ANU historian Martin Thomas has won the $25,000 National Biography Award for 2012, Australia's richest prize for biographical writing and memoir.
The Many Worlds of R. H. Mathews: In Search of an Aust-ralian Anthropologist tells the story of surveyor and self-taught anthropologist R. H. Mathews (1841-1918) who became one of Australia's most significant early researchers of Aboriginal languages, culture and history.
The son of Irish immigrants, Mathews published 171 articles on Aboriginal culture in south-east Australia at a time when most Australians thought Aboriginal people were dying out.
NSW State Librarian and chief executive Alex Byrne said, "Thomas's forensic research into the life of R. H. Mathews and his superb writing has resulted in a book about Australian history which is revealing, captivating and very worthy of this prestigious award.
"Mathews was an outstanding early investigator of our first peoples and their cultures and this biography reminds us of his immense contribution."
The judges for this year's award are Peter Rose, author, poet and editor of Australian Book Review; Dr Bernadette Brennan, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney and President of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature; and Hilary McPhee, editor, writer and former publisher.
Mr Rose, chair of the judging panel, said, "In a particularly strong field, Martin Thomas's biography of Mathews stood out for us because of its originality, its immense detail and scholarship, and its luminous engagement with his subject. This is biography as cultural retrieval of the highest order."