Monday musings on Australian literature: Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards Hall of Fame

How many Halls of Fame are there specifically for writers? I’m not sure I’ve come across many, but last year I became aware of the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards Hall of Fame when Tim Winton was inducted into it. The hall of fame is hosted on the State Library of Western Australia website. I’m not sure what the criteria are – I haven’t been able to find out anything about it, not even when each writer was inducted, besides a page for the actual “hall” and some press announcements of inductees. These announcements variously describe it as a hall of “acclaimed Western Australian writers” or “of notable and prolifc WA writers”.

Some of the inductees have been dead for some time suggesting that writers don’t (or didn’t) have to be alive to be inducted into it. There are currently 16 writers in the hall. Is that what you say, “in the hall”? They include:

Mary Durack …

who’s best known for her novels Kings in grass castles about her pioneering family and their role in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. I have reviewed a biography of her, True north, by Brenda Niall, and her poem “Lament for the drowned country”. The hall of fame describes her as “one of our great literary figures”. Most of her novels were not, I think, great literature but her contribution to Western Australian and Australian literary life through her writing (novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and journal/newspaper articles) and her support of other writers makes her a worthy recipient of the accolade.

Nene Gare …

who is best known for her novel, The fringe dwellers, which I read many years before I started this blog. The novel was made into a film of the same name by Bruce Beresford. She probably doesn’t have the national standing or recognition that the other writers I’ve listed here did and do but The fringe dwellers, like Thomas Keneally’s The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, is an example of a novel confronting indigenous issues by a non-indigenous Australian writer. An obituary for her husband, who was the last commissioner for Native Welfare, says that “In 1965, Gare rewrote the manual for Native Welfare officers. His premise for his section on children was: ‘Under all normal circumstances children are best reared by their parents’.” This is a view that was still not well accepted at the time, as the Stolen Generations report made clear.

Elizabeth Jolley …

who, those of you who read this blog regularly, know is one of my favourite writers. I have written about her many times, including reviewing the first of her set of three autobiographical novels, My father’s moon, and her slim memoir-like work, Diary of a weekend farmer. The hall writes that she is (was, now) “acclaimed as one of Australia’s leading writers. She has received an Order of Australia , honorary doctorates from Western Australia Institute of Technology (now Curtin University) and Macquarie University, and the ASAL Gold Medal for her contribution to Australian Literature.” I will be writing more about her in years to come!

Katharine Susannah Prichard …

who is one of our political women writers. Prichard was a member of the Communist Party of Australia. I have reviewed her novel The pioneers, which reflects many of her social concerns. The hall describes her as “communist, feminist, social reformer and pacifist”. She wrote novels, plays, short stories and poetry.

Randolph Stow …

who is the other writer I’ve listed whom I haven’t reviewed on this blog. I have had his novel, The merry-go-round in the sea, on my TBR for a long time. One day! Lisa, at ANZ LitLovers has reviewed (and loved) it. He wrote several novels which have become Australian classics including To the islands and the children’s novel Midnite.

Shaun Tan …

would be the youngest of the list. I have only reviewed a small work of his, Eric, which comes from his collection, Tales from outer suburbia. He is an author and illustrator of books for children and adults. He is happy to collaborate with creators from all fields and is not precious about his works being adapted, supporting for example the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s presentation of his The red tree. His short film The lost thing won an Academy Award in 2011 for Best Animated Short Film. The experience of being “other” is one of his major themes.

Tim Winton …

who is one of only two writers to have won the Miles Franklin Award four times. (The other was, in case you’ve forgotten, Thea Astley!) I have read most of Winton’s oeuvre, but have only reviewed one here, Breath. Even if you’re not Australian, chances are you’ve heard of Winton. His most popular book, Cloudstreet, regularly wins polls as Australia’s best or most loved book. He writes for adults and children, and like many of the writers here, writes in multiple forms. He is passionate about the environment and works actively for it – as well as writing, fishing and surfing.

Are you aware of other specifically designated literary Halls of Fame?

21 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards Hall of Fame

  1. I remember The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea as being one of my very favourite books. It’s up for a reread. And I’m ashamed to say I’ve read very little of your favourite Elizabeth Jolley, though I remember her gracing the cover of Island review many years ago when I subscribed. I would definitely visit a writerly hall of fame if there were one nearby. It’s an odd but interesting idea, giving most (old school) writers are reluctant to be in the public eye.

        • Favourite Jolleys? I love her early ones like The newspaper of Claremont Street, The well, and Miss Peabody’s inheritance. But later ones too like The sugar mother. She’s quite black but often funny if you like that sort of humour. I think you probably would. Her books are often about loneliness, being different, not fitting in for various reasons.

  2. Enjoying your posts. The Hennessy Literary awards in Ireland include a Career Achievement award, known as the ‘Hall of Fame’, which has previously been given to John Boyne, Joseph O’Connor, Patrick McCabe, Colum McCann, Frank McGuinness, Anne Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Neil Jordan and Sebastian Barry among others. All alive and kicking 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Life of Riley by Steve Wright « Rafferty's Rules

    • Oh good one Graeme … he left WA quite early in his career I think? It will be interesting to see if he is inducted in the future. I do enjoy his writing and have The body surfers next to my bed at present. Great stories, atmospheric writing.

  4. I can’t think of any other hall of fame deals. I would, however, highly recommend that you take a look at The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Such a powerful book!

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