Cup of literary awards runneth over
Two very different people with significant Canberra connections were honoured in Tuesday's Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, one for a book presenting a new perspective on Aboriginal history, the other for a play about a mythical Jewish creature.
Canberra historian Bill Gammage, 69, has had a bumper year. This week he won the $100,000 award for Literature and the $25,000 Victorian Premier's Non-Fiction Prize. Earlier in the year he won the $80,000 Prime Minister's prize for Australian history and the $1000 Queensland Literary Award for history.
''It's life changing,'' he said of the accumulated sum. ''I've never had that much of it before. It's an enormous amount of money.''
The awards were all for his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, the result of about 13 years of research, in which Gammage argues Australia's indigenous people were not ''aimless hunter-gatherers'' but used selective burning-off and growth practices to manage land and game - for example, by growing grass and trees to attract kangaroos seeking food and shelter.
''I started thinking about it 40 years ago,'' he said. ''I used to work out in the bush in the eastern Riverina near Narrandera.''
Some of the things he saw on the land intrigued him, such as the absence of trees in particular areas and in more recent years he spent time ''reading and puzzling - puzzling is very important'' - to eliminate possibilities such as salt and cracking clay to arrive at his conclusions.
Gammage first came to Canberra in 1961 to study history at the Australian National University - where he's now an adjunct professor - and has been ''in and out'' of the capital ever since.
He said he was not yet sure what he would do with his prize money but joked people would now be hitting him up for loans.
However, Lally Katz, 33, has plans for hers. Katz was born in the US and came to Canberra with her parents when she was nine, living here for a decade before going to the University of Melbourne.
''I did years 11 and 12 at Phillip College. I had two amazing drama teachers there, Maria Kelliher and Richard Manning, who encouraged me to write my own plays.''
She won her second Victorian Premier's Drama Award ($25,000) for A Golem Story (she previously won in 2009 for Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd) about the golem, a creature made of mud that comes to life through the word of God to save Jews in times of peril.
Katz said the money was very welcome as she was in ''financial devastation'' having spent a lot on fortune tellers and psychics.
Part of this was in research for her writing but she said she also ''got obsessed'' with them and was ''trying to find answers''.
She said while some of them were ''shysters'' who were simply ''really good at reading people'' she thought ''some of them were amazing'' and she wanted to continue her investigations, both here and in the US.
The other winners were: People's Choice Award: National Interest, Aidan Fennessy; Young Adult: The Shadow Girl, John Larkin; Poetry: Armour, John Kinsella; Fiction: Foal's Bread, Gillian Mears.