comment

The captain may have been replaced but for the second year in a row the $600,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been marked by split decisions.

However, it is understood the first awards under Malcolm Turnbull do not include any “captain’s picks, as with Tony ­Abbott’s tendentious intervention last year.

While the key history and non-fiction prizes were shared at the awards ceremony in Sydney last night, this was the unanimous decision of the three judges, which was accepted by the Prime Minister, who has the final say in all six categories.

Each prize is worth $80,000 to the winner and $5000 to the unsuccessful shortlistees.

Journalist and author Ross Coulthart picked up half of the history prize, the most politically sensitive, for ‘Charles Bean’, his ­biography of Australia’s most ­famous war correspondent. Historian David Horner shared the spoils for the first volume of his ­official history of ASIO, ‘The Spy Catchers.’ One of the unsuccessful shortlistees in the history category was Anne Henderson’s ‘Menzies at War.’ Her husband, Gerard, was chairman of the judging panel last year but is on a leave of absence this year, his role taken over by psychiatrist and commentator Ida Lichter. The other two judges are former politician Peter Coleman and academic and author Ross Fitzgerald.

The non-fiction prize was shared by author and publisher Michael Wilding for his account of the lives of colonial writers, ‘Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall’, and by biographer Darleen Bungey, sister of Pulitzer prize-winning Australian novelist Geraldine Brooks, for ‘John Olsen: An Artist’s Life.’

The fiction prize was another win for Fremantle novelist Joan London for ‘The Golden Age’, set in a children’s polio convalescent home in 1950s Perth. London said she had lost the speech she had prepared so she “was without words, but it’s a great honour.

The poetry award went to veteran Sydney poet (and tax expert) Geoffrey Lehmann for ‘Poems 1957-2013.’ The fiction and poetry judging panels were chaired by Melbourne University Publishing chief executive Louise Adler, Mr Abbott’s publisher, and included poets Jamie Grant and Robert Gray and rare book expert Des Cowley.

Claire Zorn won the young adult fiction award for ‘The Protected’ and David Metzenthen and Michael Camilleri took home the children’s book award for ‘One Minute’s Silence.’

The awards were announced in Sydney last night, with Mr Turnbull and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield in attendance.

They were not without some controversy, however, with Ms Adler urging Mr Turnbull not to scrap the parallel importation rules that protect Australian writers. However, Mr Turnbull gave no ground. “Even if territorial copyright were to crumble, he said, Australian authors would continue to prosper.

“Their voices will sing across the works and across the ages.

2015 PM’S Literary Awards winners


‘The Golden Age’, Joan London (Random House Australia)

‘Poems 1957-2013’, Geoffrey Lehmann (UWA Publishing)

‘Charles Bean’, Ross Coulthart (Harper Collins), ‘The Spy Catchers — The Official History of ASIO Vol 1’, David Horner AM (Allen & Unwin)


‘John Olsen’, Darleen Bungey (Harper Collins), ‘Wild Bleak Bohemia: Marcus Clarke, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall’, Michael Wilding (Australian Scholarly Publishing)


‘The Protected’, Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

‘One Minute’s Silence’, David Metzenthen, illustrated by Michael Camilleri (Allen & Unwin)

Stephen Romei, ‘The Australian’, December 15, 2015, p 3.

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