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The Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History
Subcategory of Prime Minister's Literary Awards
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  • 'The Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History is the nation's pre-eminent award for excellence in Australian history'. It is awarded annually 'for an outstanding publication or body of work that contributes significantly to an understanding of Australian history'.

    Source: Department of Education, Science and Training website,
    Sighted: 19/11/20007

Latest Winners / Recipients

Year: 2020

winner y separately published work icon Meeting the Waylo : Aboriginal Encounters in the Archipelago Tiffany Shellam , Nedlands : UWA Publishing , 2020 18448531 2020 multi chapter work criticism

'This book explores the experiences of Indigenous Australians who participated in Australian exploration enterprises in the early nineteenth century. These Indigenous travellers, often referred to as ‘guide’s’, ‘native aides’, or ‘intermediaries’ have already been cast in a variety of ways by historians: earlier historiographies represented them as passive side-players in European heroic efforts of Discovery, while scholarship in the 1980s, led by Henry Reynolds, re-cast these individuals as ‘black pioneers’. Historians now acknowledge that Aborigines ‘provided information about the customs and languages of contiguous tribes, and acted as diplomats and couriers arranging in advance for the safe passage of European parties’. 

'More recently, Indigenous scholars Keith Vincent Smith and Lynnette Russell describe such Aboriginal travellers as being entrepreneurial ‘agents of their own destiny’. 

'While historiography has made up some ground in this area Aboriginal motivations in exploring parties, while difficult to discern, are often obscured or ignored under the title ‘guide’ or ‘intermediary’. Despite the different ways in which they have been cast, the mobility of these travellers, their motivations for travel and experience of it have not been thoroughly analysed. 

'Some recent studies have begun to open up this narrative, revealing instead the ways in which colonisation enabled and encouraged entrepreneurial mobility, bringing about ‘new patterns of mobility for colonised peoples’.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2019

winner y separately published work icon The Bible in Australia : A Cultural History Meredith Lake , Sydney : NewSouth Publishing , 2018 13958032 2018 multi chapter work criticism

'The revelatory story of the Bible in Australia, from the convict era to the Mabo land rights campaign, Nick Cave, the Bra Boys, and beyond. Thought to be everything from the word of God to a resented imposition, the Bible has been debated, painted, rejected, translated, read, gossiped about, preached, and tattooed.

'At a time when public discussion of religion is deeply polarised, Meredith Lake reveals the Bible’s dynamic influence in Australia and offers an innovative new perspective on Christianity and its changing role in our society. In the hands of writers, artists, wowsers, Bible-bashers, immigrants, suffragists, evangelists, unionists, Indigenous activists, and many more – the Bible has played a defining and contested role in Australia.

'A must-read for sceptics, the curious, the lapsed, the devout, the believer, and non-believer. ' (Publication summary)

Year: 2018

winner y separately published work icon John Curtin's War : The Coming of War in the Pacific, and Reinventing Australia John Edwards , Melbourne : Penguin , 2017 12211848 2017 single work biography

'John Curtin became Australia’s Prime Minister eight weeks before Japan launched war in the Pacific.

'Curtin’s struggle for power against Joe Lyons and Bob Menzies, his dramatic use of it when he took office in October 1941, and his determination to be heard in Washington and London as Japan advanced, is a political epic unmatched in Australian experience. As Japan sank much of the Allied navy, advanced on the great British naval base at Singapore, and seized Australian territories in New Guinea, Curtin remade Australia.

'Using much new material John Edwards’ vivid, landmark biography places Curtin as a man of his times, puzzling through he immense changes in Australia and its region released by the mighty shock of the Pacific War.

'It shows Curtin not as a hero and certainly not as a villain but as the pivotal figure making his uncertain way between what Australia was, and what it would become. It locates the turning point in Australian history not at Gallipoli or the Western Front or even Federation but in the Pacific War and in Curtin’s Prime Ministership.

