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NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2019: Awards ceremony

The State Library hosted the NSW Premier's Literary Awards in the Mitchell Reading Room on the 29 April 2019, which was streamed live on the night.

You can still join us in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Awards here on the State Library website.

 

Watch the Award ceremony

 

Transcript

(Video played)

UNCLE CRAIG MADDEN: Good evening, everyone. My name is Craig Madden. Firstly, I'd like to thank John, Sara and the New South Wales State Library for inviting me here today to these prestigious awards. I'm a proud Gadigal man from the Eora Nation. Gadigal land is the land that we're standing on here today. This land, this place, is Gadigal.

It's customary for Aboriginal people to invite guests or visitors on to our land or country, so I stand here before you as a member of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and as a proud Gadigal man and welcome you on to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land. If we have any Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today and brothers and sisters from the Torres Strait Island, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land. To all our non‑Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today, a warm and sincere welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.

I'd like to pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging. The Gadigal clan is one of 29 clans which make up the Eora nation. Most of that is bound by three distinct landmarks. We have the Hawksbury River to the north, the Nepean River to the west, and the Georges River to the south. Within the confines of those rivers lies the Eora Nation and the land we stand on today of the Gadigal people is one of those 29 clans of that nation.

If we have any guests who travelled from across the seas today, welcome to Gadigal land. If we have anyone who's travelled across this great country, great state, to this magnificently beautiful city on a beautiful night like tonight, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.

I'm honoured to be standing up here today watching some of those past winners speak about how the award has affected them and how they feel about it. So, on behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Gadigal mob, have a safe, trouble‑free trip home tonight. Once again, welcome, welcome, welcome. Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Good evening, everyone. I'm John Vallance, the State Librarian. From me, from George Souris, the President of the Library Council, and other members of the Library Council who are here this evening, the very warmest of welcomes to all of you as we celebrate this evening, the 40th anniversary of the Premier's Literary Awards.

Back in the 1840s Gustave Flaubert wrote a rather grumpy letter to one of his mates and he said, "Have you ever noticed how all authority is stupid when it comes to the arts, how wonderful governments, kings or republics imagine that they have only to order work to be done and it will be forthcoming. They set up prizes, encouragements, academies and they forget only one thing, a little thing, without which nothing can live, the atmosphere."

Writing is not easy. Even if you want to do nothing else but write, it's not easy. Even if you succeed in producing something that's acceptable to you, you have to expose yourself to public scrutiny in the search for an audience. There's that old Peter Cook joke, "I'm writing a novel", "Neither am I".

Writers need space and they also need support. In my experience, they tend to want someone or something, it might be an institution like this one, that they can be really, really close to that will leave them alone. The right atmosphere is not easy to create or sustain, but as much as anything, tonight is about atmosphere.

Tonight we're here to congratulate the most recent winners of what have arguably become Australia's most important literary awards. We're also here to reflect on what 40 years of this government support has had on our literary culture. We've got a chance to stress publicly the importance to society of having people who are prepared and able to write fearlessly and without threat of censorship, remembering that censorship comes in many forms.

We also have an opportunity this evening to reflect on the particular importance of poetry as we mourn the death of Les Murray, who died this afternoon. In my own personal opinion, Les Murray is one of the very greatest poets ever to have written in English and I'll be going home this evening and getting out my Les Murray in a private tribute to him.

But all of this is why I thank our distinguished guests for honouring us with their presence this evening and contributing to that atmosphere ‑ the Premier, first of all, who has shown herself a strong supporter not just of writers and writing but of public libraries across the whole of the State, and the same is true of our Minister, the Honourable Don Harwin, who's also here this evening. The support they showed last year for our Public Library Network is very, very significant and it's happening at a time in other western democracies where people are actually losing touch with the social importance of public libraries. So thank you both very much for coming, for honouring us with your presence this year, and thank you, Premier, for agreeing to speak and present the awards.

I also acknowledge the following people who are connected in one way or another with the spirit, with the atmosphere behind this evening: the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir, who I met on the way in, who is one of the library's most distinguished and strongest supporters; Chairman of our Library Foundation Board Rob Thomas and fellow board members; Tim Reardon, the Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. We've just been moved clusters ‑ it happens all the time in the Public Service ‑ and the library is now, I'm very happy to say, part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and I haven't yet met Tim Reardon, but I'm sure we're going to get on really, really well.

Suzanne Leal, the Senior Judge and fellow judges. This is Suzanne Leal's final year as Senior Judge and I want to thank her for the quality of her leadership and long service to these awards. It's been very significant. The Chairman of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath, and his CEO, Jo La Posta; Professor Anna Funder, from the University of Technology, which is one of the award sponsors; Chrissy Sharp and Michaela McGuire and their colleagues from the Sydney Writers' Festival, which starts today. I hope the Writers' Festival is a fantastic success this year. Mark Isaacs, the President, and Zoe Rodriguez, the Vice President, of Sydney PEN, who support the translation prize. The Honourable Barry O'Farrell, who I haven't yet seen this evening, but I'm assured is here. The US Consul‑General is not able to come.Friends, colleagues and most importantly writers whose work is really at the heart of this evening.

I'd also like to welcome those people who are watching us online. There are various gadgets down the back that are capturing what we're saying and streaming it throughout the world. It's the first time we've done this and we're really thrilled that you're able to join us electronically. So once again, the warmest of welcomes to all of you and it gives me great pleasure now to invite the Honourable George Souris, President of the Library Council, to introduce the Premier (applause).

THE HON. GEORGE SOURIS: Thank you very much, John. Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian; Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin; Mrs Dame Marie Bashir; former Premier, the Honourable Barry O'Farrell; Chair of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath; State Librarian, John Vallance, first of all, thank you very much, Uncle Craig Madden, for your welcome to country and I respond by paying my respects to you on behalf not only of the land that this State Library stands upon, but the land upon which 368 public libraries throughout New South Wales stand upon and the State Library Network and we're very glad to receive your welcome indeed. I also wish to acknowledge fellow members of the Library Council, Mr Rob Thomas AO and the Library Foundation; a special mention to Sarah and Charlotte Crouch, to John B Fairfax as well.

Premier, I want to thank you most sincerely last year for the tremendous support you gave to the Public Library Network, a doubling of the funding that goes to the Public Library Network of NSW, the greatest increase for public libraries since the Library Act itself and I just want to pay tribute to you for that (applause).

Public libraries, as I said, are 368 in number plus 20 mobile libraries. They encountered 35 million physical visits last year, 41 million loans, plus 13 million virtual visits and in amongst all of that, of course, there were 1 million physical visits to the State Library of NSW. However, this will increase of course as visitors come to see the historical treasures and the pictures now on public display, a pointer to the future, and of course we have plans for a top‑floor expansion of gallery and exhibition spaces and facilities.

We had a great open day last year. Some 9,000 people came through the State Library to see the new galleries, the Crouch Galleries, the treasures on display, the picture gallery, even to enjoy once again this glorious Mitchell Reading Room and we are planning also another open day in October of this year. I sincerely hope as many of you who are here tonight are able to make another visit when that takes place.

The State Library of NSW is one of the great libraries of the world. It continues to provide the finest public library services as well as its increased public engagement and that includes taking its place amongst the tourism facilities of New South Wales.

Premier, congratulations to you, to you and your government, on the re‑election for an historic third term. Congratulations. (Applause). You are a friend of the State Library since becoming Premier a 100% attendance rate and we value that and we value your friendship. I'd also like to thank you for retaining the arts portfolio in the most capable hands of another friend of the State Library and a friend of us all, the Honourable Don Harwin.

Premier, best wishes, thank you for your personal involvement. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian (applause).

THE HON. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN MP: Thank you, George Souris, for that very generous introduction. It's such a pleasure to be here tonight. The honour is all mine because tonight is, as all the award nights are for the literary awards in New South Wales, an historic occasion. I also want to start by thanking Uncle Craig ‑ I should say "Brother Craig", too young to be an uncle ‑ for the wonderful welcome to country and also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the wonderful land on which we stand and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We're delighted to have you amongst us and thank you for the wonderful warm welcome, we appreciate it deeply.

I also acknowledge the very many distinguished guests here this evening ‑ Dame Marie, George Souris, Rob Thomas, former Premier Barry O'Farrell, of course my Minister and colleague Don Harwin, who was very persuasive in getting the $60 million to fund our 370 libraries across New South Wales, but an investment well worth it because without driving public libraries where would the works of our authors be accessible in such a huge way?

But I'm also so deeply grateful for the wonderful work undertaken by Dr John Vallance as the Chief Librarian here in New South Wales. He does an amazing job (applause). His passion, intellect and drive has seen this institution continue to grow and thrive and I want to acknowledge the work he's done and also the work that George Souris and Rob Thomas and the Foundation Board and the generous benefactors have done in funding the new galleries of the library. Dr Vallance this evening talked about atmosphere. This space is normally magic, but tonight the atmosphere is just amazing and it is one of my favourite places and spaces in all of New South Wales and deserves the recognition (applause).

But I'm also incredibly proud to stand here as a representative of these awards who for 40 years have acknowledged writers who capture the spirit of our community, who contribute to the fabric of our own culture, and every one of the 600 contributors to these awards this evening deserves recognition. Whether it's poetry, whether it's fiction, non‑fiction, writing for children and young people, screen, stage, or works of translation, each work adds something unique and you all speak to us in so many different ways.

I say this again as we embark on the Sydney Writers' Festival, which will see up to 100,000 people involved in more than 300 events across our great city over the next week, but tonight's awards celebrate the richness of our literary talent and this year's shortlist includes works from established authors, but also new writers who one day will become household names and inspire all of us in the process.

We've seen tonight already some of the past recipients and tonight's winners will join those past recipients, whether it's celebrated authors including Helen Garner, Thomas Keneally, Ruth Park, who have accepted the Premier's Literary Awards during their extinguished careers, and I note following the sad passing of Les Murray he received the Poetry Award I understand in 1984 to demonstrate his recognition.

But the Premier's Literary Awards aim to highlight Australia's diverse writers and recognise their ability to reach their audience, all of us. No matter what the author's topic or genre, the entire cohort of nominees have connected with us, the diverse audiences that we are, in one way or another and have continued to inspire us.

It must have been a challenging job to narrow down the long list of nominees and I want to pay particular tribute to the 30‑person judging panel for your expertise and consideration. I don't envy your positions, but thank you for the role you've played in narrowing down to the winners that we will be announcing this evening.

And to all of the nominees this evening, the heartiest congratulations. You're contributing to our culture and it's something you can all be proud of. The topics you've focused on and the way in which you've conveyed your ideas and your works really give us an insight into where we are as a society more broadly, what is moving us, what is changing our history and what is changing our environment. You are the lens through which we can see all that. And tonight, and this whole week for that matter, is about writers who can transport us to another place, make us think about something from an alternative angle or teach us something.

