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Judges’ Special Prize
Subcategory of Victorian Community History Award
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Latest Winners / Recipients

Year: 2021

joint winner y separately published work icon Under the Rainbow : The Life and Times of E.W. Cole Richard Broinowski , Melbourne : Melbourne University Press , 2020 19564270 2020 single work biography

'Under the Rainbow is the life story of E.W. Cole, a colourful and much loved figure of 19th century Melbourne. Best remembered for his Funny Picture Books, his sense of the absurd and his marketing genius, his wonderful arcade was the first 'department store' in Melbourne, replete with a live orchestra, an aviary and monkeys alongside books, ornaments, art, curios and tearooms.

'But there was more to Cole than his merchandising prowess- he scandalised the clergy with his sacrilegious views about Christianity, campaigned passionately against the White Australia policy, and advocated education for all.

'Cole's journey from an impoverished sandwich seller on the streets of London to owner of one of the most memorable establishments of early Melbourne is remarkable. His passion for learning, insatiable curiosity, and enduring faith in the essential goodness of humanity make him a figure worth celebrating.

'More than 100 years after his death, Cole's story is a timely reminder that a little bit of goodness can go a long way.' (Publication summary)

Year: 2019

winner y separately published work icon The Arsonist The Arsonist : A Mind on Fire Chloe Hooper , Melbourne : Penguin , 2018 14732249 2018 single work non-fiction crime

'The Arsonist takes readers inside the hunt for a fire-lighter. After Black Saturday, a February 2009 day marked by 47 degree heat and firestorms, arson squad detectives arrived at a plantation on the edge of a 26,000-hectare burn site. Eleven people had just been killed and hundreds made homeless. Here, in the Latrobe Valley, where Victoria’s electricity is generated, and the rates of unemployment, crime and domestic abuse are the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know.

'The Arsonist tells a remarkable detective story, as the police close in on someone they believe to be a cunning offender; and a puzzling psychological story, as defence lawyers seek to understand the motives of a man who, they claimed, was a naïf that had accidentally dropped a cigarette.

'It is the story not only of this fire - how it happened, the people who died, the aftermath for the community - but of fire in this country. What it has done, what it has meant, what it might yet do. Bushfire is one of Australia’s deepest anxieties, never more so than when deliberately lit. Arson, wrote Henry Lawson, expresses a malice ‘terrifying to those who have seen what it is capable of. You never know when you are safe.‘

'As she did in The Tall Man, Chloe Hooper takes us to a part of the country seldom explored, and reveals something buried but essential in our national psyche. The bush, summertime, a smouldering cigarette - none of these will feel the same again.'  (Publication summary)

Year: 2015

winner y separately published work icon Lost Relations : Fortunes of My Family in Australia's Golden Age Graeme Davison , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2015 8692855 2015 single work biography

'Through the lives of two generations of his forebears, one of Australia's most respected historians tells the story of English free settlers arriving in the mid-19th century: the miners, millers, storekeepers, free selectors and railwaymen who built the Australia we know today.

''I did not look for skeletons in my family's cupboard, but once the cupboard was open, they simply fell out.'

'A widow and her eight older children are uprooted from their Hampshire farm in 1850, and thrown together on an emigrant ship with 38 distressed needlewomen from London. How they came to be on the boat, and what happened on the high seas and afterwards in Australia, is a vivid tale of family ambitions and fears, successes and catastrophes.

'In Lost Relations, historian Graeme Davison follows in his family's footsteps, from the picture-postcard village of Newnham to a prison cell in Maitland, from a London slum to a miner's tent in Castlemaine. He takes us back into worlds now largely forgotten, of water-powered mills, free selectors and Methodist evangelists. The Hewetts were not famous or distinguished, but their story reveals much about the foundations of Australia.' (Publication summary)

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