2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards: Shortlists Announced

by |May 26, 2011

Arts Minister Simon Crean today announced the shortlists for the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Minister Crean said the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards recognise the outstanding literary talent in our country.

“This year is the fourth year of the Awards, and also marks the greatest number of entries received in the history of the Awards,” Mr Crean said.

“The five short-listed books in each category have been recommended by the judging panels from an impressive pool of 379 entries. This is an indicator of the strength of the Australian literary sector.

“I am pleased to see 13 different publishers represented on the shortlists. I am also delighted that a number of first-time novelists have impressed judges. The Awards not only reward excellent writing, they support new Australian talent,” Mr Crean said.

Of the 379 entries, 133 were non-fiction entries, 69 fiction titles, 60 young adult fiction and 117 children’s fiction stories.

“I urge publishers, booksellers and book reviewers to bring the shortlisted books and authors to as wide an audience as possible over the next few weeks,” Mr Crean said.

“I will be reading as many as possible in the count down to the final awards, and urge fellow book lovers to celebrate Australian literature by buying, borrowing or downloading their own copies.”

The judging panels comprised of Professor Peter Pierce (chair), Professor John Hay AC and Dr Lyn Gallacher (fiction); Mr Brian Johns AO (chair), Mr Colin Steele and Dr Faye Sutherland (non-fiction); and Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright (chair), Mr Mike Shuttleworth and Ms Mary-Ruth Mendel (children’s and young adult fiction).

The 2011 shortlisted publications and authors are:

Traitor – Stephen Daisley

In the battle-smoke and chaos of Gallipoli, a young New Zealand soldier helps a Turkish doctor fighting to save a boy’s life. Then a shell bursts nearby; the blast that should have killed them both consigns them instead to the same military hospital.

Mahmoud is a Sufi. A whirling dervish, he says, of the Mevlevi order. He tells David stories: of arriving in London with a pocketful of dried apricots; of Majnun, the man mad for love; and of the saint who flew to paradise on a lion skin. You are God, we are all gods, Mahmoud tells David; and a bond grows between them. A bond so strong that David will betray his country for his friend.

Stephen Daisley’s astonishing debut novel is a story of war and of love—how each changes everything, forever. Evoking horror and beauty and a profound sense of the possibility of transformation, Traitor is that rarest of things: a work of fiction that will transport the reader, heart and soul, into another realm.


Stephen Daisley was born in New Zealand in 1955. He has served in the New Zealand Army and worked at a variety of jobs in New Zealand and Australia including on sheep and cattle stations, cutting bush and scrub, driving trucks, doing road works and bar work, and on oil and gas construction sites. Traitor is his first novel. He now lives in Perth.

Judges’ Comments

Stephen Daisley’s first novel, Traitor is brilliant, poignant and provoking. Its tactile, redolent evocation of the physical world of sheep-farming in New Zealand and of warfare at Gallipoli—while this recalls material in many Australian novels—is also and utterly distinctive. Myths and propaganda are quietly set aside. The moral imperatives to which rare (and in this case reticent) individuals can attend are strikingly set forth. Here is another arresting renovation of what maleness—and decency in anyone—might be.

Click here to order your copy of Traitor

Notorious – Roberta Lowing

She came walking out of the desert, just as the famous poet had centuries before. Impossible for them both to have survived that relentless furnace, that destroyer of all life.

Now the nameless woman lies horribly scarred and close to death in an Asylum deep in the North African desert. An Australian official, a man code-named John Devlin, has come to question her, despite the protests of her carers. It is clear that the woman and Devlin share some kind of past, and all kinds of secrets – but the greatest secret is the one she will die to protect.

As the wind calls up a deadly sandstorm, the inhabitants of the Asylum discover they are linked by a diary written by the poet Rimbaud, who in 1890 also confronted the implacable power of the desert. Over the next one hundred and twenty years, everyone who sees the diary will want it. Most will do anything to possess it.

For some, like ruthless Polish aristocrat Aleksander Walenska, the diary holds secrets that will bring him riches and power. For his troubled and religious son Czeslaw, it is a book of death, a penance to be fulfilled by sacrifice. For Czeslaw’s sister, it is a book of the desert which, if returned to its rightful home, will redeem her family’s name. For Devlin, broken by his own ghosts, and with one final chance to make amends, the diary is worthless; the desert not a place of revelation, but the birthplace of modern terrorism.

Only the woman, whose dark past is entwined with those who would possess the diary at any cost, sees the true worth of the book.


Roberta Lowing was Fairfax Media/The Sun-Herald’s film and video critic for twenty-three years and covered the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals for ten years, interviewing directors and actors and writing travel stories. In the late 1990s, she produced and directed 80 episodes of the environmental show Green Seen, which she co-founded, for the community television station Channel 31. From 2006 until 2010, she ran the Poetry UnLimited Press Readings in Sydney. Roberta recently completed her Master of Letters at the University of Sydney. Her poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Meanjin, Blue Dog and Overland. Roberta’s first collection of poetry, Ruin, was published in 2010 by Interactive Press. Fairfax Books has also published a collection of Roberta’s reviews from The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age.