To our winners, congratulations and well done. This is recognition for the years of hard work that often goes unnoticed being highlighted and gaining the recognition you deserve this evening. Tonight is a chance for you to reflect on your work and think about your achievements and please enjoy this opportunity. It's a small token of our appreciation for the sacrifices you've made in delivering your work of art and only writers know the sacrifices they make and the stresses they go through.

But it always gives me great pleasure, and I don't use these words lightly, but I want to thank everybody involved in the awards ‑ not just the nominees but everybody involved in making them possible on behalf of all the people of New South Wales because all of us owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you for expressing yourself through your work, thank you for entertaining us on so many levels, thank you for educating us, and thank you for inspiring us all into the future. I now look forward to presenting some of the awards. Thank you and I deeply feel honoured to be here with you this evening. Thank you very much (applause).

(Video played)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Well, thank you, Premier, very much for addressing us and helping us make sure that there isn't a hole in our soul. Your support is very, very important to us.

We're going to begin the award presentations now. I'm going to announce the winner in each category and I will ask the winner then to make his or her way to the stage to accept the award. While you're doing that, I'll say something very briefly about what the judges said and then when you're up on the stage and you've received your award, could you please stay for a moment so you can have a photograph taken and then you're welcome to say a few words. I do mean a few words. I know you're writers, but this is a context in which less is more. If you are tweeting tonight, please use #NSWPLA.

So the first award this evening is the Multicultural NSW Award, sponsored by our friends at Multicultural NSW. It's valued at $20,000 and covers all genres of writing, including fiction, non‑fiction, memoir, history, poetry, playwriting and scriptwriting. The works under consideration must display a high degree of literary merit and in addition must also address the Australian migration experience and aspects of cultural diversity and multiculturalism in our society.

The shortlist reflects modern multicultural Australia, the realities, the problems and the joys, and the works we are recognising this evening offer timely and necessary messages of compassion, empathy and common humanity in a uniquely Australian voice.

The shortlist for 2019 is made up of: The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad; Rainforest, by Eileen Chong; Too Much Lip, by Melissa Lucashenko; Home is Nearby, by Magdalena McGuire; Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, by Sisonke Msimang; and Miss Ex‑Yugoslavia, by Sofija Stefanovic. And the winner is The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (applause).

With all that applause, I haven't had a chance to tell you what it's about. So you're going to have to buy a copy at the back. There is a shop at the back and you can pick one up on the way out.

MICHAEL MOHAMMED AHMED: Firstly, please join me in a prayer for the victims of Christchurch and the victims in Sri Lanka who lost their lives to terrorism. (Prayer in Arabic).

Just a few people I need to thank ‑ firstly, Jane and our son, Kahlil. I want to thank the team at Hachette, Fiona, Sophie, Alana and especially Robert Watkins. As we like to say in the western suburbs of Sydney, you're all white but you're all right. I want to thank a lost Arab named Omar Sakr, all my brothers and sisters at Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, someone very dear to my heart, Winnie Dunn. Lastly, I'd like to thank my fellow shortlistees and the judges. I have a message for one of the judges, Osman Faruqi, next time the white supremacists troll you, send them to my place and we'll sort them out like Lebs. Thank you. This is a great honour (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Next is the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting worth $30,000. We're delighted to have Nick Enright's brother Ian here with us this evening to share in the celebration. And the 2019 shortlist is made up of: The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver; Oil Babies, by Petra Kalive; Going Down, by Michele Lee; Lost Boys, by Lachlan Philpott; The Long Forgotten Dream, by H Lawrence Sumner; and Barbara and the Camp Dogs, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine. And the winner is The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver. (Applause).

I'm not comfortable about interrupting this applause, but this is a play about the complexity of living with someone with a mental illness. Kendall is not able to be with us this evening. She's currently working in London. So that's Lee Lewis, the Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company, to accept the award on her behalf (applause).

LEE LEWIS: I was the very lucky director of this play and the very passionate Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company and I have to say sitting here tonight I've loved all of the plays that are nominated and I wanted to thank, as someone who works in theatre, all of those playwrights for continuing to thrill us. These are Kendall's words:

Thank you to the New South Wales Premier, the State Library of NSW, judges Jenny Medway and Ian Sinclair for this incredible honour. Equally thrilling is to be nominated alongside Petra Kalive, Michele Lee, Lachlan Philpott, H Lawrence Sumner, Alana Valentine and Ursula Yovich, all of whom are playwrights and theatre makers I have long admired.

Unfortunately I can't be there tonight and in my place I'm sending the play's formidable director, Lee Lewis, who now has the uncomfortable task of reading out the very many compliments that will be directed at herself.

The Almighty Sometimes is a play about how difficult it is to diagnose, live with, love and care for someone with a mental illness. Over the years, dozens of psychiatrists, mental health workers, parents and young people have contributed to the play's development and I want to thank them all for their time and support. Their very real stories, questions, hopes and fears make up the beating heart of this play.

I want to thank the play's original producers, the extraordinary Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, dramaturg Suzanne Bell, director Katy Rudd, cast, crew and creatives for their beautiful first production.

The play then found a second home at Griffin Theatre Company, Australia's new writing theatre, led by artistic director and current speech giver Lee Lewis. Thank you, Lee, for loving this play from its very first draft, for refusing to be fazed by the addition of magic realism and a whole second act and for fighting tooth and nail to bring the play home to Australia.

Now, I don't believe in editing playwrights, but I'm not going to read the next bit. She's very lovely. To my powerhouse agent, Kristin Foster, and my brilliant publishers Faber & Faber in the UK and Currency Press in Australia, thank you. My two wonderful parents, thank you for being here today. My mum, Jenny Hordern, to whom this play is dedicated, has featured heavily in thank you speeches over the years, but this is the first time that my dad, Kevin Feaver, has been able to attend an event of this kind. To that end, it would be remiss of me not to say and very, very publicly thank you, dad, for your unwavering support, careful guidance and sound advice delivered more often than not in the form of several early morning essay‑length text messages. Thank you for forcing an entire office of Sydney insurance brokers to attend your daughter's play ‑ yes, thank you. It has been an honour and a privilege to feature so heavily in the monthly Gow‑Gates Insurance Company newsletter. I love you, dad.

And finally I want to acknowledge the life and work of actress Penny Cook. Penny played Vivienne in The Almighty Sometimes and it was the last performance she gave before she passed away just after Christmas. In a sentiment borrowed from Lee herself, there is some small comfort to be found in the fact that Penny's last performance was on the Griffin Theatre Stage, the company she helped to found and the building she helped to save some 39 years earlier. She was a friend, colleague and mentor to so many in this industry and a passionate advocate of all things Australian theatre. We are so lucky to have known you, Penny, and this award, as always, is dedicated to you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Thank you very much, Lee. Now we have the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting, which is worth $30,000, for a screenplay of a feature length film, script of a documentary film, or the script of a television or radio program. We're delighted to have with us here tonight Gilda Barrachi, who is Betty Roland's daughter. This year's shortlisted entries for this award are: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Episode 4, by Alice Addison; Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour; Seoul City Sue, by Noelle Janaczewska; Mystery Road, Episode 5 ‑ "The Waterhole", by Timothy Lee; Mystery Road, Episode 1 ‑ "Gone", by Michaeley O'Brien; and Riot, by Greg Waters.  The winner is Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour. (Applause). I'll try to speak over the applause this time. An account of the return to Afghanistan of an Australian soldier still haunted by his panicked shooting of an unarmed villager in the heat of combat. A deeply moving new take, the judges say, on the war story, Jirga explores the human cost of military conflict.

BENJAMIN GILMOUR: Thank you. Thank you for having me here. This is quite a surprise and I really want to dedicate this award to the Afghans that we worked with, Sam Smith and myself, in Afghanistan to bring this film to the screen, this story to the screen. Originally this screenplay looked a little bit different and it was only through that process of being on the ground with the Afghan actors and with Sam Smith, I've got a lot of gratitude for Sam for crossing out so much of my dialogue and for the Afghans for refusing to do some of the scenes that weren't authentic.

While we were over there in Afghanistan and during the whole process of writing this, I certainly felt ‑ the whole team felt ‑ as if we were possessed, channelling something way beyond us, way greater than us as human beings that needed to be in the world. So it's kind of a bit weird accepting this as a human, but I just want to acknowledge that greater power and hopefully put this money towards working for that power again and acknowledge the Afghans and my collaborator, Sam Smith, in bringing this story and putting it out there. So thank you very much and what a great surprise. Good night. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: And now to the category for our youngest readers, the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature. You may be aware that we're planning to build a special library for children in the Macquarie Street building next door. Design work will start on that tomorrow. I'm hoping this will become the Australian centre for all people interested in writing for children, not least for children themselves as well.

Shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize this year we have: Shine Mountain, by Julie Hunt; Maya and Cat, by Caroline Magerl; Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood; Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks; Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend; and The Dog with Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer.

And this year we have joint winners. They are Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood, and Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks (applause).

It's going to take a while for them to get their trophy, so I can tell you that Leave Taking is a verse novel in which the central character's younger sister has recently died from cancer. The layered and yet accessible story, say the judges, describes so well the pain of farewell to a beloved family member.

Dingo, on the other hand, say the judges, is a non‑fiction picture book outstanding because of the way in which it combines a story and factual text paired so well with particularly striking oil‑painted artwork.

LORRAINE MARWOOD: Wonderful. Thank you very much. It's such a privilege to have this book a winner with my friend Claire Saxby, fantastic. A verse novel isn't an easy thing to write or to be accepted. So I thank my fabulous agent, Jane Novak, and my UQP publishers Kristina and Vanessa, my editor, and the wonderful team ‑ sorry, I'm a bit overwhelmed. Leave Taking is dedicated to all those who are facing cancer. It was not an easy novel to write, but one that I hope will help families and especially children with the grieving process. And thank you for the wonderful award. It's great to be noticed in this way and to be in this fabulous library is wonderful. Thank you very much. (Applause).

CLAIRE SAXBY: It's really so fortunate to live in a country that includes so many iconic animals, we are lucky to live in a world full of wonder, and we are grateful for the opportunity to create books to share our curiosity and passion with young people. On behalf of Tannya and myself, thank you to the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards and the New South Wales State Library. Thank you to Sue Whiting and Donna Rawlins and to Walker Books Australia. Thank you to Patricia Wrightson for tilling the Australian soil both as a writer and as an editor and for giving your name to this award. Thank you to our fellow shortlistees for creating such rich and diverse works. And last but never least, thank you to our families, who support us always. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: We now come to the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature, which is worth $30,000. If you'll permit me another shameless plug for the State Library, we hold the original manuscript for Seven Little Australians and it's just been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. We are also very pleased that this evening we have Ethel Turner's great grandson, Peter Poole, and his family here with us this evening. The 2019 shortlist is made up of: Between Us, by Clare Atkins; Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein; I Am Out With Lanterns, by Emily Gale; Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough; Stone Girl, by Eleni Hale; and The Art of Taxidermy, by Sharon Kernot. And the winner is Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough. (Applause).

