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Monday musings on Australian literature: Australia Council Award

December 9, 2013

Last month the Australia Council announced this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Australian Literature. This award used to be called the Writer’s Emeritus Award, which I have written about before. Lifetime Achievement Award sounds better don’t you think? After all, “emeritus” implies retirement but most winners never really retire – at least as far as I can tell.

The award is worth $50,000 and it “acknowledges the achievements of eminent literary writers aged 60 years and over who have made an outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature”. The Australia Council defines this contribution pretty specifically: “Nominated writers must have provided a critically acclaimed body of work with at least five full-length literary works published or performed over their creative life”. Five full-length literary works? I presume that means that if you are a poet or a short story writer, they would expect five published collections?

This year’s winner, though, is a novelist so no worries on the criteria front. The winner is Frank Moorhouse. The Australia Council Literary Strategy Chair, author Sophie Cunningham, said that while it was hard to select a winner:

Frank’s highly influential, intelligent, timely and sparkling contributions to Australian literature over so many years was hard to beat

Frank Moorhouse has an extensive body of work including novels, short stories and memoirs, but he is probably best known for his Edith trilogy, the third of which, Cold light, I reviewed earlier this year. The President of the Australian Publishers Association Louise Adler, who nominated him for the award, said that

Frank’s Edith is one of the great characters of Australian literature, but his career covers a lot more ground than that extraordinary achievement.

and that

His Edith trilogy is a magisterial work that takes Australia to the world and brings the world home to Australia in a hugely original literary endeavour.

Moorhouse is, I agree, a deserving winner. He’s one of the grand old men of Australian culture – and has been a strong advocate for writers and their rights, and for the book industry. He brought with the Australian Copyright Council, for example, a landmark copyright case against the University of New South Wales regarding the photocopying of pages from his work “The Americans, baby”. Controversy is, in fact, often not far from him, such as when in 1994, the Miles Franklin Award judges decided that his Grand days, the first Edith Trilogy book, was “insufficiently Australian” to be considered for the award. And then, there was even a little contretemps over the announcement of this very award. It was supposed to be announced at an event on November 21, but was pre-emptively announced much earlier on November 4. According to The Australian‘s Stephen Romei, in his blog A pair of ragged claws, this was due to Moorhouse who

said he didn’t want a media embargo in place until the announcement because he was opposed to the “cruel” trend towards treating literary awards “like the Oscars” and keeping shortlisted writers in the dark until the envelope was opened.

Clearly, at 75, Moorhouse is not going quietly!

Some past winners are pretty well-known, such as poet Bruce Dawe (200) and novelist Christopher Koch (2007), but others are not so well-known, including Dr Peter Kocan whose win I reported in 2010. Another lesser known winner is last year’s Herb Wharton, the indigenous Australian poet and novelist.

This is a significant award – and worth a decent amount of money – and yet it doesn’t receive a lot of publicity. That’s a shame, not only because the writers deserve recognition, but because better publicity could help inform Australians about their literary culture and about the work of the Australia Council which our taxes support. Anything that raises our literary consciousness would be a very good thing.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2013 6:13 am

    That’s great news, but not surprising. Frank has been a light on the literary landscape for decades. The culmination of his career (so far) is the Edith trilogy, but particularly the third volume, Cold Light, which captured a time in Canberra that I experienced in part. Frank and I are exact contemporaries and so share, I believe, the mid-20th century belief that good can be achieved by the patient, frustrating, exacting, maddening but nonetheless essential business of people sitting around tables and reaching a compromise – whether that’s on a local, national or worldwide scale. Not the untended ravages of the market for us, and what better example is this more than well-deserved award.

    (PS You posted a comment on Charlotte, which I just picked up last night. I’m a tyro at this, and haven’t yet worked out how to notify. Thanks for the comment and please bear with me. In the meantime you can revisit the blog if you want to get my reply. All best, Sara)

    • December 10, 2013 8:12 am

      Thanks Sara … I’m not far behind you and Frank but I have the same view … Why can’t we just talk and negotiate?

      I’m not sure how to notify on blogger blogs which I think yours is … Mine is WordPress. But I do run a little blogger one so will see what I did over there about this.

  2. December 10, 2013 9:32 am

    Thanks, Sue. Let me know if you can work it out, meanwhile I’ll try too. Haven’t been paying much attention to the blog as I’m in the middle of a massive downsizing preparing for a move to a smaller place. Which hasn’t helped my cyberspace skills – or any skills for that matter.

  3. December 11, 2013 3:26 am

    Sounds like a wonderful award and that’s a significant amount of cash attached to it too. I do like lifetime achievement better than emeritus which also implies the academic.

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