2020 Long and Short Lists

Paper Emperors by Sally Young wins 2020 Colin Roderick Literary Award

Paper Emperors cover

An exposé of the Australian newspaper industry Paper Emperors: The Rise of Australia’s Newspaper Empires by Sally Young has won the 2020 Colin Roderick Literary Award, valued at $20,000.

Dr Young said she’s delighted to receive the award and to be a part of a celebration of Australian literature.

“I felt honoured to be one of the twelve long-listed authors, and then one of the six on the shortlist for the Colin Roderick Award,” she said. “I am proud to be in their company and to be a part of this celebration of Australian books.”

Chair of the judging panel Dr Leigh Dale said the non-fiction book, which is about the history of Australia’s newspaper industry, is particularly relevant this year as the industry struggles with online business models and social media. Read more.

2020 Short List

2020 short list cover art

The 2020 Colin Roderick Award short list was released on Monday 3rd August 2020 after a nine-month long reading marathon that took in 168 books. Biography, history, politics, genre fiction, literary fiction, short stories, poetry, and books that cross these genres, are all featured.


It’s been a peaceful Christmas for Paul Hirschhausen, the only cop in Tiverton. A grass fire, a stolen ute, the usual welfare checks. The big event: Brenda Flann driving her Falcon into the front bar of the pub.

Then Hirsch is called to a strange, vicious incident in Kitchener Street. And Sydney police ask him to look in on a family living on a back road outside town.

Suddenly it doesn’t look like a season of goodwill at all.

Find our more at Text Publishing.

Judges' Notes

While epitomising the ‘rural noir’ that has become so popular, Peace is no common or garden whodunnit: there are so many plots, crimes, victims and criminals, it’s quite a task for the reader to keep up. With its subtle evocations of place and skilful sketches of characters, the ironically-titled Peace presents life in a small South Australian country town, where possibilities for renewal fluctuate according to the sometimes volatile relations among the small population. Combining the grimly plausible with deft touches of humour, the book is beautifully written.


My father trained me to silence the way he trained his dogs, with food and a cane. Speech, he said, was poison. It scared the game, alerted the gamekeepers and betrayed your friends and family.

Tom Clay was a poacher back in Suffolk. He was twelve when he was caught, tried and transported to New South Wales.

Now, assigned to a shepherds’ hut out west, he is a boy among violent men. He keeps his counsel and watches over his sheep; he steers clear of blowhards like the new man, Rowdy Cavanagh. He is alert to danger, knowing he is a foreigner here: that the land resists his understanding.

The question is: how fast can he learn?

Because a vicious killer named Dan Carver is coming for Tom and Rowdy. And if Tom can’t outwit Carver in the bush – and convince Rowdy to keep his stupid mouth shut – their deaths will be swift and cruel.

Find out more at Text Publishing.

Judges' Notes

Prolific writer for children and young adults Catherine Jinks transfers her sights from the fantastical to the colonial in this adult historical thriller. Set in rural Tasmania in the convict era, featuring a brutal killer seeking revenge among the colonists, the prose gallops as a young boy and his beloved dog escape threat and trap after threat and trap. The book evokes the tingling terror of pathological evil.

The Glad ShoutAbout

After a catastrophic storm destroys Melbourne, Isobel flees to higher ground with her husband and young daughter. Food and supplies run low, panic sets in and still no help arrives. To protect her daughter, Isobel must take drastic action.

Find out more at Affirm Press.

Judges' Notes

At the beginning of this novel we plunge into chaos, as the bewildered and distressed flood Melbourne’s MCG—now a jam-packed and disorganised relief centre. Robinson’s novel is kind of ‘disaster movie’ in which the flashbacks, the soundtrack, and the stock characters are all rendered in a prose that communicates urgency, stress, determination, anxiety, humanity, while avoiding the clichés of the genre. This convincing and gripping book keeps us waiting for the comforting revelation, the heart-warming redemption, the heroic rescue, but Robinson is too smart and strong a writer for that.