This book is a funny, queer romantic comedy about two schoolgirls who can't stand each other. Despite this, they ultimately join forces in a grand feminist plan to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school ‑ hmm. Erin Gough continues to be an important voice in Australian young adult fiction. She's now at the podium, so I'll hand over to her. Congratulations.

ERIN GOUGH: Sorry, I'm just texting my mum. Thank you so much to the New South Wales Premier's Awards and to the judges for this incredible honour. It is such an honour especially to be shortlisted amongst such terrific authors tonight. I'd like to thank the best publishers of all time, Hardie Grant Egmont, especially Hilary Rogers, who commissioned Amelia Westlake, Luna Soo, who vastly improved my manuscript, and a big special thanks to my editor. Amelia Westlake would not be half the book it is without her talent and dedication.

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and, in particular, my partner Emma Kersey for everything she's done to make this book a possibility.

I'd like to also thank the Australian Young Adult community, the LoveOzYA community. Despite us being spread across the country, it effectively provides the warmest and most supportive workplace that I've ever had the privilege of working in. I'd like to dedicate this win to my young queer readers, who I hope Amelia Westlake inspires to stand up and be proud of who they are because they ought to be. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: And now the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, which has a particular weight this evening as I said earlier, worth $30,000. There are six shortlisted for the 2019 prize and they are: Interval, by Judith Bishop; I Love Poetry, by Michael Farrell; Things I've Thought To Tell You Since I Saw You Last, by Penelope Layland; Wildlife of Berlin, by Philip Neilsen; Blindside, by Mark Reid; and Rondo, by Chris Wallace‑Crabbe. And the winner is Interval, by Judith Bishop. (Applause).

JUDITH BISHOP: What a wonderful evening this is. Thank you to the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian and the State Library of NSW. There's so much strength in the poetry that's being written in this country today, in the works on this shortlist and beyond, so to win an award such as this is an extraordinary and very humbling gift.

My deepest thanks to the judges for the confidence and the energy that this will give me. To my publisher, Madonna Duffy, my editor, Felicity Plunkett, and the whole team at UQP, thank you for everything. This book owes its existence to you. To Peter Kuzman and my daughters, my parents, whose love made it possible, all my love to you.

This is unexpected news obviously about Les Murray, which is very sad. I'm particularly deeply saddened to hear it. I would like to, however, dedicate this win to another wonderful poet Chris Wallace‑Crabbe, a dear friend for more than 20 years, an inspiration and my first poetry teacher. Some of Chris's poems to me stem among the greatest lyric poems of any time.

I'd also like to dedicate this win to the values of kindness, respect and compassion for all our fellow beings and other forms of life on this earth, values that matter deeply to me and to this book. Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Thank you. And now the NSW Premier's Translation Prize, which is presented every two years to a translator for a body of work. The trophy for this award is sponsored by Sydney PEN. In 2019 the shortlisted translators are Harry Aveling, Stephen Corcoran, Alison Entrekin, Penny Hueston, Stephanie Smee, and Omid Tofighian, who has received a highly commended award from the judging panel for his translation of Behrouz Boochani's No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison. But the winner of this award this year is Alison Entrekin. (Applause). Over the course of her career, Alison has established herself as one of the world's leading translators from Portuguese. She has been shortlisted three times previously for this award and the judges say she's a thoroughly deserving winner in 2019. She can't be with us tonight because she's currently in Brazil, quite a good place for a Portuguese translator to be, and she has sent us a very short video acceptance speech.

ALISON ENTREKIN: Hello from Brazil. I am sorry I couldn't be there with you tonight. I'm so happy to be receiving this award, especially for literary translation, which is such an unsung art form. So it's truly an honour. I would like to thank the State Library of NSW and PEN Australia and a very special thank you to all the Brazilian writers whose work I've translated, without whom I'd be out of a job. So thank you very much. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non‑Fiction. There were 130 entries in this category this year, so first of all we have to thank the judges for reading all of them. One of the members of the judging panel is Meg Stewart, who is the daughter of Douglas Stewart, and Meg is here with us this evening along with her fellow judges.

Now, after that monumental task, the following books have emerged on the shortlist for the Douglas Stewart Prize: Saga Land, by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason; Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths; The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein; The Erratics, by Vicki Laveau‑Harvie; Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin; and Tracker, by Alexis Wright. This year the judges have decided to split the prize between two winners and they are Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths, and The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein. (Applause).

I'm doing a shocking job telling you what the books are about, but I remind you that you can buy them all on the way out. Billy is going to speak to accept his award. Sarah can't be with us this evening because she's overseas. So after we've heard from Billy Griffiths, I'd like to invite Michael Heyward, from Text Publishing, to accept that award.

BILLY GRIFFITHS: Thank you and congratulations to the other shortlisted authors. This is a huge honour to receive this award and I'm delighted to be sharing it with Sarah.

A book like Deep Time Dreaming is only made possible by the generosity of others and also institutions such as the State Library of NSW and some of the book was written in this very room. I want to thank in particular the scholars, activists and custodians who invited me on to their lands, into their lives and allowed me to share some of their stories. I've had a wonderful publisher in Black Inc. and a very supportive group of family, friends and colleagues.

I wanted to write this book to help change the conversation that we've been having about Australian history, to deepen our understanding of the history of this continent, and I've been overjoyed to see this book being read and engaged with in the context of the movement for a voice treaty and truth. I finished the book with the Uluru Statement from the heart. And if you haven't read it yet, please do. It is a remarkable document, a modest proposal and a radical opportunity. It asks us all, all Australians, to confront our past and reimagine our future.

Deep Time Dreaming is sustained by hope and it is my hope that we might be ready to listen and to hear that profound offering. Thank you. (Applause).

MICHAEL HEYWARD: I've got a short statement from Sarah which I'll read to you in a minute, but first of all, Premier, thank you so much for your support for these awards and the reason why they're so important is apparent I think to us in all the books around us in this beautiful room.

I know Sarah would want me to say how thrilled she is to share this award with Billy Griffiths. If you haven't read Deep Time Dreaming, read it. It's a book that literally changes the history of this country. It's a wonderful thing. Every so often a book comes into a publishing company that's so special that so much itself and not anything else that we have to teach ourselves how to publish it and The Trauma Cleaner is such a book. It's a book of great formal invention, of great courage and great humanity and it was an extraordinary thing for us to have the honour of publishing it.

Sarah can't be with us tonight, she's in London. She's shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, which is another tremendous honour for her and her book. She sends her apologies, but she wrote this short statement for me to read to you which is:

I am deeply grateful to the New South Wales Government, the State Library, Create NSW and the judges for their commitment to Australian literature and for all their hard work. Thank you to the writers on this list for your books. It is a privilege to be in your company. I will be forever grateful to Sandra Pankhurst and to the people she worked with for letting me in and for allowing me to write about their extraordinary stories. My eternal gratitude to my editor, Mandy Brett, for her wisdom, to my publisher, Michael Heyward, for his fortifying belief in this book ‑

I've read that pretty shamelessly. You can take it with a grain of salt I think:

And to the wonderful team at Text Publishing and allow me to pay credit and pay tribute to the people at Text who made this book possible, not least Chong Weng Ho for that extraordinary design which you see up on the screen. Thank you to those heroes the booksellers for their time in reading this book and for their efforts in hand selling it and to my family for their love and support which kept me going throughout the writing process. Thank you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: The $5,000 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing is sponsored, as you will have imagined, by the University of Technology and is chosen from debut works of fiction submitted for the Christina Stead Prize. This year's shortlisted works are: Flames, by Robbie Arnott; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; Scrublands, by Chris Hammer; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Pink Mountain on Locust Island, by Jamie Marina Lau; and The Lucky Galah, by Tracy Sorensen. And the 2019 winner is Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. (Applause). Well, that seems to have gone down well.

TRENT DALTON: I think it's fair to say I love every person in this room right now. That's like a fact. Self-doubt, David Maher, you should know what it feels like to be a journo and be sat near you for the whole night. That's self‑doubt right there.

I just want to say something about a guy I spent two days with for a story for the Weekend Australian Magazine, the amazing poet Les Murray. He put me up in his house. He put a folded towel out on the end of the bed. His beautiful wife, Val, cooked a roast lamb. Les cooked fried eggs for breakfast and on Saturday night we spent all night just drinking red wine and talking about the wonderful Juanita Phillips and he read a poem to me called Home Sweet and that poem starts with the words, "Home is the first and final poem" and the next sort of opening sentence of the next kind of bit of that poem is "home is the weakest enemy". I went home, Les ‑ I just want you to know, man, I went home and that's what this book is about. He was trying to tell me never be afraid to go home.

I just want to thank Alice Wood, Catherine Milne, every last person at HarperCollins who just helped take me home. I want to thank my family for taking me home, Christine Midapp, from the Weekend Australian, Michelle Gunn, she took me home, all those folks, all my colleagues from newspapers, those hard‑working journos, I really love you guys and I just want to really kind of go home now and sort of look down here and I'm hoping ‑ I'm thinking about my wife and I'm thinking about Beth and Silvie. I know you can see me because you two are wizards. You guys inspired that book and I love you so much. Your dad loves you so much. You always remember you can go home. David ‑ no doubt, man, no doubt. Thank you so much. This is an honour. This is a great honour. I'm so, so grateful. Thank you. Thanks to the Library. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now, the judges have shortlisted six works from another very strong field of entries for the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize For Fiction. You're about to hear, there may be another kerfuffle in a moment, two of the works shortlisted are debuts, which is an excellent achievement. The shortlist for the Christina Stead Prize is: Man Out of Time, by Stephanie Bishop; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Border Districts, by Gerald Murnane; and The Shepherd's Hut, by Tim Winton. Each year we invite members of the public and visitors to the Library to vote for their favourite book out of this shortlist and this year the People's Choice Award goes to Trent Dalton and Boy Swallows Universe. (Applause). You can shake my hand this time.

TRENT DALTON: I just hope you know that everything that's in that book tells you why this means so much to me. And to my mum, my frickin' hero, I hope you see this. You see my face, it's in the book, it's the best part of my book, look on my face. I love you more, I love you more because of it all. The people's choice like that is unbelievable to me because my old man would have been one of those people voting. So thank you so much, guys. I love you all even more. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: That was the People's Choice Award. We've now got the 2019 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the one I mentioned at the beginning, and the winner of that is The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser. It's not the first time, as you know, this has happened. I won't interrupt this one.

