2017 Short List

Congratulations to Josephine Wilson for her novel 'Extinctions', winner of the 2017 Colin Roderick Award.


He hated the word ‘retirement’, but not as much as he hated the word ‘village’, as if ageing made you a peasant or a fool. Herein lives the village idiot.

Professor Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, world expert on concrete and connoisseur of modernist design, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. His wife, Martha, is dead and his two adult children are lost to him in their own ways. Surrounded and obstructed by the debris of his life – objects he has collected over many years and tells himself he is keeping for his daughter – he is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen.

When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbour, Jan, together, he begins to realise the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime’s secrets and lies, and to comprehend his own shortcomings. Finally, Frederick Lothian has the opportunity to build something meaningful for the ones he loves.

Humorous, poignant and galvanising by turns, Extinctions is a novel about all kinds of extinction – natural, racial, national and personal – and what we can do to prevent them.

Find out more at UWA Publishing.

Extinctions is a beautifully written novel, characterised by total precision, as well as harmony, in word and thought. There are moments of profound and incisive emotional insight; these are presented in a style that avoids conscious 'literariness' in favour of a distinctive mix of humour, precision, and poetry. There is also a slightly more innovative narrative structure than is provided by the conventional realist novel - at one point the most knowing character comments, 'this is not that kind of story'. In terms of scope, the novel shifts smoothly from detail to panorama and back again; in terms of plot, there is enough drive in the story - wanting to know what will happen to the protagonist and his relationships - to keep us moving forward, even though he is not a person who would immediately evoke sympathy in most readers.

Extinctions is a densely poetic novel, which nonetheless manages to be extremely funny. As a portrait of an ageing man who is oblivious to his own frailties - principally, an almost pathological lack of awareness of the feelings of others - it also manages to be convincing in its depiction of his growing emotional maturity. At the same time, and with great subtlety, it entwines this suburban portrait with the larger theme of loss and destruction. Here, again, the book manages to surprise, being hopeful rather than bleak in its portrayal of the movement from myopia to knowledge.

Josephine WilsonJosephine Wilson is a Perth-based writer. Her writing career began in the area of performance. Her early works included The Geography of Haunted Places, with Erin Hefferon, and Customs. Her first novel was Cusp, (UWA Publishing, 2005). Josephine has lectured and taught in the tertiary sector. She is the busy parent of two children and works as a sessional staff member at Curtin University, where she teaches in the Humanities Honours Program, in Creative Writing and in Art and Design history. She completed her Masters of Philosophy at Queensland University and her PhD at UWA. Her novel Extinctions (UWA Publishing, 2016) was the winner of the inaugural Dorothy Hewett Prize.

2017 Short List

Carrying the WorldAbout

A haunting visit to the International Museum of Slavery, in Liverpool England. A feisty young black girl pushing back against authority. The joy and despair of single parenthood. A love-hate relationship with words. This collection brings the best of a decade-long international poetry career to the page.

Judges' Report

Maxine Beneba Clarke has become an important voice in Australian literature, working across literary genres and giving powerful expression to her experiences of racial discrimination in Australia. The poems in Carrying the World move between the local and the global, using vernacular prose and images put together in ways that become either sombre or effervescent; they demand the attention of readers.

Most of the free verse poems in this volume are short vignettes - a page or so - which present a person, place or experience, drawn with a firm hand. Two longer poems offer more complex visions, in particular, linking past to present, and different parts of the world to each other. "Demerara" evokes the history of colonialism, specifically the cultivation, trade, and consumption of sugar. By presenting a series of images, in a way that is almost photographic and yet sharply poetic, readers are asked to consider the relationship between a taste for sweetness that they might have, and the sourness of human experience that underpinned the cultivation of this desire in the west. The long poem "Nothing Here Needs Fixing" likewise juxtaposes the mundane - simple advice that nothing is wrong - with savagely ironic depictions of life for those who are threatened by violence, but who are overlooked in society.

Find out more at Hachette Australia.

