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Christina Stead Prize for Fiction Past Winners

Year Winner Judges' comments
2013

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

Mateship with Birds is an account of the shy, cautious courtship between Harry, a lonely dairy farmer, and Betty, a bruised single mother with two children. Harry and Betty live in a country town where human beings and animals share the same space; Harry knows a great deal more about the sex lives of his dairy cows than he knows about women.

The down-to-earth picture of rural life — realistic in its wealth of detail and without sentimentality — is infused with subdued humour and rendered in plain but graceful prose which occasionally ascends to poetry. Mateship with Birds is a beautifully crafted book and a joy to read.

In this wonderfully lyrical book, Tiffany evokes the breadth of a rural landscape through her moving story of two wary people who each lack the confidence to believe they could be loved by the other. The simplicity of Tiffany’s language and the gentleness of her narrative give to the story a poetical brilliance that is at once energetic and serene. With an eye for detail and a willingness to confront topics more easily left untouched, Tiffany has created in Mateship with Birds a memorable work of gentle beauty, wry humour and delicate but earthy imagery.

2012

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Set on the West Australian coast at the start of the nineteenth century, That Deadman Dance is a story of early encounter between Noongar people and European settlers. At the heart of the novel is the charming, ebulient Bobby Wabalinginy, a Noongar man who forms friendships with the new arrivals until tensions begin to escalate between the two nations and Bobby is forced to choose between two worlds. Peopled with a broad cast of compelling, complex characters, That Deadman Dance is a work of astounding beauty. 

Compassionate and lush, this is a novel which unsettles and displaces the reader even while seducing them. Full of sensory descriptions, Scott calls up the landscape of pre-European Australia, creating a rich novelistic world. Shifting in form and in language, often with the feel of song, That Deadman Dance is a stunning interplay of form and content. In Bobby, Scott has brought to the page a man of wit and playfulness, an engaging, compelling character — flawed, but flawlessly drawn.

At once epic and elegiac, That Deadman Dance is a playful dance of language, of character, of culture. Working within a broadly realist form, Scott nonetheless creates a work with the resonance of myth and the lyricism of poetry. Moving across perspectives and points of view, Kim Scott invites readers to immerse themselves in a world that is both alien and familiar, and to emerge from it utterly changed. That Deadman Dance is a masterful novel of extraordinary vision.