MICHELLE DE KRETSER: Thank you. Thank you first to the Premier and the State Library of NSW for saying so resoundingly books matter. I thank my agent Sarah Lutyens, Allen & Unwin my publisher, and especially Jane Palfreyman and Luke. I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks to my partner, Chris Andrews. Someone said earlier on that writers make sacrifices and go through a lot of stresses. I think the partners of writers would have something to say about that too. I thank Chris for being my first reader and for putting up with me through the writing of this book and before and after. Thank you.

A huge thank you to the judges for the honour of this prize. It really means an awful lot to me. I'm so grateful for the gift of time in which to read and think and write that it brings with it. And Kim Scott said it beautifully, didn't he? The shortlist matters. I'm so grateful to the judges also for placing me on an exceptional one, five wonderful writers whose work I salute and whose achievements I respect.

And finally I want to say thank you to all the writers here. Thank you for writing the books that inspire me and teach me and make me think and make me want to write better. Shirley Hazzard described literature as an intensification of life. Thank you for intensifying mine. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now the Special Award. Previous recipients of the Special Award include Christina Stead herself, Ruth Park, Thomas Keneally, Thea Astley, David Williamson and most recently in 2016 Rosie Scott. While the Special Award has historically been awarded to writers themselves, it is also sometimes awarded to ‑ it can be awarded to works that fall outside the existing guidelines. The New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards guidelines stipulate that authors must be Australian citizens or permanent residents in order to be considered. But this year the Special Award, which is valued at $10,000, is being presented to a work which, due to this rule, was not able to be considered in the existing award categories. The 2019 Special Award goes to No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani and translated by Omid Tofighian. (Applause).

I'm not sure that I need to read out my blurb because you clearly all know about this book, but I'm delighted that Omid Tofighian and Behrouz Boochani are able to be here to accept the award. (Applause).

MOONES MANSOUBI: It's a great pleasure for me to accept this award. I can't say anything except I wish he was here and it's such a shame for humanity that he's not here. Congratulations, Behrouz, and congratulations, Omid. (Applause).

OMID TOFIGHIAN: Friends, lovers of literature, supporters of justice, Behrouz Boochani.

BEHROUZ BOOCHANI: Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone. Of course I didn't write this book to get an award. I wrote this book for my readers around the world because for us we share this with people around the world and tell this story, this tragedy that people understand our situation and it should lead to freedom for everyone. It was my big dream all of the refugees on Manus get freedom. This I hope ‑ yeah, it's really hard for me to know ‑ honestly I feel sad because this award didn't bring ‑ still we are here and still people are suffering. Just I want to thank you. My dream is freedom for everyone, for everyone in Manus. Thank you very much. (Applause).

OMID TOFIGHIAN: I just want to say that it was extremely important that Moones was here tonight to accept the award with me as the very first translator. Without Moones, I wouldn't have become familiar with his work. We've all been travelling to different places, we are where all border crossers in some way. We've had the opportunities to come here, to thrive and to enjoy freedom and protection here. Unfortunately Behrouz hasn't been given that opportunity.

But I travelled a number of different continents to get here today. I actually arrived this morning. And when I think about the fact that Behrouz has to go back to his isolated remote cell alone, cold, he's probably there in the dark right now as we're meeting here. As we're going to celebrate afterwards, he'll be there alone just contemplating what he's missed out on all these many, many times that he's won awards and has been recognised. It gives me a really sick feeling the fact that I've been able to travel to all of these different places, I've had all these freedoms and opportunities and I'm collecting the award for him. It's horrible, it's horrific. I think the style or the intellectual creative landscape that I imagine in terms of the character of his book is horrific surrealism. I think what we need to do in order to move forward as a nation is to remove that element of horror and enjoy, thrive, appreciate, support the creative value in people like Behrouz Boochani. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Every year the judges select from the winners of each category a Book of the Year. This work is awarded an additional $10,000 and it now gives me great pleasure to announce that the 2019 Book of the Year is Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths. (Applause).

BILLY GRIFFITHS: Thank you. I'm speechless. What a wonderful celebration of the arts this evening has been and I've said my thank yous, so really this book has been the product of so many people. In fact I say in the book that a book is a gift given to its author by all the people who made it possible and this is an immense gift. So thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Well, that brings us to the end of the awards. You don't have to go yet, but I do want to thank once again the Premier for coming this evening, the Minister for coming this evening (applause). I'd like to thank Bram Presser, Alex Miller, Patricia Cornelius, David Malouf, Thomas Keneally, Ursula Dubosarsky, Leah Purcell and Kim Scott, who you saw up on the screen. They were in the video presentations. Tomorrow at 1.30 in the Metcalfe Auditorium in the Macquarie Street building our Senior Judge Suzanne Leal will be hosting a panel talk with some of our winners from this evening, including Billy Griffiths, Judith Bishop, Michelle de Kretser and Michael Mohammed Ahmad. It's free, please come along. Please stay and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Somebody asked me on the way in why we have this glass panel down the middle. It's not because of us and them, there is no human taxonomy implicit in this. It's just that the wretched glass panels are dynabolted to the floor and we just can't work out a way of getting them out without causing chaos, but we have technical consultations under way.

Could all the winners please come up on stage for a final mug shot and the rest of you, thank you so much for coming. Enjoy the Sydney Writers' Festival and enjoy the rest of this evening (applause).

(Video played)

2019 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Night

Transcript

(Video played)

UNCLE CRAIG MADDEN: Good evening, everyone. My name is Craig Madden. Firstly, I'd like to thank John, Sara and the New South Wales State Library for inviting me here today to these prestigious awards. I'm a proud Gadigal man from the Eora Nation. Gadigal land is the land that we're standing on here today. This land, this place, is Gadigal.

It's customary for Aboriginal people to invite guests or visitors on to our land or country, so I stand here before you as a member of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and as a proud Gadigal man and welcome you on to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land. If we have any Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today and brothers and sisters from the Torres Strait Island, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land. To all our non‑Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today, a warm and sincere welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.

I'd like to pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging. The Gadigal clan is one of 29 clans which make up the Eora nation. Most of that is bound by three distinct landmarks. We have the Hawksbury River to the north, the Nepean River to the west, and the Georges River to the south. Within the confines of those rivers lies the Eora Nation and the land we stand on today of the Gadigal people is one of those 29 clans of that nation.

If we have any guests who travelled from across the seas today, welcome to Gadigal land. If we have anyone who's travelled across this great country, great state, to this magnificently beautiful city on a beautiful night like tonight, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.

I'm honoured to be standing up here today watching some of those past winners speak about how the award has affected them and how they feel about it. So, on behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Gadigal mob, have a safe, trouble‑free trip home tonight. Once again, welcome, welcome, welcome. Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Good evening, everyone. I'm John Vallance, the State Librarian. From me, from George Souris, the President of the Library Council, and other members of the Library Council who are here this evening, the very warmest of welcomes to all of you as we celebrate this evening, the 40th anniversary of the Premier's Literary Awards.

Back in the 1840s Gustave Flaubert wrote a rather grumpy letter to one of his mates and he said, "Have you ever noticed how all authority is stupid when it comes to the arts, how wonderful governments, kings or republics imagine that they have only to order work to be done and it will be forthcoming. They set up prizes, encouragements, academies and they forget only one thing, a little thing, without which nothing can live, the atmosphere."

Writing is not easy. Even if you want to do nothing else but write, it's not easy. Even if you succeed in producing something that's acceptable to you, you have to expose yourself to public scrutiny in the search for an audience. There's that old Peter Cook joke, "I'm writing a novel", "Neither am I".

Writers need space and they also need support. In my experience, they tend to want someone or something, it might be an institution like this one, that they can be really, really close to that will leave them alone. The right atmosphere is not easy to create or sustain, but as much as anything, tonight is about atmosphere.

Tonight we're here to congratulate the most recent winners of what have arguably become Australia's most important literary awards. We're also here to reflect on what 40 years of this government support has had on our literary culture. We've got a chance to stress publicly the importance to society of having people who are prepared and able to write fearlessly and without threat of censorship, remembering that censorship comes in many forms.

We also have an opportunity this evening to reflect on the particular importance of poetry as we mourn the death of Les Murray, who died this afternoon. In my own personal opinion, Les Murray is one of the very greatest poets ever to have written in English and I'll be going home this evening and getting out my Les Murray in a private tribute to him.

But all of this is why I thank our distinguished guests for honouring us with their presence this evening and contributing to that atmosphere ‑ the Premier, first of all, who has shown herself a strong supporter not just of writers and writing but of public libraries across the whole of the State, and the same is true of our Minister, the Honourable Don Harwin, who's also here this evening. The support they showed last year for our Public Library Network is very, very significant and it's happening at a time in other western democracies where people are actually losing touch with the social importance of public libraries. So thank you both very much for coming, for honouring us with your presence this year, and thank you, Premier, for agreeing to speak and present the awards.

I also acknowledge the following people who are connected in one way or another with the spirit, with the atmosphere behind this evening: the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir, who I met on the way in, who is one of the library's most distinguished and strongest supporters; Chairman of our Library Foundation Board Rob Thomas and fellow board members; Tim Reardon, the Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. We've just been moved clusters ‑ it happens all the time in the Public Service ‑ and the library is now, I'm very happy to say, part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and I haven't yet met Tim Reardon, but I'm sure we're going to get on really, really well.

Suzanne Leal, the Senior Judge and fellow judges. This is Suzanne Leal's final year as Senior Judge and I want to thank her for the quality of her leadership and long service to these awards. It's been very significant. The Chairman of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath, and his CEO, Jo La Posta; Professor Anna Funder, from the University of Technology, which is one of the award sponsors; Chrissy Sharp and Michaela McGuire and their colleagues from the Sydney Writers' Festival, which starts today. I hope the Writers' Festival is a fantastic success this year. Mark Isaacs, the President, and Zoe Rodriguez, the Vice President, of Sydney PEN, who support the translation prize. The Honourable Barry O'Farrell, who I haven't yet seen this evening, but I'm assured is here. The US Consul‑General is not able to come.Friends, colleagues and most importantly writers whose work is really at the heart of this evening.

I'd also like to welcome those people who are watching us online. There are various gadgets down the back that are capturing what we're saying and streaming it throughout the world. It's the first time we've done this and we're really thrilled that you're able to join us electronically. So once again, the warmest of welcomes to all of you and it gives me great pleasure now to invite the Honourable George Souris, President of the Library Council, to introduce the Premier (applause).

THE HON. GEORGE SOURIS: Thank you very much, John. Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian; Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin; Mrs Dame Marie Bashir; former Premier, the Honourable Barry O'Farrell; Chair of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath; State Librarian, John Vallance, first of all, thank you very much, Uncle Craig Madden, for your welcome to country and I respond by paying my respects to you on behalf not only of the land that this State Library stands upon, but the land upon which 368 public libraries throughout New South Wales stand upon and the State Library Network and we're very glad to receive your welcome indeed. I also wish to acknowledge fellow members of the Library Council, Mr Rob Thomas AO and the Library Foundation; a special mention to Sarah and Charlotte Crouch, to John B Fairfax as well.

