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Magarey Medal for Biography
Subcategory of ASAL Awards Subcategory of The Australian Historical Association Awards
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Donated by Professor Emerita Susan Magarey, the Magarey Medal for Biography is awarded to the female person who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject. The awarding of the prize is administered and judged by a panel established by the Australian Historical Association and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. Established in 2004, the medal is awarded every two years.

Source: Sighted: 26/11/2013.


  • The Magarey Medal for Biography is the gift of Professor Susan Magarey, founding editor of Australian Feminist Studies. The award was inaugurated in 2005. It will be presented again in 2006 and from then onwards 'will be a biennial prize of at least $10,000 in the first year and thereafter indexed to inflation; a medal named after the prize will be awarded to the female person who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject. The awarding of the prize and medal will be administered and judged by a panel set up by the Australian Historical Association and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.'

    Source: Association for the Study of Australian Literature website,
    Sighted: 11/07/2005

Latest Winners / Recipients

Year: 2020

winner y separately published work icon Olive Cotton : A Life in Photography Helen Ennis , Pymble : Fourth Estate , 2019 16573779 2019 single work biography

'A landmark biography of a singular and important Australian photographer, Olive Cotton, by an award-winning writer - beautifully written and deeply moving.

'Olive Cotton was one of Australia's pioneering modernist photographers, a woman whose talent was recognised as equal to her first husband's, Max Dupain, and a significant artist in her own right. Together, Olive and Max could have been Australia's answer to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Ray and Charles Eames. The photographic work they produced during the 1930s and '40s was extraordinary and distinctively their own.

'But in the early 1940s Cotton quit their marriage and Sydney studio to live with second husband Ross McInerney and raise their two children in a tent on a farm near Cowra - later moving to a hut that had no running water, electricity or telephone. Despite these barriers, and not having access to a darkroom, Olive continued her photography but away from the public eye. Then a landmark exhibition in Sydney in 1985 shot her back to fame, followed by a major retrospective at the AGNSW in 2000. Australian photography would never be same.

'This is a moving and powerful story about talent, creativity and women, and about what it means for an artist to manage the competing demands of art, work, marriage, children and family.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2018

winner y separately published work icon Tracker Tracker : Stories of Tracker Tilmouth Alexis Wright , Artarmon : Giramondo Publishing , 2017 11570382 2017 single work biography

'The legendary Indigenous activist ‘Tracker’ Tilmouth died in Darwin in 2015. Taken from his family as a child and brought up on a mission on Croker Island, he returned home to transform the world of Aboriginal politics. He worked tirelessly for Aboriginal self-determination, creating opportunities for land use and economic development in his many roles, including Director of the Central Land Council. He was a visionary and a projector of ideas, renowned for his irreverent humour and his colourful anecdotes. The memoir was composed by Wright from interviews with Tracker before he died, as well as with his family, friends and colleagues, weaving his and their stories together into a book that is as much a tribute to the role played by storytelling in contemporary Aboriginal life as it is to the legacy of a remarkable man.'  (Publication summary)

Year: 2016

winner y separately published work icon Warrior : A Legendary Leader's Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier Warrior Libby Connors , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2015 8532889 2015 single work biography

'In the 1840s, white settlement in the north was under attack. European settlers were in awe of Aboriginal physical fitness and fighting prowess, and a series of deadly raids on homesteads made even the townspeople of Brisbane anxious.'

'Young warrior Dundalli was renowned for his size and strength, and his elders gave him the task of leading the resistance against the Europeans' ever increasing incursions on their traditional lands. Their response was embedded in Aboriginal law and Dundalli became one of their greatest lawmen. With his band of warriors, he had the settlers in thrall for twelve years, evading capture again and again, until he was finally arrested and publicly executed.'

'Warrior is the extraordinary story of one of Australia's little-known heroes, one of many Aboriginal men to die protecting their country. It is also a fresh and compelling portrait of life in the early days of white settlement of Brisbane and south east Queensland.' (Source Publisher's website)

Year: 2014

winner y separately published work icon The Lone Protestor : A M Fernando in Australia and Europe Fiona Paisley , Canberra : Aboriginal Studies Press , 2012 Z1874516 2012 single work biography

'The late 1920s saw an extraordinary protest by an Australian Aboriginal man on the streets of London. Standing outside Australia House, cloaked in tiny skeletons, Anthony Martin Fernando condemned the failure of British rule in his country.

'Fernando is believed to be the first Aboriginal person to protest conditions in Australia from the streets of Europe. His various forms of action, from pamphlets on the streets of Rome to the famous Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, distinguish this lone protestor as a unique Aboriginal activist of his time.

'Drawn from an extensive search in archives from Australia and Europe, this is the first full-length study of Fernando and the self-professed mission that was to last half of his adult life.

'Paisley brings to light new episodes in Fernando's activist career as well as previously unknown details about his extraordinary life in Australia and overseas. Her account dramatically shifts our understanding of the international reach of Aboriginal protest in this era.' (From the publisher's website.)

Year: 2012

winner y separately published work icon My Father's Daughter : Memories of an Australian Childhood Sheila Fitzpatrick , Carlton : Melbourne University Press , 2010 Z1713085 2010 single work autobiography

'How does a daughter tell the story of her father?

Sheila Fitzpatrick was taught from an early age to question authority. She learnt it from her father, the journalist and radical historian Brian Fitzpatrick. But very soon, she began to turn her questioning gaze on him.

Teasing apart the many layers of memory, Fitzpatrick reveals a complex portrait of an Australian family against a Cold War backdrop. As her relationship with her father fades from girlhood adoration to adolescent scepticism, she flees Melbourne for Oxford to start a new life. But it's not so easy to escape being her father's daughter.

My Father's Daughter is a vivid evocation of an Australian childhood; a personal memoir told with the piercing insight of a historian.' (From the publisher's website.)

Works About this Award

Fiona Paisley's Compelling Book, The Lone Protestor on Little Known Rights Campaigner Anthony Fernando Wins Magarey Medal 2014 single work column
— Appears in: National Indigenous Times , 16 July 2014; (p. 14)
'The Lone Protestor, written by historian Dr Fiona Paisley and pyblished by Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP), has been announced as winner of the 2014 Magarey Medal for Biography.'