The Lost ArabsAbout

Rising talent Omar Sakr’s vibrant new poetry collection pulses with raw power as it interrogates the topical issues of family, identity and nation.

Find out more at UQP.

Judges' Notes

This is a strong, vigorous and intense collection of free-verse poems that centralise the experience of Arabs in Australia, whilst recalling other homes and families. It shines as a collection with focus and coherence, while showing Sakr’s mastery of a wide, and deftly-applied, range of poetic techniques. The poet is ever-sensitive to the possibilities of ‘the line’ and the rhythms of language, and there are unexpected and startling conjunctions, creating some jaw-dropping caesuras (pauses or breaks within lines). The engagement with the personal, political, religious, and historical subject matter maintains the vigour but also tames the excess. Even when, occasionally, the sentiment veers towards the predictable, Sakr’s language startles it back towards something less comforting.

A Universe of Sufficient SizeAbout

I have wished so many times that I had acted differently.
I wish that I had been more worthy of you...
Eventually the war will end, and then we will find each other.
Until then, remember me.

Budapest, 1938. In a city park, five young Jewish mathematicians gather to share ideas, trade proofs and whisper sedition.

Sydney, 2007. Illy has just buried her father, a violent, unpredictable man whose bitterness she never understood. And now Illy's mother has gifted her a curious notebook, its pages a mix of personal story and mathematical discovery, recounted by a woman full of hopes and regrets.

Inspired by a true story, Miriam Sved's beautifully crafted novel charts a course through both the light and dark of human relationships: a vivid recreation of 1930s Hungary, a decades-old mystery locked in the story of one enduring friendship, a tribute to the selfless power of the heart.

Find out more at Pan Macmillan Australia.

Judges' Notes

A richly intelligent novel, grown from a fascinating family history. At the heart of this literary work is the experience of a group of young Jewish friends, students of mathematics, whose brushes with Nazism in pre-war Budapest profoundly alter their lives. The story is built around a search for truth in contemporary Australia, its characters having grappled with their own emotions and ambitions amidst the seismic effects of the Holocaust. Sved’s writing, which has poetic density, dramatic shape, and precision, is focused on the monstrosity of hatred, the awkwardness of love, and the strange fragility of friendship.

Paper EmperorsAbout

Before newspapers were ravaged by the digital age, they were a powerful force, especially in Australia — a country of newspaper giants and kingmakers.

This magisterial book reveals who owned Australia’s newspapers and how they used them to wield political power. A corporate and political history of Australian newspapers spanning 140 years, it explains how Australia’s media system came to be dominated by a handful of empires and powerful family dynasties. Many are household names, even now: Murdoch, Fairfax, Syme, Packer. Written with verve and insight and showing unparalleled command of a vast range of sources, Sally Young shows how newspaper owners influenced policy-making, lobbied and bullied politicians, and shaped internal party politics.

Find out more at NewSouth Books.

Judges' Notes

Young’s history of the newspaper industry moves from the rise of Keith Murdoch to the fall of Robert Menzies in 1941. Opening with the declaration that ‘newspapers have found it very difficult to tell the truth about themselves’, Young goes on to demonstrate the ways in which major metropolitan newspaper owners have sought not just to report on government, but to influence or even control it. Balancing telling personal details with concise accounts of corporate, political, and technological changes, Paper Emperors tells a gripping story of families, friendships, and sometimes outrageous ambition.

2020 Long List

Announced on 30th June 2020, the long list consists of the short listed books above plus those listed below.

Book cover Images of 2020 Nominations

Turn Left at Venus Cover Art About

They were two little girls on a very big boat.

In the 1930s, Ada and Leyla meet as children on a boat bringing migrants from Old Europe to the New World. They talk of seeing kangaroos yet end up living  miles apart from each other in suburban Sydney. Their separations are often lengthy but their friendship endures across continents and decades and is a thread in this haunting story of writing, relationships and ageing.

Find out more at NewSouth Books.