Premier, I want to thank you most sincerely last year for the tremendous support you gave to the Public Library Network, a doubling of the funding that goes to the Public Library Network of NSW, the greatest increase for public libraries since the Library Act itself and I just want to pay tribute to you for that (applause).

Public libraries, as I said, are 368 in number plus 20 mobile libraries. They encountered 35 million physical visits last year, 41 million loans, plus 13 million virtual visits and in amongst all of that, of course, there were 1 million physical visits to the State Library of NSW. However, this will increase of course as visitors come to see the historical treasures and the pictures now on public display, a pointer to the future, and of course we have plans for a top‑floor expansion of gallery and exhibition spaces and facilities.

We had a great open day last year. Some 9,000 people came through the State Library to see the new galleries, the Crouch Galleries, the treasures on display, the picture gallery, even to enjoy once again this glorious Mitchell Reading Room and we are planning also another open day in October of this year. I sincerely hope as many of you who are here tonight are able to make another visit when that takes place.

The State Library of NSW is one of the great libraries of the world. It continues to provide the finest public library services as well as its increased public engagement and that includes taking its place amongst the tourism facilities of New South Wales.

Premier, congratulations to you, to you and your government, on the re‑election for an historic third term. Congratulations. (Applause). You are a friend of the State Library since becoming Premier a 100% attendance rate and we value that and we value your friendship. I'd also like to thank you for retaining the arts portfolio in the most capable hands of another friend of the State Library and a friend of us all, the Honourable Don Harwin.

Premier, best wishes, thank you for your personal involvement. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian (applause).

THE HON. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN MP: Thank you, George Souris, for that very generous introduction. It's such a pleasure to be here tonight. The honour is all mine because tonight is, as all the award nights are for the literary awards in New South Wales, an historic occasion. I also want to start by thanking Uncle Craig ‑ I should say "Brother Craig", too young to be an uncle ‑ for the wonderful welcome to country and also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the wonderful land on which we stand and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We're delighted to have you amongst us and thank you for the wonderful warm welcome, we appreciate it deeply.

I also acknowledge the very many distinguished guests here this evening ‑ Dame Marie, George Souris, Rob Thomas, former Premier Barry O'Farrell, of course my Minister and colleague Don Harwin, who was very persuasive in getting the $60 million to fund our 370 libraries across New South Wales, but an investment well worth it because without driving public libraries where would the works of our authors be accessible in such a huge way?

But I'm also so deeply grateful for the wonderful work undertaken by Dr John Vallance as the Chief Librarian here in New South Wales. He does an amazing job (applause). His passion, intellect and drive has seen this institution continue to grow and thrive and I want to acknowledge the work he's done and also the work that George Souris and Rob Thomas and the Foundation Board and the generous benefactors have done in funding the new galleries of the library. Dr Vallance this evening talked about atmosphere. This space is normally magic, but tonight the atmosphere is just amazing and it is one of my favourite places and spaces in all of New South Wales and deserves the recognition (applause).

But I'm also incredibly proud to stand here as a representative of these awards who for 40 years have acknowledged writers who capture the spirit of our community, who contribute to the fabric of our own culture, and every one of the 600 contributors to these awards this evening deserves recognition. Whether it's poetry, whether it's fiction, non‑fiction, writing for children and young people, screen, stage, or works of translation, each work adds something unique and you all speak to us in so many different ways.

I say this again as we embark on the Sydney Writers' Festival, which will see up to 100,000 people involved in more than 300 events across our great city over the next week, but tonight's awards celebrate the richness of our literary talent and this year's shortlist includes works from established authors, but also new writers who one day will become household names and inspire all of us in the process.

We've seen tonight already some of the past recipients and tonight's winners will join those past recipients, whether it's celebrated authors including Helen Garner, Thomas Keneally, Ruth Park, who have accepted the Premier's Literary Awards during their extinguished careers, and I note following the sad passing of Les Murray he received the Poetry Award I understand in 1984 to demonstrate his recognition.

But the Premier's Literary Awards aim to highlight Australia's diverse writers and recognise their ability to reach their audience, all of us. No matter what the author's topic or genre, the entire cohort of nominees have connected with us, the diverse audiences that we are, in one way or another and have continued to inspire us.

It must have been a challenging job to narrow down the long list of nominees and I want to pay particular tribute to the 30‑person judging panel for your expertise and consideration. I don't envy your positions, but thank you for the role you've played in narrowing down to the winners that we will be announcing this evening.

And to all of the nominees this evening, the heartiest congratulations. You're contributing to our culture and it's something you can all be proud of. The topics you've focused on and the way in which you've conveyed your ideas and your works really give us an insight into where we are as a society more broadly, what is moving us, what is changing our history and what is changing our environment. You are the lens through which we can see all that. And tonight, and this whole week for that matter, is about writers who can transport us to another place, make us think about something from an alternative angle or teach us something.

To our winners, congratulations and well done. This is recognition for the years of hard work that often goes unnoticed being highlighted and gaining the recognition you deserve this evening. Tonight is a chance for you to reflect on your work and think about your achievements and please enjoy this opportunity. It's a small token of our appreciation for the sacrifices you've made in delivering your work of art and only writers know the sacrifices they make and the stresses they go through.

But it always gives me great pleasure, and I don't use these words lightly, but I want to thank everybody involved in the awards ‑ not just the nominees but everybody involved in making them possible on behalf of all the people of New South Wales because all of us owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you for expressing yourself through your work, thank you for entertaining us on so many levels, thank you for educating us, and thank you for inspiring us all into the future. I now look forward to presenting some of the awards. Thank you and I deeply feel honoured to be here with you this evening. Thank you very much (applause).

(Video played)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Well, thank you, Premier, very much for addressing us and helping us make sure that there isn't a hole in our soul. Your support is very, very important to us.

We're going to begin the award presentations now. I'm going to announce the winner in each category and I will ask the winner then to make his or her way to the stage to accept the award. While you're doing that, I'll say something very briefly about what the judges said and then when you're up on the stage and you've received your award, could you please stay for a moment so you can have a photograph taken and then you're welcome to say a few words. I do mean a few words. I know you're writers, but this is a context in which less is more. If you are tweeting tonight, please use #NSWPLA.

So the first award this evening is the Multicultural NSW Award, sponsored by our friends at Multicultural NSW. It's valued at $20,000 and covers all genres of writing, including fiction, non‑fiction, memoir, history, poetry, playwriting and scriptwriting. The works under consideration must display a high degree of literary merit and in addition must also address the Australian migration experience and aspects of cultural diversity and multiculturalism in our society.

The shortlist reflects modern multicultural Australia, the realities, the problems and the joys, and the works we are recognising this evening offer timely and necessary messages of compassion, empathy and common humanity in a uniquely Australian voice.

The shortlist for 2019 is made up of: The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad; Rainforest, by Eileen Chong; Too Much Lip, by Melissa Lucashenko; Home is Nearby, by Magdalena McGuire; Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, by Sisonke Msimang; and Miss Ex‑Yugoslavia, by Sofija Stefanovic. And the winner is The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (applause).

With all that applause, I haven't had a chance to tell you what it's about. So you're going to have to buy a copy at the back. There is a shop at the back and you can pick one up on the way out.

MICHAEL MOHAMMED AHMED: Firstly, please join me in a prayer for the victims of Christchurch and the victims in Sri Lanka who lost their lives to terrorism. (Prayer in Arabic).

Just a few people I need to thank ‑ firstly, Jane and our son, Kahlil. I want to thank the team at Hachette, Fiona, Sophie, Alana and especially Robert Watkins. As we like to say in the western suburbs of Sydney, you're all white but you're all right. I want to thank a lost Arab named Omar Sakr, all my brothers and sisters at Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, someone very dear to my heart, Winnie Dunn. Lastly, I'd like to thank my fellow shortlistees and the judges. I have a message for one of the judges, Osman Faruqi, next time the white supremacists troll you, send them to my place and we'll sort them out like Lebs. Thank you. This is a great honour (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Next is the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting worth $30,000. We're delighted to have Nick Enright's brother Ian here with us this evening to share in the celebration. And the 2019 shortlist is made up of: The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver; Oil Babies, by Petra Kalive; Going Down, by Michele Lee; Lost Boys, by Lachlan Philpott; The Long Forgotten Dream, by H Lawrence Sumner; and Barbara and the Camp Dogs, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine. And the winner is The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver. (Applause).

I'm not comfortable about interrupting this applause, but this is a play about the complexity of living with someone with a mental illness. Kendall is not able to be with us this evening. She's currently working in London. So that's Lee Lewis, the Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company, to accept the award on her behalf (applause).

LEE LEWIS: I was the very lucky director of this play and the very passionate Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company and I have to say sitting here tonight I've loved all of the plays that are nominated and I wanted to thank, as someone who works in theatre, all of those playwrights for continuing to thrill us. These are Kendall's words:

Thank you to the New South Wales Premier, the State Library of NSW, judges Jenny Medway and Ian Sinclair for this incredible honour. Equally thrilling is to be nominated alongside Petra Kalive, Michele Lee, Lachlan Philpott, H Lawrence Sumner, Alana Valentine and Ursula Yovich, all of whom are playwrights and theatre makers I have long admired.

Unfortunately I can't be there tonight and in my place I'm sending the play's formidable director, Lee Lewis, who now has the uncomfortable task of reading out the very many compliments that will be directed at herself.

The Almighty Sometimes is a play about how difficult it is to diagnose, live with, love and care for someone with a mental illness. Over the years, dozens of psychiatrists, mental health workers, parents and young people have contributed to the play's development and I want to thank them all for their time and support. Their very real stories, questions, hopes and fears make up the beating heart of this play.

I want to thank the play's original producers, the extraordinary Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, dramaturg Suzanne Bell, director Katy Rudd, cast, crew and creatives for their beautiful first production.

The play then found a second home at Griffin Theatre Company, Australia's new writing theatre, led by artistic director and current speech giver Lee Lewis. Thank you, Lee, for loving this play from its very first draft, for refusing to be fazed by the addition of magic realism and a whole second act and for fighting tooth and nail to bring the play home to Australia.

