AWW Gen 3, Literary Prizes

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

The Pea Pickers

Last year I wrote a post about Miles Franklin winning the 1936 Prior Prize with All That Swagger (here). I tried, largely unsuccessfully, to identify the prize winners in other years, especially as Eve Langley was a joint winner with two (unknown) others in 1940 when she so desperately needed the money.

In the course of setting up my Australian Women Writers Gen 3 page this week – so that you all have no excuses for not finding a book to review for AWW Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan, 2020 – I thought that I would revisit my attempts to identify the winners, as the Prior, and its predecessor the Bulletin, were important literary prizes for a while during the Gen 3 period, 1919-1960, providing £100 to the winner, serialisation in the Bulletin, and subsequent publication.

After faffing around for a couple of hours, searching on ‘Prior’, on individual books, and on the ALS Gold Medal, I finally did the sensible thing and searched on ‘S.H. Prior  Memorial Prize’ and came up with a Wikipedia entry named exactly that (here). So now, below, you may see all the winners for the Bulletin/Prior, the ALS Gold Medal and the Miles Franklin up to 1960 (I don’t know what prizes were available to Australian authors before 1928, none probably).

The SH Prior site referenced a couple of newspaper articles, one in 1935 setting up the prize (here) which makes no mention of the Bulletin Prize it is replacing. And one in 1937 (here) saying no prize was being awarded and that the £100 would carry forward to the following year. As it happened, no prize was awarded in 1938 either, and in 1939 Miles Franklin won with a hastily knocked up essay about the biography she was writing on Joseph Furphy (here). This probably explains why there was £300 available in 1940 the year Eve Langley won. It turns out her co-winners were Kylie Tennant for The Battlers (not the 1941 winner as is often reported) and MH Ellis for his biography of Lachlan Macquarie (which had won the previous year but been disqualified for “insufficient documentation”).

Argus and SMH (Melbourne and Sydney newspapers) Prizes were awarded in 1946 but I can’t find any other mention of them. If you can help me out I’ll add them to the listings on the AWW Gen 3 page, which in its first iteration now sits proudly in the Menu bar above.

“Argus Prize” on Trove brings up singing, painting, cycling and school speech nights but no books, not even “Dusty”. “SMH Prize” works a little better. On 28 Jan 1947 the Communists were meeting to review The Harp in the South, KSP’s The Roaring Nineties and Eleanor Dark’s The Little Company (here). They don’t make political parties like that any more! And I should have remembered Clift and Johnston won with High Valley in 1948.

Bulletin/SH Prior Prize winners (here)

Bulletin
1929 M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built, KS Prichard, Coonardoo
1930 Vance Palmer, The Passage
1931
1932 Velia Ercole, No Escape
1933
1934
Prior
1935 Kylie Tennant, Tiburon
1936 Miles Franklin, All That Swagger
1937 not awarded
1938  ”   ”
1939 Miles Franklin & Kate Baker, Who Was Joseph Furphy?
1940 Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, Kylie Tennant, The Battlers, MH Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (biog.)
1941 not awarded
1942 Gavin S. Casey, It’s Harder for Girls
1943 not awarded
1944  ”   ”
1945 Douglas Stewart, The Fire on the Snow
1946 Brian James, Cookabundy Bridge
1946 Argus Prize: Frank Dalby Davidson, Dusty
1946
SMH Prize: Ruth Park, The Harp in the South
1947
1948 G Johnston & C Clift, High Valley

ALS Gold Medal winners (here) (ANZLL)

1928 Martin Boyd, The Montforts
1929 Henry Handel Richardson, Ultima Thule
1930 Vance Palmer, The Passage
1931 Frank Dalby Davidson, Man Shy
1932 Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour
1933 Edith Lyttleton (writing as GB Lancaster), Pageant
1934 Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher
1935 Winifred Burkett, Earth’s Quality
1936 Eleanor Dark, Return to Coolami
1937 Seaforth Mackenzie, The Young Desire It
1938 RD Fitzgerald, Moonlight Acre
1939 Xavier Herbert, Capricornia
1940 William Baylebridge, This Vital Flesh
1941 Patrick White, Happy Valley
1942 Kylie Tennant, The Battlers
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948 Herz Bergner, Between Sky and Sea
1949 Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian Biography
1950 Jon Cleary, Just Let Me Be
1951 Rex Ingamells, The Great South Land: An Epic Poem
1952 Tom Hungerford, The Ridge and the River
1953
1954 Mary Gilmore, Fourteen Men
1955 Patrick White, The Tree of Man
1956
1957 Martin Boyd, A Difficult Young Man
1958
1959 Randolph Stow, To the Islands

Mile Franklin Award Winners (here)

1957 Patrick White, Voss
1958 Randolph Stow, To the Islands
1959 Vance Palmer, The Big Fellow
1960 Elizabeth O’Conner, The Irishman

Extinctions, Josephine Wilson

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Extinctions (2016), the 2017 Miles Franklin Award winner is an exemplar of that award’s recent preference for safe, middle-brow novels that touch all the liberal bases. Author, Josephine Wilson is a fiftyish writer and academic “who lives in Perth, Western Australia with her partner and two children” – one of whom is adopted according to her interview with the Guardian.