'This two volume work is a major contribution to Australian biography, and to how we understand our history. In this first part, Edwards takes Curtin’s story from the late nineteenth century socialist ferment in Melbourne through to his appointment as prime minister and a Japanese onslaught so complete and successful that within a few months of launching it military leaders in Tokyo debated between the options of invading Australia, or sealing it off from Allied help.' (Publication summary)

Year: 2017

winner y separately published work icon Atomic Thunder : The Maralinga Story Elizabeth Tynan , Sydney : NewSouth Publishing , 2016 10253557 2016 single work prose

'In September 2016 it will be 60 years since the first British mushroom cloud rose above the plain at Maralinga in South Australia. The atomic weapons test series wreaked havoc on Indigenous communities and turned the land into a radioactive wasteland.

In 1950 Australian prime minister Robert Menzies blithely agreed to atomic tests that offered no benefit to Australia and relinquished control over them – and left the public completely in the dark. This book reveals the devastating consequences of that decision. After earlier tests at Monte Bello and Emu Field, in 1956 Australia dutifully provided 3200 square kilometres of South Australian desert to the British Government, along with logistics and personnel.

How could a democracy such as Australia host another country’s nuclear program in the midst of the Cold War? In this meticulously researched and shocking work, journalist and academic Elizabeth Tynan reveals how Australia allowed itself to be duped. Maralinga was born in secret atomic business, and has continued to be shrouded in mystery decades after the atomic thunder stopped rolling across the South Australian test site. This book is the most comprehensive account of the whole saga, from the time that the explosive potential of splitting uranium atoms was discovered, to the uncovering of the extensive secrecy around the British tests in Australia many years after the British had departed, leaving an unholy mess behind.' (Publisher's blurb)

Year: 2016

joint winner y separately published work icon The Story of Australia's People Volume 1: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia Geoffrey Blainey , Melbourne : Penguin , 2015 8300874 2015 single work single work criticism

The vast continent of Australia was settled in two main streams, far apart in time and origin.

'The first came ashore some 50,000 years ago when the islands of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea were one. The second began to arrive from Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Each had to come to terms with the land they found, and each had to make sense of the other. '

'The long Aboriginal occupation of Australia witnessed spectacular changes. The rising of the seas isolated the continent and preserved a nomadic way of life, while agriculture was revolutionising other parts of the world. Over millennia, the Aboriginal people mastered the land's climates, seasons and resources.'

'Traditional Aboriginal life came under threat the moment Europeans crossed the world to plant a new society in an unknown land. That land in turn rewarded, tricked, tantalised and often defeated the new arrivals. The meeting of the two cultures is one of the most difficult and complex meetings in recorded history. '

'In this book Professor Geoffrey Blainey returns first to the subject of his celebrated works on Australian history, Triumph of the Nomads (1975) and A Land Half Won (1980), retelling the story of our history up until 1850 in light of the latest research. He has changed his view about vital aspects of the Indigenous and early British history of this land, and looked at other aspects for the first time.' (Source: Publisher's website)

With Sam Lipski and Suzanne D. Rutland's Let My People Go: The Untold Story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-89.

Works About this Award

Undercover Susan Wyndham , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 17-18 December 2011; (p. 25)
A column canvassing current literary news including brief reports on the sale of books belonging to the late Honourable Roddy Meagher, AO QC, a report on the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History which will come under the Prime Minister's Literary Awards from 2012 and the publication of Third Australian Haiku Anthology (2011).
Dirty Diggers : Prized Book Corrects Record Sally Pryor , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 9 December 2011; (p. 6)
Book on Errant Diggers Shares PM's History Prize 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Canberra Times , 8 December 2011; (p. 3)
Is The PM's Other Prize History? Jason Steger , 2010 single work column
— Appears in: The Age , 13 November 2010; (p. 26)
A column canvassing current literary news including a comment on the lack of an announcement regarding the shortlist for the 2010 Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History. Jason Steger also notes a blog in which publisher Henry Rosenbloom criticised the Reserve Bank for raising interest rates. Rosenbloom believed the decision would have an adverse impact on the Australian book industry.
Book Prize Helps Turn Victim Back into an Historian Adam Carey , 2009 single work column
— Appears in: The Age , 10 July 2009; (p. 6)