Now, I don't believe in editing playwrights, but I'm not going to read the next bit. She's very lovely. To my powerhouse agent, Kristin Foster, and my brilliant publishers Faber & Faber in the UK and Currency Press in Australia, thank you. My two wonderful parents, thank you for being here today. My mum, Jenny Hordern, to whom this play is dedicated, has featured heavily in thank you speeches over the years, but this is the first time that my dad, Kevin Feaver, has been able to attend an event of this kind. To that end, it would be remiss of me not to say and very, very publicly thank you, dad, for your unwavering support, careful guidance and sound advice delivered more often than not in the form of several early morning essay‑length text messages. Thank you for forcing an entire office of Sydney insurance brokers to attend your daughter's play ‑ yes, thank you. It has been an honour and a privilege to feature so heavily in the monthly Gow‑Gates Insurance Company newsletter. I love you, dad.

And finally I want to acknowledge the life and work of actress Penny Cook. Penny played Vivienne in The Almighty Sometimes and it was the last performance she gave before she passed away just after Christmas. In a sentiment borrowed from Lee herself, there is some small comfort to be found in the fact that Penny's last performance was on the Griffin Theatre Stage, the company she helped to found and the building she helped to save some 39 years earlier. She was a friend, colleague and mentor to so many in this industry and a passionate advocate of all things Australian theatre. We are so lucky to have known you, Penny, and this award, as always, is dedicated to you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Thank you very much, Lee. Now we have the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting, which is worth $30,000, for a screenplay of a feature length film, script of a documentary film, or the script of a television or radio program. We're delighted to have with us here tonight Gilda Barrachi, who is Betty Roland's daughter. This year's shortlisted entries for this award are: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Episode 4, by Alice Addison; Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour; Seoul City Sue, by Noelle Janaczewska; Mystery Road, Episode 5 ‑ "The Waterhole", by Timothy Lee; Mystery Road, Episode 1 ‑ "Gone", by Michaeley O'Brien; and Riot, by Greg Waters.  The winner is Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour. (Applause). I'll try to speak over the applause this time. An account of the return to Afghanistan of an Australian soldier still haunted by his panicked shooting of an unarmed villager in the heat of combat. A deeply moving new take, the judges say, on the war story, Jirga explores the human cost of military conflict.

BENJAMIN GILMOUR: Thank you. Thank you for having me here. This is quite a surprise and I really want to dedicate this award to the Afghans that we worked with, Sam Smith and myself, in Afghanistan to bring this film to the screen, this story to the screen. Originally this screenplay looked a little bit different and it was only through that process of being on the ground with the Afghan actors and with Sam Smith, I've got a lot of gratitude for Sam for crossing out so much of my dialogue and for the Afghans for refusing to do some of the scenes that weren't authentic.

While we were over there in Afghanistan and during the whole process of writing this, I certainly felt ‑ the whole team felt ‑ as if we were possessed, channelling something way beyond us, way greater than us as human beings that needed to be in the world. So it's kind of a bit weird accepting this as a human, but I just want to acknowledge that greater power and hopefully put this money towards working for that power again and acknowledge the Afghans and my collaborator, Sam Smith, in bringing this story and putting it out there. So thank you very much and what a great surprise. Good night. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: And now to the category for our youngest readers, the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature. You may be aware that we're planning to build a special library for children in the Macquarie Street building next door. Design work will start on that tomorrow. I'm hoping this will become the Australian centre for all people interested in writing for children, not least for children themselves as well.

Shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize this year we have: Shine Mountain, by Julie Hunt; Maya and Cat, by Caroline Magerl; Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood; Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks; Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend; and The Dog with Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer.

And this year we have joint winners. They are Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood, and Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks (applause).

It's going to take a while for them to get their trophy, so I can tell you that Leave Taking is a verse novel in which the central character's younger sister has recently died from cancer. The layered and yet accessible story, say the judges, describes so well the pain of farewell to a beloved family member.

Dingo, on the other hand, say the judges, is a non‑fiction picture book outstanding because of the way in which it combines a story and factual text paired so well with particularly striking oil‑painted artwork.

LORRAINE MARWOOD: Wonderful. Thank you very much. It's such a privilege to have this book a winner with my friend Claire Saxby, fantastic. A verse novel isn't an easy thing to write or to be accepted. So I thank my fabulous agent, Jane Novak, and my UQP publishers Kristina and Vanessa, my editor, and the wonderful team ‑ sorry, I'm a bit overwhelmed. Leave Taking is dedicated to all those who are facing cancer. It was not an easy novel to write, but one that I hope will help families and especially children with the grieving process. And thank you for the wonderful award. It's great to be noticed in this way and to be in this fabulous library is wonderful. Thank you very much. (Applause).

CLAIRE SAXBY: It's really so fortunate to live in a country that includes so many iconic animals, we are lucky to live in a world full of wonder, and we are grateful for the opportunity to create books to share our curiosity and passion with young people. On behalf of Tannya and myself, thank you to the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards and the New South Wales State Library. Thank you to Sue Whiting and Donna Rawlins and to Walker Books Australia. Thank you to Patricia Wrightson for tilling the Australian soil both as a writer and as an editor and for giving your name to this award. Thank you to our fellow shortlistees for creating such rich and diverse works. And last but never least, thank you to our families, who support us always. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: We now come to the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature, which is worth $30,000. If you'll permit me another shameless plug for the State Library, we hold the original manuscript for Seven Little Australians and it's just been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. We are also very pleased that this evening we have Ethel Turner's great grandson, Peter Poole, and his family here with us this evening. The 2019 shortlist is made up of: Between Us, by Clare Atkins; Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein; I Am Out With Lanterns, by Emily Gale; Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough; Stone Girl, by Eleni Hale; and The Art of Taxidermy, by Sharon Kernot. And the winner is Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough. (Applause).

This book is a funny, queer romantic comedy about two schoolgirls who can't stand each other. Despite this, they ultimately join forces in a grand feminist plan to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school ‑ hmm. Erin Gough continues to be an important voice in Australian young adult fiction. She's now at the podium, so I'll hand over to her. Congratulations.

ERIN GOUGH: Sorry, I'm just texting my mum. Thank you so much to the New South Wales Premier's Awards and to the judges for this incredible honour. It is such an honour especially to be shortlisted amongst such terrific authors tonight. I'd like to thank the best publishers of all time, Hardie Grant Egmont, especially Hilary Rogers, who commissioned Amelia Westlake, Luna Soo, who vastly improved my manuscript, and a big special thanks to my editor. Amelia Westlake would not be half the book it is without her talent and dedication.

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and, in particular, my partner Emma Kersey for everything she's done to make this book a possibility.

I'd like to also thank the Australian Young Adult community, the LoveOzYA community. Despite us being spread across the country, it effectively provides the warmest and most supportive workplace that I've ever had the privilege of working in. I'd like to dedicate this win to my young queer readers, who I hope Amelia Westlake inspires to stand up and be proud of who they are because they ought to be. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: And now the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, which has a particular weight this evening as I said earlier, worth $30,000. There are six shortlisted for the 2019 prize and they are: Interval, by Judith Bishop; I Love Poetry, by Michael Farrell; Things I've Thought To Tell You Since I Saw You Last, by Penelope Layland; Wildlife of Berlin, by Philip Neilsen; Blindside, by Mark Reid; and Rondo, by Chris Wallace‑Crabbe. And the winner is Interval, by Judith Bishop. (Applause).

JUDITH BISHOP: What a wonderful evening this is. Thank you to the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian and the State Library of NSW. There's so much strength in the poetry that's being written in this country today, in the works on this shortlist and beyond, so to win an award such as this is an extraordinary and very humbling gift.

My deepest thanks to the judges for the confidence and the energy that this will give me. To my publisher, Madonna Duffy, my editor, Felicity Plunkett, and the whole team at UQP, thank you for everything. This book owes its existence to you. To Peter Kuzman and my daughters, my parents, whose love made it possible, all my love to you.

This is unexpected news obviously about Les Murray, which is very sad. I'm particularly deeply saddened to hear it. I would like to, however, dedicate this win to another wonderful poet Chris Wallace‑Crabbe, a dear friend for more than 20 years, an inspiration and my first poetry teacher. Some of Chris's poems to me stem among the greatest lyric poems of any time.

I'd also like to dedicate this win to the values of kindness, respect and compassion for all our fellow beings and other forms of life on this earth, values that matter deeply to me and to this book. Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Thank you. And now the NSW Premier's Translation Prize, which is presented every two years to a translator for a body of work. The trophy for this award is sponsored by Sydney PEN. In 2019 the shortlisted translators are Harry Aveling, Stephen Corcoran, Alison Entrekin, Penny Hueston, Stephanie Smee, and Omid Tofighian, who has received a highly commended award from the judging panel for his translation of Behrouz Boochani's No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison. But the winner of this award this year is Alison Entrekin. (Applause). Over the course of her career, Alison has established herself as one of the world's leading translators from Portuguese. She has been shortlisted three times previously for this award and the judges say she's a thoroughly deserving winner in 2019. She can't be with us tonight because she's currently in Brazil, quite a good place for a Portuguese translator to be, and she has sent us a very short video acceptance speech.

ALISON ENTREKIN: Hello from Brazil. I am sorry I couldn't be there with you tonight. I'm so happy to be receiving this award, especially for literary translation, which is such an unsung art form. So it's truly an honour. I would like to thank the State Library of NSW and PEN Australia and a very special thank you to all the Brazilian writers whose work I've translated, without whom I'd be out of a job. So thank you very much. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non‑Fiction. There were 130 entries in this category this year, so first of all we have to thank the judges for reading all of them. One of the members of the judging panel is Meg Stewart, who is the daughter of Douglas Stewart, and Meg is here with us this evening along with her fellow judges.

Now, after that monumental task, the following books have emerged on the shortlist for the Douglas Stewart Prize: Saga Land, by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason; Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths; The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein; The Erratics, by Vicki Laveau‑Harvie; Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin; and Tracker, by Alexis Wright. This year the judges have decided to split the prize between two winners and they are Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths, and The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein. (Applause).

I'm doing a shocking job telling you what the books are about, but I remind you that you can buy them all on the way out. Billy is going to speak to accept his award. Sarah can't be with us this evening because she's overseas. So after we've heard from Billy Griffiths, I'd like to invite Michael Heyward, from Text Publishing, to accept that award.

BILLY GRIFFITHS: Thank you and congratulations to the other shortlisted authors. This is a huge honour to receive this award and I'm delighted to be sharing it with Sarah.

A book like Deep Time Dreaming is only made possible by the generosity of others and also institutions such as the State Library of NSW and some of the book was written in this very room. I want to thank in particular the scholars, activists and custodians who invited me on to their lands, into their lives and allowed me to share some of their stories. I've had a wonderful publisher in Black Inc. and a very supportive group of family, friends and colleagues.

I wanted to write this book to help change the conversation that we've been having about Australian history, to deepen our understanding of the history of this continent, and I've been overjoyed to see this book being read and engaged with in the context of the movement for a voice treaty and truth. I finished the book with the Uluru Statement from the heart. And if you haven't read it yet, please do. It is a remarkable document, a modest proposal and a radical opportunity. It asks us all, all Australians, to confront our past and reimagine our future.

