A "whole new style of Aboriginal writing" is on the rise along with a growing Aboriginal readership, says Bruce Pascoe, whose non-fiction study of precolonial Indigenous agriculture, Dark Emu, was named book of the year in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards on Monday night.
Pascoe was also named a co-winner of the new biennial $30,000 Indigenous Writers Prize along with 25-year-old Ellen van Neervan whose debut work, Heat and Light, was described by the judges as “a work of fiction by a born novelist”.
In this his ninth work, Pascoe, a Bunarong, Tasmanian and Yuin man, now based in Victoria’s far-east Gippsland, used evidence from early explorers’ journals to assert that the pre-colonial Aboriginal society was one of sophistication.
"We've got the oldest art in the world, we've got the oldest tool manufacture in the world, these are important facts – we should all share in our pride that this country was a leader in human development," Pascoe said, welcoming the award.
In praise of his book, the judges said: “Dark Emu reveals enormous Aboriginal achievement in governance and agriculture, and restores these to their rightful place at the epicenter of Australian history.”
“Dark Emu is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might be yet if we heed to the lessons of long and sophisticated human condition,” Ross Grayson, a senior judge said.
Pascoe’s work encourages Aboriginal people to look and Indigenous food and farming as a viable commercial industry. Pascoe himself grows grain and makes bread from indigenous grasses at his home in north-east Victoira – and believes they can become commercially viable.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation congratulates Bruce Pascoe, Ellen van Neervan and all the winners of the NSW Premier's Literary awards.
NSW Premier's Literary Award winners:
- Book of the Year ($10,000) Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books)
- Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000) Locust Girl. A Lovesong, Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press)
- UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000 - sponsored by UTS) An Astronaut's Life, Sonja Dechian (Text Publishing)
- Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction ($40,000) Reckoning: A Memoir, Magda Szubanski (Text Publishing)
- Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000) brush, Joanne Burns (Giramondo)
- Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature ($30,000) Teacup, Rebecca Young & Matt Ottley (Scholastic Australia)
- Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature ($30,000) Laurinda, Alice Pung (Black Inc.)
- Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting ($30,000) The Bleeding Tree, Angus Cerini (Currency Press in association with Griffin Theatre Company)
- Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting ($30,000) Deadline Gallipoli, Episode 4: "The Letter", Cate Shortland (Matchbox Pictures)
- Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000) Good Muslim Boy, Osamah Sami (Hardie Grant Books)
- Indigenous Writers Prize ($30,000) (NEW PRIZE) JOINT WINNERS: Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books) Heat and Light, Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press)
- Special Award ($10,000): Dr Rosie Scott AM
- People's Choice Award: The Life of Houses, Lisa Gorton (Giramondo)