The Awards were held on Friday night in two stunning rooms in the State Library of NSW – one had hundreds of early editions of Don Quixote in glass-fronted bookcases. It was lovely to hear the Premier say that she’s a voracious reader, to hear the Minister for the Arts talk about his own writing, to welcome the new State Librarian of NSW, and to be part of the launch of History Week. My thanks to the State Library (where I also spent all day yesterday deep in research), Create NSW, the History Council and the judges for this recognition of 1917 and for inviting me to be part of the evening’s celebrations. I’ve been on literary awards shortlists but it’s a very different kind of feeling to have my book acknowledged as a work of history-making.
The History Awards are judged by an extraordinary panel of senior historians, and I’m honoured to be shortlisted – and to be in the company of the authors and creators on the Young People’s History Prize list and all the shortlists. Congratulations to every single one. And of course now I want to read all the books.
Our shortlist was pretty short. The two other books were:
Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda—Lake Eyre (Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli, Walker Books)
Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story (Christobel Mattingley, A&U)
And the prize was won by Christobel Mattingley for Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story. In accepting the award, Christobel talked about the artist Yvonne Edwards, her family, and the Anangu people, so many of whom were exposed to radiation by the nuclear bomb tests on Maralinga Tjarutja lands, and so many of whom have died of cancer since the bombs – including, sadly, Yvonne. Profits from the book go to her family. Congratulations to Christobel, who also worked with Yvonne and the communities to tell their stories in Maralinga, the Anangu Story, so that their children and other children can know the truth of their experiences.
It’s wonderful that there is a Young People’s History Prize alongside awards for Australian, general (as in, everywhere else) and community or local history, as well as multimedia. That says a lot about the important work we do encouraging young people’s engagement with history.
1917 is partly about the divisive conscription campaign on the Home Front, and I remember choosing not to use the word ‘plebiscite’ when I wrote it, because young readers might not know what that old-fashioned word meant. I had no idea then that the country would undergo another plebiscite debate in 2017, and that young people would take to the streets to protest about it. But perhaps we always write and read about the past to reflect on the present.
Some of the fictional characters in the book are based on members of my family, especially my great-aunts who were children – and peace activists – during the war. I wish they were still with us so they could see how they – like young readers today – really do make history.
Header image: Inside the Mitchell Library by Littleyiye Creative Commons by Attribution