She has written the story of a week in the life – with lots of backstory – of a 69 year old retired Engineering professor, Frederick Lothian and his largely estranged daughter, Caroline. The point of view is mainly that of Frederick, though sometimes of Caroline and once (I think), of Jan, Frederick’s next-door neighbour in the retirement village; and so is limited by Frederick’s almost total lack of self awareness.

Frederick is a widower; his wife, Martha has died of cancer a couple of years earlier; and he also has a son, Callum. Caroline, it turns out, is adopted and Indigenous, too young to be of the Stolen Generation, but pointing in that direction, removed from a disappointingly stereotypical Indigenous druggie mother who eventually dies due to domestic violence.

This is a story that connects to me in all sorts of ways but which, in the end, mostly fails to connect. Most reviewers have seen this as Frederick’s story, but it is not. This is a woman’s story, a woman attempting to understand her father’s generation. And just as Wilson is probably a decade older than Caroline, so Frederick is clearly a decade older than his given age. I will be 68 in a couple of months, will work for at least the next five years, I get around on my bike, and, until recently, competed in long distance ocean swims. Frederick is in a retirement village, his body is failing, and he refuses ongoing academic work.

The villa was a bridge between his real life, which had ended, and death, which waited behind a wall of paperbarks on the other side of the quadrangle. He had finished accumulating experiences, and now he was shuffling around in the past, peeking inside boxes and then closing them quickly. Moving to St Sylvan’s had cemented his fate.

Wilson touches lightly on Perth, her and my home town, and I appreciate that. Later as Frederick remembers dragging his family out into the Wheatbelt to stargaze, the locations become more specific; and in the final act Caroline is in Menzies, north of Kalgoorlie, getting in touch with her indigenous family – which, as you might expect of me, is a story I believe Wilson should not have attempted – Wilson, away from home territory, makes a small mistake and has Caroline advised to watch out for kangaroos while driving at night when the real danger in that area is unfenced cattle. And, if you want my advice, don’t drive in the outback at night, at all.

The other connections? I still think of myself as an ‘engineer’, despite never getting beyond first year. It was the only profession ever considered for me during all my school years, and by the time I arrived at Melbourne I was a natural fit for its boys-own culture – 240 boys in first year and one woman who left at the end of the year to study science. And my professors might be pleased to learn, the one lesson I remember, turning moments, has been of use to me throughout my working life.

Frederick is distant and controlling, he chooses to live in Perth to put distance between himself and a bullying father in England. He meets Martha in the US and she gives up her studies and the chance of career to follow him to Australia.

When he met Martha he knew nothing of families, and very little of love. A family was something to fear, like a long, dark tunnel cutting through a mountain. Who knew if you would come out the other side alive?

Frederick reports to us what Martha has said to him, without comprehension. Milly (ex Mrs Legend) would understand that! His unit, and before that his home, is full of collectibles, which the children are NOT TO TOUCH. Been there! I hope I was less anal, though I still don’t let anything go.

I have both a daughter who was adopted out and a daughter whose biological father I helped her find. Near the end, we discover that Martha had refused to let Caroline as a teenager have her birth mother’s details, which I didn’t find consistent with all the other ways Martha opposed Frederick.

When Frederick finally gains some insight in his old age, he is too willing to forgive himself. That was my father’s position, and mine too I think.

In the retirement village, Frederick holds himself aloof, regarding the other residents with scorn. The week or so of the story begins with him watching, allowing, another resident to die; Jan, his gregarious neighbour, insists on him talking; her scorn at his self-serving answers causing him to begin coming to terms with all he has suppressed; we discover he has a son who has been in care, incommunicative for years with brain damage, Frederick unable to make himself visit, even after Martha’s death; Frederick the cause of his son’s accident, Martha and Caroline both despising him for it, though it’s clear he doesn’t realise.

The backstory element is busy – Frederick’s relationship as a boy with his domineering father; his and his father’s involvement in the death of his younger brother; his ‘best friend’ Ralph; Martha’s increasing dissatisfaction and independence; her affair (which we learn only from Caroline); Jan’s story as she becomes more involved in Frederick’s life, becomes the catalyst for some very sudden changes.

But in the end, the novel has three weaknesses, the last of which is IMO fatal. Frederick’s agedness, already discussed; it is never clear why Martha stayed married to him; and we are meant to believe at the end that Frederick has seen the light and been redeemed. He is of course too like me (and my father) for me to find him likeable, but I did not even find him believable.

