Featured News Robert Drewe’s The True Colour of the Sea wins 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award

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Thu, 31 Oct 2019

Robert Drewe’s The True Colour of the Sea wins 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award

the book's cover, showing blue and gold illustrations of fish

Multi-award-winning author Robert Drewe has added the 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award to his collection with his short story compilation, The True Colour of the Sea.

The True Colour of the Sea is beautiful writing from one of the country’s most respected writersIt encompasses Australian experiences past and present, portrayed in moments that are sad, serious, and poignant,” said Dr Leigh Dale, Chair of the Judging Panel.

“Drewe’s writing impressed the judges in a large field of entries that encompassed biography, memoir, non-fiction, novels, poetry and scholarly works, as well as fiction for children and young adults.”

Drewe has written multiple award-winning novels, short story collections, memoirs and plays, but the judges noted a contrast between The True Colour of the Sea and Drewe’s earlier writing.

“There is a bleaker, sparer sensibility here, in contrast to his previous poetic style. The language is clear, unpretentious, used with great precision and nuance,” Dr Dale said.

“The stories are told in simple language using a variety of pitch-perfect voices, starting with ‘Bet,’ who has lost her husband: ‘One shoe on and one shoe off when the ambulance took him – his new Rockport walkers. Only seventy-eight. Three years ago now and as I said, that’s that.’

“There is a brilliant balance between what is included – the telling detail – and what is left unsaid. The title story, the last in the collection, shifts the focus from death (and sex) to art. It shows characters with a brutal contempt for the artist as a young painter is abandoned on an island, left to search for the ‘true’ colour of the sea.”

The Colin Roderick Award is one of Australia's oldest literary awards, founded in 1967 by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies (FALS). The Foundation, based at James Cook University, has supported public engagement with Australian Literature for over fifty years. The award was renamed in 1991 to honour Professor Colin Roderick’s long contribution to Australian literature and to mark the 25th anniversary of the award.

The Foundation presents the annual award to the value of $20,000, coupled with the silver H.T. Priestley Memorial Medal. These honour the best original book, in the judges’ opinion, published in Australia in the previous calendar year. Submissions can deal with any aspect of Australian life and can be from any field or genre of writing, verse or prose.

The other shortlisted books for this year’s award were Sun Music: New & Selected Poems by Judith Beveridge, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones, and Dinner with the Dissidents by John Tesarsch.

The award was presented at the Foundation’s annual award dinner in Townsville, where the foundation also announced the inaugural FALS Book Club that will promote community engagement with the Roderick long list. Robert Drewe and the Roderick judges will launch the book club at an event open to the public on Friday.

The Foundation for Australian Literary Studies Limited gratefully thanks all the publishers who submitted titles for the 2019 Colin Roderick Award ($20,000 and the H. T. Priestley Medal) and eagerly looks forward to receiving entries for next year’s Award.


Marg Naylor
Foundation for Australian Literary Studies