Deep Time Dreaming is sustained by hope and it is my hope that we might be ready to listen and to hear that profound offering. Thank you. (Applause).

MICHAEL HEYWARD: I've got a short statement from Sarah which I'll read to you in a minute, but first of all, Premier, thank you so much for your support for these awards and the reason why they're so important is apparent I think to us in all the books around us in this beautiful room.

I know Sarah would want me to say how thrilled she is to share this award with Billy Griffiths. If you haven't read Deep Time Dreaming, read it. It's a book that literally changes the history of this country. It's a wonderful thing. Every so often a book comes into a publishing company that's so special that so much itself and not anything else that we have to teach ourselves how to publish it and The Trauma Cleaner is such a book. It's a book of great formal invention, of great courage and great humanity and it was an extraordinary thing for us to have the honour of publishing it.

Sarah can't be with us tonight, she's in London. She's shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, which is another tremendous honour for her and her book. She sends her apologies, but she wrote this short statement for me to read to you which is:

I am deeply grateful to the New South Wales Government, the State Library, Create NSW and the judges for their commitment to Australian literature and for all their hard work. Thank you to the writers on this list for your books. It is a privilege to be in your company. I will be forever grateful to Sandra Pankhurst and to the people she worked with for letting me in and for allowing me to write about their extraordinary stories. My eternal gratitude to my editor, Mandy Brett, for her wisdom, to my publisher, Michael Heyward, for his fortifying belief in this book ‑

I've read that pretty shamelessly. You can take it with a grain of salt I think:

And to the wonderful team at Text Publishing and allow me to pay credit and pay tribute to the people at Text who made this book possible, not least Chong Weng Ho for that extraordinary design which you see up on the screen. Thank you to those heroes the booksellers for their time in reading this book and for their efforts in hand selling it and to my family for their love and support which kept me going throughout the writing process. Thank you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE: The $5,000 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing is sponsored, as you will have imagined, by the University of Technology and is chosen from debut works of fiction submitted for the Christina Stead Prize. This year's shortlisted works are: Flames, by Robbie Arnott; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; Scrublands, by Chris Hammer; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Pink Mountain on Locust Island, by Jamie Marina Lau; and The Lucky Galah, by Tracy Sorensen. And the 2019 winner is Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. (Applause). Well, that seems to have gone down well.

TRENT DALTON: I think it's fair to say I love every person in this room right now. That's like a fact. Self-doubt, David Maher, you should know what it feels like to be a journo and be sat near you for the whole night. That's self‑doubt right there.

I just want to say something about a guy I spent two days with for a story for the Weekend Australian Magazine, the amazing poet Les Murray. He put me up in his house. He put a folded towel out on the end of the bed. His beautiful wife, Val, cooked a roast lamb. Les cooked fried eggs for breakfast and on Saturday night we spent all night just drinking red wine and talking about the wonderful Juanita Phillips and he read a poem to me called Home Sweet and that poem starts with the words, "Home is the first and final poem" and the next sort of opening sentence of the next kind of bit of that poem is "home is the weakest enemy". I went home, Les ‑ I just want you to know, man, I went home and that's what this book is about. He was trying to tell me never be afraid to go home.

I just want to thank Alice Wood, Catherine Milne, every last person at HarperCollins who just helped take me home. I want to thank my family for taking me home, Christine Midapp, from the Weekend Australian, Michelle Gunn, she took me home, all those folks, all my colleagues from newspapers, those hard‑working journos, I really love you guys and I just want to really kind of go home now and sort of look down here and I'm hoping ‑ I'm thinking about my wife and I'm thinking about Beth and Silvie. I know you can see me because you two are wizards. You guys inspired that book and I love you so much. Your dad loves you so much. You always remember you can go home. David ‑ no doubt, man, no doubt. Thank you so much. This is an honour. This is a great honour. I'm so, so grateful. Thank you. Thanks to the Library. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now, the judges have shortlisted six works from another very strong field of entries for the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize For Fiction. You're about to hear, there may be another kerfuffle in a moment, two of the works shortlisted are debuts, which is an excellent achievement. The shortlist for the Christina Stead Prize is: Man Out of Time, by Stephanie Bishop; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Border Districts, by Gerald Murnane; and The Shepherd's Hut, by Tim Winton. Each year we invite members of the public and visitors to the Library to vote for their favourite book out of this shortlist and this year the People's Choice Award goes to Trent Dalton and Boy Swallows Universe. (Applause). You can shake my hand this time.

TRENT DALTON: I just hope you know that everything that's in that book tells you why this means so much to me. And to my mum, my frickin' hero, I hope you see this. You see my face, it's in the book, it's the best part of my book, look on my face. I love you more, I love you more because of it all. The people's choice like that is unbelievable to me because my old man would have been one of those people voting. So thank you so much, guys. I love you all even more. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: That was the People's Choice Award. We've now got the 2019 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the one I mentioned at the beginning, and the winner of that is The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser. It's not the first time, as you know, this has happened. I won't interrupt this one.

MICHELLE DE KRETSER: Thank you. Thank you first to the Premier and the State Library of NSW for saying so resoundingly books matter. I thank my agent Sarah Lutyens, Allen & Unwin my publisher, and especially Jane Palfreyman and Luke. I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks to my partner, Chris Andrews. Someone said earlier on that writers make sacrifices and go through a lot of stresses. I think the partners of writers would have something to say about that too. I thank Chris for being my first reader and for putting up with me through the writing of this book and before and after. Thank you.

A huge thank you to the judges for the honour of this prize. It really means an awful lot to me. I'm so grateful for the gift of time in which to read and think and write that it brings with it. And Kim Scott said it beautifully, didn't he? The shortlist matters. I'm so grateful to the judges also for placing me on an exceptional one, five wonderful writers whose work I salute and whose achievements I respect.

And finally I want to say thank you to all the writers here. Thank you for writing the books that inspire me and teach me and make me think and make me want to write better. Shirley Hazzard described literature as an intensification of life. Thank you for intensifying mine. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Now the Special Award. Previous recipients of the Special Award include Christina Stead herself, Ruth Park, Thomas Keneally, Thea Astley, David Williamson and most recently in 2016 Rosie Scott. While the Special Award has historically been awarded to writers themselves, it is also sometimes awarded to ‑ it can be awarded to works that fall outside the existing guidelines. The New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards guidelines stipulate that authors must be Australian citizens or permanent residents in order to be considered. But this year the Special Award, which is valued at $10,000, is being presented to a work which, due to this rule, was not able to be considered in the existing award categories. The 2019 Special Award goes to No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani and translated by Omid Tofighian. (Applause).

I'm not sure that I need to read out my blurb because you clearly all know about this book, but I'm delighted that Omid Tofighian and Behrouz Boochani are able to be here to accept the award. (Applause).

MOONES MANSOUBI: It's a great pleasure for me to accept this award. I can't say anything except I wish he was here and it's such a shame for humanity that he's not here. Congratulations, Behrouz, and congratulations, Omid. (Applause).

OMID TOFIGHIAN: Friends, lovers of literature, supporters of justice, Behrouz Boochani.

BEHROUZ BOOCHANI: Thank you very much. Thank you, everyone. Of course I didn't write this book to get an award. I wrote this book for my readers around the world because for us we share this with people around the world and tell this story, this tragedy that people understand our situation and it should lead to freedom for everyone. It was my big dream all of the refugees on Manus get freedom. This I hope ‑ yeah, it's really hard for me to know ‑ honestly I feel sad because this award didn't bring ‑ still we are here and still people are suffering. Just I want to thank you. My dream is freedom for everyone, for everyone in Manus. Thank you very much. (Applause).

OMID TOFIGHIAN: I just want to say that it was extremely important that Moones was here tonight to accept the award with me as the very first translator. Without Moones, I wouldn't have become familiar with his work. We've all been travelling to different places, we are where all border crossers in some way. We've had the opportunities to come here, to thrive and to enjoy freedom and protection here. Unfortunately Behrouz hasn't been given that opportunity.

But I travelled a number of different continents to get here today. I actually arrived this morning. And when I think about the fact that Behrouz has to go back to his isolated remote cell alone, cold, he's probably there in the dark right now as we're meeting here. As we're going to celebrate afterwards, he'll be there alone just contemplating what he's missed out on all these many, many times that he's won awards and has been recognised. It gives me a really sick feeling the fact that I've been able to travel to all of these different places, I've had all these freedoms and opportunities and I'm collecting the award for him. It's horrible, it's horrific. I think the style or the intellectual creative landscape that I imagine in terms of the character of his book is horrific surrealism. I think what we need to do in order to move forward as a nation is to remove that element of horror and enjoy, thrive, appreciate, support the creative value in people like Behrouz Boochani. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Every year the judges select from the winners of each category a Book of the Year. This work is awarded an additional $10,000 and it now gives me great pleasure to announce that the 2019 Book of the Year is Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths. (Applause).

BILLY GRIFFITHS: Thank you. I'm speechless. What a wonderful celebration of the arts this evening has been and I've said my thank yous, so really this book has been the product of so many people. In fact I say in the book that a book is a gift given to its author by all the people who made it possible and this is an immense gift. So thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE: Well, that brings us to the end of the awards. You don't have to go yet, but I do want to thank once again the Premier for coming this evening, the Minister for coming this evening (applause). I'd like to thank Bram Presser, Alex Miller, Patricia Cornelius, David Malouf, Thomas Keneally, Ursula Dubosarsky, Leah Purcell and Kim Scott, who you saw up on the screen. They were in the video presentations. Tomorrow at 1.30 in the Metcalfe Auditorium in the Macquarie Street building our Senior Judge Suzanne Leal will be hosting a panel talk with some of our winners from this evening, including Billy Griffiths, Judith Bishop, Michelle de Kretser and Michael Mohammed Ahmad. It's free, please come along. Please stay and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Somebody asked me on the way in why we have this glass panel down the middle. It's not because of us and them, there is no human taxonomy implicit in this. It's just that the wretched glass panels are dynabolted to the floor and we just can't work out a way of getting them out without causing chaos, but we have technical consultations under way.

Could all the winners please come up on stage for a final mug shot and the rest of you, thank you so much for coming. Enjoy the Sydney Writers' Festival and enjoy the rest of this evening (applause).

(Video played)

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2019

Mitchell Library Reading Room

State Library of NSW

Macquarie Street, Sydney

Monday, 29 April 2019 at 6.30pm

(Video played)

UNCLE CRAIG MADDEN:  Good evening, everyone.  My name is Craig Madden.  Firstly, I'd like to thank John, Sara and the New South Wales State Library for inviting me here today to these prestigious awards.  I'm a proud Gadigal man from the Eora Nation.  Gadigal land is the land that we're standing on here today.  This land, this place, is Gadigal. 