 

Josephine Wilson, Extinctions, UWA Publishing, Perth, 2016. Audiobook: Brilliance Audio, read by William McInnes (sounding in places very like Jack Thompson, the voice of Australia)

Other reviews:

Roslyn Jolly, Sydney Review of Books (here)
Lisa, ANZLitLovers (here)
Janine, The Resident Judge (here)

All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld

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Yet another woman farmer novel! Just a coincidence. Maybe. I listen to lots of indifferent fiction while I’m driving but the cover of this with its “Winner of the 2013 Encore Prize”, and “From one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists” at least looked promising, even if it gave no hint that it might also be ‘Australian’.

Here are the facts. The audiobook is read by a woman with an Australian accent. The story is of a woman sheep farmer on an island off the coast of England who we gradually come to learn has escaped a traumatic past in Western Australia. She is a strong, tall woman with terrible scars on her back. Some of the WA bits are clearly researched rather than lived. Evie Wyld was born in and lives in England, and this is her second novel.

I listened on the way home from Sydney over the weekend and on my first day off thought I would do some googling. Evie Wyld was born in 1980 in London. Her mother was/is Australian and the family spent some time on Evie’s grandparents’ property on the NSW north coast. And …

All the Birds, Singing was the winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin. Who knew!

The shortlist for that year included, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Tim Winton’s Eyrie and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book – which may well be the book of the century let alone the year, what were the judges thinking! (My reviews here, here, here). Still, Wyld’s is a strong novel and a refreshing take on the Independent Woman, most reminiscent probably of Nikki Gemmell’s Alice Springs.

The story begins with Jake Whyte – an Australian woman – discovering a gutted sheep on her little farm on an isolated English island. For a long time she suspects the local kids but there is a ‘shape’ that moves in and out of the woods. The novel alternates backwards and forwards between England and Jake’s past in Western Australia. In the West she is a rouseabout in a shearing team out from Kambalda. I don’t think Wyld has ever seen shearing or been to the West, but if you haven’t either then you won’t notice. I can’t help myself saying though that Kambalda is a very ‘suburban’ mining town, built in the 1960s and doesn’t have any tin shed pubs.

Just as we are getting to know the shearers, the Australian chapters start moving backwards in time, first by hints, then by descriptions of her earlier life, held as a sex slave maybe by an old man on a remote property between Port Hedland and Marble Bar. And yes, that’s tropical cattle country, not sheep country. The boundary between cattle and sheep was always south of the Tropic of Capricorn and with the decline in the wool industry and the depredations of wild dogs has moved maybe 400 kms further south in the 20 years I’ve been back in the West. But anyway, the old man teaches her a bit about sheep farming which she uses to get her rouseabout job.

It’s too hot, but I like the way my arms feel like they’re full of warm oil, and sweat runs down them in sheets soaking the sides of my singlet. There’s an ache in the bottom of my spine from bending and lifting, but it beats lying on my bed at Otto’s waiting for the day to be over. I catch myself smiling as I throw another fleece onto the table and Denis nods to me, impressed.

It would unwind the narrative tension to say more about the situation she gets herself into with the old man, Otto, but it’s well done.

We go back further. School days in country Wyld has lived in, the NSW north coast. An Aboriginal boyfriend. A bushfire.

Back in the ‘present’, we meet the man she bought the farm off, who has retired nearby but helps her out from time to time, or provides commentary if she’s not in immediate danger; his delinquent son and the son’s girlfriend; and a well-spoken alcoholic she discovers sleeping in the barn and who never quite gets round to leaving. The ‘shadow’ keeps taking sheep. And throughout, the birds sing out or cry warnings. (Evie, there are no kookaburras in Western Australia).

A good book, very good even, but not in the same league as The Swan Book.

 

Evie Wyld,  All the Birds, Singing, 2013. Audiobook: Blackstone, Read by Cat Gould.

Sue, Whispering Gum’s review (here), but she seems also to have mentioned Wyld quite often in the context of awards and women’s writing. If you put Wyld in her search box it brings up ten or so listings. Check them out.

Lisa ANZLL has reviewed Wyld’s earlier After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (here) but All the Birds, Singing must still be on the MF TBR.

Recent audiobooks

Stuart Woods (M, USA), Quick and Dirty (2017)
Helen Sedgwick (F, Sco), The Comet Seekers (2016)
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (F, Fin), Last Rituals (2007)
Rio Youers (M, USA), The Forgotten Girl (2017)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel.
Frank Moorhouse, The Drover’s Wife (2017)
I’ve been carrying around Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm, but woman farmer! so will start on Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong’s Daughter for AWW Gen 2 Week.