Judges' Notes:

A wise and grimly humorous novel, in which pseudo-memoir meets sci-fi, rich in allusion to classics like The Left Hand of Darkness.

Democracy SausageAbout

It’s compulsory to vote in Australia.

We are one of a handful of countries in the world that enforce this rule at election time, and the only English-speaking country that makes its citizens vote.

Not only that, we embrace it. We celebrate compulsory voting with barbeques and cake stalls at polling stations, and election parties that spill over into Sunday morning.

But how did this come to be: when and why was voting in Australia made compulsory? How has this affected our politics? And how else is the way we vote different from other democracies?

Find out more at Text Publishing.

Judges' Notes

A lively history full of odd and memorable details, showing that what is precious must be worked for, and should never be taken for granted.

Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country through Songlines coverAbout

A rare opportunity to connect with the living tradition of women's songlines, as recounted by Yolngu women from far north Australia.

'We want you to come with us on our journey, our journey of songspirals. Songspirals are the essence of people in this land, the essence of every clan. We belong to the land and it belongs to us. We sing to the land, sing about the land. We are that land. It sings to us.'

Aboriginal Australian cultures are the oldest living cultures on earth and at the heart of Aboriginal cultures is song. These ancient narratives of landscape have often been described as a means of navigating across vast distances without a map, but they are much, much more than this. Songspirals are sung by Aboriginal people to awaken Country, to make and remake the life-giving connections between people and place. Songspirals are radically different ways of understanding the relationship people can have with the landscape.

For Yolngu people from North East Arnhem Land, women and men play different roles in bringing songlines to life, yet the vast majority of what has been published is about men's place in songlines. Songspirals is a rare opportunity for outsiders to experience Aboriginal women's role in crying the songlines in a very authentic and direct form.

Find out more at Allen & Unwin.

Judges' Notes

This bi-lingual book, in Yolgŋu and English, Songspirals rewards the committed reader by offering insight into the complex, powerful place of story in Yolgŋu culture.

Barefoot in the BindisAbout

A circle of pine trees, a sagging wire fence, and a roof that was once painted red.

‘There it is,’ said Dad.

In 1953, after doctors prescribed fresh country air for his health, Scottish-born Robert Wales uprooted his young family from the city life of Sydney and set out to establish a sheep farm in the bush. What he lacked in experience and expertise, he made up for in enthusiasm. Or so he hoped.

When the family arrived on a lonely hill in northern New South Wales, they had no electricity, no running water, no telephone and no choice but to make that tangle of bush their home. From Angela Wales, eldest of the five kids, comes this extraordinarily vivid and evocative account of the next ten years as they tried to tame six thousand acres and navigate the challenges of country life.

Find out more at Affirm Press.

Judges' Notes

Packed with detail and vivid images of life before ‘all mod cons’, this memoir of a country childhood tells the story of a family from the city adapting to life in the bush.

The YieldAbout

The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Find out more at Penguin.

Judges' Notes

An ambitious book, the foundations of which include a dictionary of the recovering Wiradjuri language; a memoir; a missionary’s journal and letters; family history and family reminiscence. Brought together, these tell a story that seeks to make sense of disruption and violence.

A Lovely & Terrible ThingAbout

Around you the world is swirling - you pass through a submerged town; the bakery, a wheelbarrow, a bike floating on its side on the main street, its steeples and trees barely visible through the thick water.

In the distance the wreck of the gunship HMS Elizabeth lolls on a sandbank a couple of miles from the shore. Oil slicks the canals of the capital and even now in the midst of the bombing, the old men still tell tales of mermaids in the shallows.

A pool, empty of water save for a brackish puddle at one end that has escaped the summer heat. A mess of fine bones and hanks of fur - the remains of mice or possums that have tumbled in, lured perhaps by the water. Two boys stand by its edge, watching a stolen bracelet flash through the humid air into the deep end.

Find out more from Pan Macmillan Australia.

Judges' Notes

The beauty of this collection of short stories—some fantastical, some vengeful—is their complete unexpectedness: just when you think you know what’s going on, you don’t.