This year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards reflected the excellence of First Nations creatives, with Indigenous authors winning three out of the six categories.

The awards, announced on Thursday, celebrate outstanding literary talent and support an increased understanding of Australian history. Of the 40 shortlisted authors, nine were of Indigenous heritage.

The awards were live-streamed in a ceremony and were presented by Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, with each winner awarded $80,000 in prize money.

 

Fiction

Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch took out the fiction category for her acclaimed novel The Yield.

This award tops off a big year of accolades for Winch — who also won this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the People’s Choice Award and the Miles Franklin Literary Award — which totals $110,000 in prize money in addition to this year’s award.

Originally from East Woonona on the south coast of New South Wales, Winch has resided in France for the last nine years. Speaking to the ABC, the esteemed author noted the prize money will help her return home to Australia.

“That’s what’s been really great about that financial boon [of winning the awards] — it’s allowed me to come home. That’s the biggest prize of all,” said Winch.

In her acceptance speech pre-recorded from her home in Paris, Winch said she was “shocked and grateful by how much booksellers and readers have really embraced this book” and that this “erased the distance, all those borders all this year”.

The Yield poetically explores the impacts of colonisation on Wiradjuri Country by telling the story of August Goondiwindi who returns home to Massacre Plains for her grandfather’s burial, only to find it has been destroyed by a mining company.

The novel draws upon a dictionary of words in Wiradjuri language composed by August’s grandfather, Albert Goondiwindi.

 

Non-fiction

The Gay’wu Group of Women were one of the joint winners of the non-fiction category for their book Songspirals.

The Gay’wu Group of Women is a decade-long collaboration between five Yolngu women and three non-Aboriginal women, known as the ‘dilly bag women’s group’.

By employing Yolngu language and English, the co-authors explore the role of Aboriginal women in crying the songlines, which are sung by Aboriginal people to “awaken Country and make and remake the life-giving connections between people and place”.

 

Children’s literature

Themes of language and songlines were carried into the children’s literature category. This prize was won by Darug women, writer Jasmine Seymour and illustrator Leanne Mulgo Watson for their book Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines.

It is Seymour’s wish that everyone will know Darug mob are “still here, still strong”.

With cooee mittigar translating to ‘come here friend’ in Darug Nura language, the stunning picture book invites readers to “yana (walk), on Darug Country”.

The book follows Mulgo the black swan, who journeys with the reader through the seasons and guides them on how Darug people read the seasons and how this shows when it is time to hunt and rest.

Cooee Mittigar A Story on Darug Songlines explores Darug Nura language with Mulgo the black swan. Photo via Booktopia.

Read the full list of winners below:

  • Fiction – Tara June Winch for The Yield
  • Non-fiction (shared) – The Gay’wu Group of Women for Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines and Christina Thompson for Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia
  • Poetry – Omar Sakr for The Lost Arabs
  • Australian history – Tiffany Shellam for Meeting the Waylo: Aboriginal Encounters in the Archipelago
  • Young Adult Fiction – Helena Fox for How it Feels to Float
  • Children’s Literature – Jasmine Seymour (writer) and Leanne Mulgo Watson (illustrations) for Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines.

 

By Grace Crivellaro