Maxine Beneba ClarkMaxine Beneba Clark

Maxine Beneba Clarke is a widely published Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent and the author of the poetry collections Gil Scott Heron Is on Parole and Nothing Here Needs Fixing. Maxine's short fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in numerous publications including Overland, the AgeMeanjin, the Saturday Paper and the Big Issue.

Her critically acclaimed short fiction collection Foreign Soil (2014) won the ABIA for Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2015, the 2015 Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction. Maxine was also named as one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists for 2015, as well as being shortlisted for the Matt Richell Award for New Writing at the 2015 ABIAs and the 2015 Stella Prize. A collection of Maxine's poetry Carrying The World, her memoir The Hate Race and her first children's picture book The Patchwork Bike were all published in 2016.

Wisdom Tree: Five NovellasAbout

Every once in a while, you get to read something so sparklingly creative, unique and authentic that it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, makes your skin tingle. Wisdom Tree is that.

Together these novellas create a 21st century world in which five families struggle and resolve the tension of our time: balancing the desire for fame and fortune with the obligations and responsibility, and the love to be found in everyday family life.

Judges' Report

Five pocket travel-guide sized booklets make up Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree, a collection of interrelated novellas. Reinforcing the ‘travel’ connection are the individual titles: 1 Gotham2 Venice3 Vancouver, 4 Juneau, and 5 NoHo (North Hollywood, Los Angeles). And each novella could easily be read on a plane trip or a long train commute. More importantly, Earls' novellas seem formally apposite to the contemporary experience he frames, more complex than fragments of micro fiction might allow, yet not so extended as to fill the deeper social and thematic dimensions of realistic novels. Comfortably populated with recognizably Australian characters from varied walks of life, and enticing composed conversational scenes, the novellas achieve a delightful heteroglossia and linguistic polyphony, the equal of any modern novel.

Earls’ stories are infused with a poignant sense of the longings and compromises of his characters as they oscillate between 21st century global destinations which promise excitement and success, and the more mundane possibilities of home and family. Although the interest in the narratives is formed by the instabilities which challenge the characters, an almost Buddhist acceptance of things as they are is an underling theme—in this perhaps, lies Wisdom.  Earls observed that the idea for Gotham formed when he understood how the individual stories of characters came together: “That’s the novella, these two stories circling each other, sparing with each other, coming together in, I hope, unexpected ways.”

Nick EarlsNick Earls

Nick Earls writes long, short and medium-sized fiction, so far tallying 26 books for adults, teenagers and children.

He is the winner of a number of awards, including a Betty Trask Award (UK) and Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award. His Wisdom Tree novellas have won gold medals in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the eLit Book Awards in the US, the People’s Choice Award at the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and an Australian Book Design Award.

Earls has also written for newspapers, including the New York Times, the Guardian, the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

His novels have appeared on bestseller lists in Australia, the UK and the Amazon Kindle Store.

He was born in Northern Ireland, but has spent most of his life in Australia. In 2012, the Age included him among its top ten Greatest Living Australians (along with Bob Hawke, Warwick Capper and Shane Warne). He placed 12th in a 2013 poll of Australia’s all-time favourite novelists.

Offshore - Behind the Wire on Manus and NauruAbout

What has happened on Nauru and Manus since Australia began its most recent offshore processing regime in 2012?

This essential book provides a comprehensive and uncompromising overview of the first three years of offshore processing since it recommenced in 2012. It explains why offshore processing was re-established, what life is like for asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus, what asylum seekers, refugees and staff in the offshore detention centres have to say about what goes on there, and why the truth has been so hard to find. In doing so, it goes behind the rumours and allegations to reveal what is known – and what still is not known – about Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Find out more at NewSouth Books.

Judges' Report

This book takes us inside Australia’s controversial offshore detention centres to which journalists or independent observers have seldom, if ever, been permitted access. Gleeson’s research is meticulous, forensic and unflinching. Her writing is calm and unemotional but it is all the more powerful for that. She has uncovered a vast amount of documentary and eyewitness evidence of the first three years of offshore processing that sheds new light not only on why and how this system was established, but also why the ‘system’ is so hard to penetrate and so complexly resistant to reform, change or dismantling.