Judges’ Comments

Roberta Lowing’s Notorious is a first novel and one notable for the breadth of its ambitions and the bravura with which these are realised. We move backwards and forwards in time and across continents in a series of linked searches and pursuits that are both haunting and horrifying. The poet Rimbaud and his adventures in the deserts of Morocco are Lowing’s starting point. From there we are led into places where revenge and the desire for expiation are shockingly entwined. Notorious is a sustained, assured and surprising début.

Click here to order your copy of Notorious

When Colts Ran – Roger McDonald

In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of ‘The Isabel’, a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.

Major Dunc Buckler, ‘misplaced genius and authentic ratbag’, scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to ‘moral duty’, carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts’s early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.

When Colts Ran, written in Roger McDonald’s rich and piercingly observant style, in turns humorous and hard-bitten, charts the ebb and flow of human fortune, and our fraught desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us. It shows how loyalties shape us in the most unexpected ways. It is the story of how men ‘strike at beauty’ as they fall to the earth.


Roger McDonald was born at Young, New South Wales, and educated at country schools and in Sydney. He began his working life as a teacher, ABC producer, and book editor, wrote poetry for several years, but in his thirties turned to fiction, expressing the feeling that for him, at least, poetry was “unable to express a full range of characters and moods, the larger panorama of Australian life that I felt was there to portray”. His first novel was 1915, a novel of Gallipoli, winner of the Age Book of the Year, and made into a highly successful eight-part ABC-TV mini-series. Slipstream, Rough Wallaby, Water Man and The Slap followed, each of these novels drawing intensively on imaginative, poetic takes on rural living. McDonald’s account of travelling the outback with a team of New Zealand shearers, Shearers’ Motel, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for non-fiction. His bestselling novel Mr Darwin’s Shooter, was awarded three Premiers’ literary awards, and the National Fiction Award at the 2000 Adelaide Writers’ Week. The Ballad of Desmond Kale won the 2006 Miles Franklin Award and South Australian Festival Prize for Fiction. A long story that became part of When Colts Ran was awarded the O. Henry Prize (USA) in 2008.

Judges’ Comments

In When Colts Ran, Roger McDonald has boldly re-invigorated one of the most popular forms of Australian fiction—the saga of pioneering, land-taking and nation-building. Familiar material of the saga—struggle on outback sheep stations, family feuds sustained across the generations, the experience of foreign war, the ravages of drought—is enlisted with a freshness and verve that indicates both McDonald’s inwardness with this literary tradition, and the originality with which he reshapes it. The novel is also a meditation on heroism, on the loneliness that gregariousness can mask, on a lostness of spirit that cannot be assuaged.

Click here to order your copy of When Colts Ran

Glissando – David Musgrave

When it comes to looking back over his life, Archie Fliess has got some understanding to do. So begins a sprawling reflection on his life during the early twentieth century, from the day the fortunes of brothers Archie and Reggie changed when they were taken to be the rightful owners of the property built by their grandfather in country NSW.

Along their journey they are introduced to an odd collection of family and caretakers, who don’t always have the best interests of the boys at heart. Archie becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding his grandfather’s life, and as the two stories—Archie’s and his grandfather’s—unravel, we see familiar themes of disappointment and failed ambition.


David Musgrave’s poetry and short stories have won or been shortlisted for several awards including the Newcastle, Somerset, Bruce Dawe, Broadway and Henry Lawson prizes. In 2005, he founded the publishing house Puncher & Wattmann, which publishes poetry and literary fiction. Glissando: A Melodrama (Sleepers, 2010) is his first novel.

Judges’ Comments

While David Musgrave’s artful and often hilarious first novel, Glissando, is subtitled ‘a melodrama’, and although much of its business is with the theatrical, the range is wider. This is a picaresque and parodic narrative that follows the misadventures and triumphs of its wandering group of characters. Australia’s literature and history are playfully enlisted—Patrick White’s Voss, the New Australia venture in Paraguay, explorers’ journals, touring theatre troupes. Musgrave’s satire is exuberant, inventive, incisive: it is the triumph in a novel of confident originality.

Click here to order your copy of Glissando

That Deadman Dance – Kim Scott

Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

The novel’s hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

But slowly – by design and by accident – things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are “accidents” and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby’s Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia…


Born in 1957, Kim Scott’s ancestral Noongar country is the south-east coast of Western Australia between Gairdner River and Cape Arid. His cultural Elders use the term Wirlomin to refer to their clan, and the Norman Tindale nomenclature identifies people of this area as Wudjari/Koreng. Kim’s professional background is in education and the arts. He is the author of two novels, True Country and Benang, poetry and numerous pieces of short fiction.

Judges’ Comments

Kim Scott’s latest novel, That Deadman Dance, vividly and compassionately imagines the early contact between the Noongar people of the south-west of Western Australia and European and American transients and settlers. Scott explores the complex human relations on what some historians have called ‘the friendly frontier’. Cultural collisions are seen sympathetically from both sides, and are described in a prose that has the capacity to make new and strange the events, people and landscapes that the novel memorably encompasses.

Click here to order your copy of That Deadman Dance

Non-fiction shortlist

Young adult fiction shortlist

Children’s fiction shortlist

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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