Despite the vast array of investigative journalism on this topic in several media, well-documented lobbying by political and legal activists, and human rights groups, readers are astonished anew at how much we learn from this very important book about what life is like for the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru, what asylum seekers, refugees and staff say about what goes on there.

Madeline GleesonMadeline Gleeson

Madeline Gleeson is a lawyer and Senior Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW. She specialises in international human rights and refugee law, with a focus on regional refugee protection, the law of state responsibility, and offshore processing.

Madeline has extensive experience working with forcibly displaced people around the world, including work on statelessness, refugees, human trafficking, labour migration and land grabbing with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru, won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and has been nominated for a range of other prestigious prizes.

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their CraftAbout

No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.

In this landmark book, eminent historian and award-winning author Tom Griffiths explores the craft of discipline and imagination that is history.

Through portraits of fourteen historians, including Inga Clendinnen, Judith Wright, Geoffrey Blainey and Henry Reynolds, he traces how a body of work is formed out of a life-long dialogue between past evidence and present experience. With meticulous research and glowing prose, he shows how our understanding of the past has evolved, and what this changing history reveals about us.

Passionate and elegant, The Art of Time Travel conjures fresh insights into the history of Australia and renews our sense of the historian’s craft.

Find out more at Black Inc. Books.

Judges' Report

In The Art of Time Travel, Tom Griffiths discusses 14 ‘historians and their craft’. While some of these are academic historians and anthropologists, others are novelists or poets such as Eleanor Dark, Judith Wright, and Eric Rolls; but all are distinguished by their literary skills and imaginative depth. While adhering to the strictest requirements of disciplined scholarship and objectivity, these historians also convey their wonder, astonishment, and feeling for the often strange but always authentic worlds they bring to the reader’s understanding and delight. Like Doctor Who’s Tardis, their writing is a historiographical machine which enables them to travel into the past, and like the Doctor himself, they can’t resist stepping into and experiencing those other worlds.

Those other worlds may be distant in time, but understating them is crucial to our ‘life, death and meaning’ as Griffiths has said in an interview. Griffiths (a master storyteller and literary stylist himself) recuperates indigenous antiquity as a narrative fundamental to contemporary identity in his subtle and digressive readings of his subjects. Alongside this central theme, many other unique and exotic episodes show how history is to be read in many discourses: in our art, in our language, in our environment, in our cities, in our culture, and in ordinary and extraordinary experience.

Tom GriffithsTom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths is the W K Hancock Professor of History at the Australian National University and the author of Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History (2001) and Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia (1996). His books and essays have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction.

From the Edge: Australia's Lost Histories About

March 1797. Ninety Mile Beach, Victoria. Five British sailors and twelve Bengali seamen swim ashore after their longboat is ripped apart in a storm. The British penal colony at Port Jackson is 700 kilometres to the north, their fellow-survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove stranded far to the south on a tiny island in Bass Strait. To rescue them and save their own lives, they have no alternative. They set out to walk to Sydney. What follows is one of Australia's greatest survival stories and cross-cultural encounters.

In From the Edge, award-winning historian Mark McKenna uncovers the places and histories that Australians so often fail to see. Like the largely forgotten story of the sailors' walk in 1797, these remarkable histories—the founding of a 'new Singapore' in West Arnhem Land in the 1840s, the site of Australia's largest industrial development project in the Pilbara and its extraordinary…

Find out more at Melbourne University Press.

Judges' Report

McKenna’s book proceeds by way of four meticulously-researched and engagingly-told case studies of early cultural exchanges between indigenous Australians and white navigators, explorers, traders, ‘settlers’, and resource-extractors. Three of these four cultural exchanges occurred (and continue to occur) in regions that are still considered ‘remote’. This layer of the book shows how these engagements were characterised by mutual (and often respectful) learning between the custodians and the ‘incomers’ but also how disruptive these exchanges were physically, culturally, and epistemologically. They were sometimes destructive but also disruptive in the contemporary sense of radically reconfiguring knowledge, practices and beliefs. The frontier was never terra nullius – in fact or in the consciousness of the earliest ‘incomers.’

Mark McKennaThese four case-studies, especially the first, arise from original research that is grounded in both the archive and the places where these exchanges took place. McKenna is a compelling advocate and brilliant exponent of ‘boots-on-the-ground’ history. The second layer of the book arises from this groundedness: it is about “eyeing the country.” ‘Ways of seeing,’ ‘representations of’ Australia have become familiar historical and analytical tropes, but McKenna weaves evidence with reflection about how and what was seen (and can still be seen) at these key contact sites. This lightly-philosophical dimension of the book gives the archival research and the extensive fieldwork its resonance and underscores its profound contribution to understanding “the country.”

Mark McKenna

Mark McKenna is one of Australia's leading historians. A research fellow in History at the University of Sydney, he is the author of several prize winning books, including Looking for Blackfellas' Point: an Australian History of Place, which won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and Book of the Year in the 2003 NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

His essays and articles have been widely published in Australia and overseas. Seven years in the making, his biography of Manning Clark is his most ambitious project to date.


‘Everyone knows that some of those kids are innocent... your dilemma is not whether the kids are innocent, but which of the kids are innocent.’

When Cathy McLennan first steps into Townsville’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service as a young graduate she isn’t expecting a major murder case to land on her desk.

The accused are four teenage boys whose family connections stretch across the water to Palm Island. As she battles to prove herself in the courtroom, Cathy realises that the truth is far more complex than she first thought. She starts to question who are the criminals and who are the victims.

Saltwater tells the compelling story of one lawyer’s fight for justice amongst the beauty and the violence of this tropical paradise.

Find out more.

Judges' Report

McLennan doesn’t offer any solutions in this memoir of her years as a young lawyer working for the Aboriginal and Islander Legal Service but she does shine a light on the shameful plight of so many indigenous children, and adults, for that matter. She asks who the criminals are and who the victims? Is there any possibility of making things better? This book should be compulsory reading for all Australians and then, just maybe, we could find a reasonable way forward.

Cathy McLennanCathy McLennan

Cathy McLennan is the winner of the 2014 Queensland Literary Award for Best Emerging Author and has written for the Courier Mail and the Townsville Bulletin. She has more than twenty years’ experience in criminal law, from her early days working as a barrister for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in North Queensland, to appearing in the High Court and deciding cases as a Queensland Magistrate.

She has a Masters of Law and was the recipient of the 2015 Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Alumnus of James Cook University. Cathy is well known for her dedication to vulnerable Queenslanders.

The Rules of Backyard CricketAbout

It starts in a suburban backyard with Darren Keefe and his older brother, sons of a fierce and gutsy single mother. The endless glow of summer, the bottomless fury of contest. All the love and hatred in two small bodies poured into the rules of a made-up game.

Darren has two big talents: cricket and trouble. No surprise that he becomes an Australian sporting star of the bad-boy variety—one of those men who’s always got away with things and just keeps getting.

Until the day we meet him, middle aged, in the boot of a car. Gagged, cable-tied, a bullet in his knee. Everything pointing towards a shallow grave.

The Rules of Backyard Cricket is a novel of suspense in the tradition of Peter Temple’s Truth. With glorious writing harnessed to a gripping narrative, it observes celebrity, masculinity—humanity—with clear-eyed lyricism and exhilarating narrative drive.

Find out more at Text Publishing.

Judges' Report

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another crime novel, albeit a gripping one. But it is much more as it scrutinises a number of singularly Australian preoccupations – our obsession with sport, with celebrity, with larrikinism, and it examines the idea of masculinity and success in today’s Australia. Beautifully written, it is unputdownable.

Jock SerongJock Serong

Jock Serong’s debut novel Quota won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. In 2016, The Rules of Backyard Cricket was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award.  On the Java Ridge is his third novel. Jock teaches law and writes feature articles in the surfing media and for publications such as The Guardian and Slow Living. He lives with his wife and four children in Port Fairy, Victoria.