It's customary for Aboriginal people to invite guests or visitors on to our land or country, so I stand here before you as a member of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and as a proud Gadigal man and welcome you on to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.  If we have any Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today and brothers and sisters from the Torres Strait Island, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.  To all our non‑Aboriginal brothers and sisters here today, a warm and sincere welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land.

I'd like to pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging.  The Gadigal clan is one of 29 clans which make up the Eora nation.  Most of that is bound by three distinct landmarks.  We have the Hawksbury River to the north, the Nepean River to the west, and the Georges River to the south.  Within the confines of those rivers lies the Eora Nation and the land we stand on today of the Gadigal people is one of those 29 clans of that nation. 

If we have any guests who travelled from across the seas today, welcome to Gadigal land.  If we have anyone who's travelled across this great country, great state, to this magnificently beautiful city on a beautiful night like tonight, welcome to Gadigal land, Aboriginal land. 

I'm honoured to be standing up here today watching some of those past winners speak about how the award has affected them and how they feel about it.  So, on behalf of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Gadigal mob, have a safe, trouble‑free trip home tonight.  Once again, welcome, welcome, welcome.  Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Good evening, everyone.  I'm John Vallance, the State Librarian.  From me, from George Souris, the President of the Library Council, and other members of the Library Council who are here this evening, the very warmest of welcomes to all of you as we celebrate this evening, the 40th anniversary of the Premier's Literary Awards.

Back in the 1840s Gustave Flaubert wrote a rather grumpy letter to one of his mates and he said, "Have you ever noticed how all authority is stupid when it comes to the arts, how wonderful governments, kings or republics imagine that they have only to order work to be done and it will be forthcoming.  They set up prizes, encouragements, academies and they forget only one thing, a little thing, without which nothing can live, the atmosphere."

Writing is not easy.  Even if you want to do nothing else but write, it's not easy.  Even if you succeed in producing something that's acceptable to you, you have to expose yourself to public scrutiny in the search for an audience.  There's that old Peter Cook joke, "I'm writing a novel", "Neither am I".

Writers need space and they also need support.  In my experience, they tend to want someone or something, it might be an institution like this one, that they can be really, really close to that will leave them alone.  The right atmosphere is not easy to create or sustain, but as much as anything, tonight is about atmosphere. 

Tonight we're here to congratulate the most recent winners of what have arguably become Australia's most important literary awards.  We're also here to reflect on what 40 years of this government support has had on our literary culture.  We've got a chance to stress publicly the importance to society of having people who are prepared and able to write fearlessly and without threat of censorship, remembering that censorship comes in many forms. 

We also have an opportunity this evening to reflect on the particular importance of poetry as we mourn the death of Les Murray, who died this afternoon.  In my own personal opinion, Les Murray is one of the very greatest poets ever to have written in English and I'll be going home this evening and getting out my Les Murray in a private tribute to him.

But all of this is why I thank our distinguished guests for honouring us with their presence this evening and contributing to that atmosphere ‑ the Premier, first of all, who has shown herself a strong supporter not just of writers and writing but of public libraries across the whole of the State, and the same is true of our Minister, the Honourable Don Harwin, who's also here this evening.  The support they showed last year for our Public Library Network is very, very significant and it's happening at a time in other western democracies where people are actually losing touch with the social importance of public libraries.  So thank you both very much for coming, for honouring us with your presence this year, and thank you, Premier, for agreeing to speak and present the awards.

I also acknowledge the following people who are connected in one way or another with the spirit, with the atmosphere behind this evening:  the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir, who I met on the way in, who is one of the library's most distinguished and strongest supporters; Chairman of our Library Foundation Board Rob Thomas and fellow board members; Tim Reardon, the Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.  We've just been moved clusters ‑ it happens all the time in the Public Service ‑ and the library is now, I'm very happy to say, part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and I haven't yet met Tim Reardon, but I'm sure we're going to get on really, really well. 

Suzanne Leal, the Senior Judge and fellow judges.  This is Suzanne Leal's final year as Senior Judge and I want to thank her for the quality of her leadership and long service to these awards.  It's been very significant.  The Chairman of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath, and his CEO, Jo La Posta; Professor Anna Funder, from the University of Technology, which is one of the award sponsors; Chrissy Sharp and Michaela McGuire and their colleagues from the Sydney Writers' Festival, which starts today.  I hope the Writers' Festival is a fantastic success this year.  Mark Isaacs, the President, and Zoe Rodriguez, the Vice President, of Sydney PEN, who support the translation prize.  The Honourable Barry O'Farrell, who I haven't yet seen this evening, but I'm assured is here.  The US Consul‑General is not able to come.Friends, colleagues and most importantly writers whose work is really at the heart of this evening.

I'd also like to welcome those people who are watching us online.  There are various gadgets down the back that are capturing what we're saying and streaming it throughout the world.  It's the first time we've done this and we're really thrilled that you're able to join us electronically.  So once again, the warmest of welcomes to all of you and it gives me great pleasure now to invite the Honourable George Souris, President of the Library Council, to introduce the Premier (applause).

THE HON. GEORGE SOURIS:  Thank you very much, John.  Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian; Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin; Mrs Dame Marie Bashir; former Premier, the Honourable Barry O'Farrell; Chair of Multicultural NSW, Dr Harry Harinath; State Librarian, John Vallance, first of all, thank you very much, Uncle Craig Madden, for your welcome to country and I respond by paying my respects to you on behalf not only of the land that this State Library stands upon, but the land upon which 368 public libraries throughout New South Wales stand upon and the State Library Network and we're very glad to receive your welcome indeed.  I also wish to acknowledge fellow members of the Library Council, Mr Rob Thomas AO and the Library Foundation; a special mention to Sarah and Charlotte Crouch, to John B Fairfax as well. 

Premier, I want to thank you most sincerely last year for the tremendous support you gave to the Public Library Network, a doubling of the funding that goes to the Public Library Network of NSW, the greatest increase for public libraries since the Library Act itself and I just want to pay tribute to you for that (applause).

Public libraries, as I said, are 368 in number plus 20 mobile libraries.  They encountered 35 million physical visits last year, 41 million loans, plus 13 million virtual visits and in amongst all of that, of course, there were 1 million physical visits to the State Library of NSW.  However, this will increase of course as visitors come to see the historical treasures and the pictures now on public display, a pointer to the future, and of course we have plans for a top‑floor expansion of gallery and exhibition spaces and facilities.

We had a great open day last year.  Some 9,000 people came through the State Library to see the new galleries, the Crouch Galleries, the treasures on display, the picture gallery, even to enjoy once again this glorious Mitchell Reading Room and we are planning also another open day in October of this year.  I sincerely hope as many of you who are here tonight are able to make another visit when that takes place.

The State Library of NSW is one of the great libraries of the world.  It continues to provide the finest public library services as well as its increased public engagement and that includes taking its place amongst the tourism facilities of New South Wales.

Premier, congratulations to you, to you and your government, on the re‑election for an historic third term.  Congratulations.  (Applause).  You are a friend of the State Library since becoming Premier a 100% attendance rate and we value that and we value your friendship.  I'd also like to thank you for retaining the arts portfolio in the most capable hands of another friend of the State Library and a friend of us all, the Honourable Don Harwin. 

Premier, best wishes, thank you for your personal involvement.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian (applause).

THE HON. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN MP:  Thank you, George Souris, for that very generous introduction.  It's such a pleasure to be here tonight.  The honour is all mine because tonight is, as all the award nights are for the literary awards in New South Wales, an historic occasion.  I also want to start by thanking Uncle Craig ‑ I should say "Brother Craig", too young to be an uncle ‑ for the wonderful welcome to country and also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the wonderful land on which we stand and pay our respects to Elders past and present.  We're delighted to have you amongst us and thank you for the wonderful warm welcome, we appreciate it deeply. 

I also acknowledge the very many distinguished guests here this evening ‑ Dame Marie, George Souris, Rob Thomas, former Premier Barry O'Farrell, of course my Minister and colleague Don Harwin, who was very persuasive in getting the $60 million to fund our 370 libraries across New South Wales, but an investment well worth it because without driving public libraries where would the works of our authors be accessible in such a huge way? 

But I'm also so deeply grateful for the wonderful work undertaken by Dr John Vallance as the Chief Librarian here in New South Wales.  He does an amazing job (applause).  His passion, intellect and drive has seen this institution continue to grow and thrive and I want to acknowledge the work he's done and also the work that George Souris and Rob Thomas and the Foundation Board and the generous benefactors have done in funding the new galleries of the library.  Dr Vallance this evening talked about atmosphere.  This space is normally magic, but tonight the atmosphere is just amazing and it is one of my favourite places and spaces in all of New South Wales and deserves the recognition (applause).

But I'm also incredibly proud to stand here as a representative of these awards who for 40 years have acknowledged writers who capture the spirit of our community, who contribute to the fabric of our own culture, and every one of the 600 contributors to these awards this evening deserves recognition.  Whether it's poetry, whether it's fiction, non‑fiction, writing for children and young people, screen, stage, or works of translation, each work adds something unique and you all speak to us in so many different ways. 

I say this again as we embark on the Sydney Writers' Festival, which will see up to 100,000 people involved in more than 300 events across our great city over the next week, but tonight's awards celebrate the richness of our literary talent and this year's shortlist includes works from established authors, but also new writers who one day will become household names and inspire all of us in the process. 

We've seen tonight already some of the past recipients and tonight's winners will join those past recipients, whether it's celebrated authors including Helen Garner, Thomas Keneally, Ruth Park, who have accepted the Premier's Literary Awards during their extinguished careers, and I note following the sad passing of Les Murray he received the Poetry Award I understand in 1984 to demonstrate his recognition.

But the Premier's Literary Awards aim to highlight Australia's diverse writers and recognise their ability to reach their audience, all of us.  No matter what the author's topic or genre, the entire cohort of nominees have connected with us, the diverse audiences that we are, in one way or another and have continued to inspire us. 

It must have been a challenging job to narrow down the long list of nominees and I want to pay particular tribute to the 30‑person judging panel for your expertise and consideration.  I don't envy your positions, but thank you for the role you've played in narrowing down to the winners that we will be announcing this evening. 

And to all of the nominees this evening, the heartiest congratulations.  You're contributing to our culture and it's something you can all be proud of.  The topics you've focused on and the way in which you've conveyed your ideas and your works really give us an insight into where we are as a society more broadly, what is moving us, what is changing our history and what is changing our environment.  You are the lens through which we can see all that.  And tonight, and this whole week for that matter, is about writers who can transport us to another place, make us think about something from an alternative angle or teach us something. 

To our winners, congratulations and well done.  This is recognition for the years of hard work that often goes unnoticed being highlighted and gaining the recognition you deserve this evening.  Tonight is a chance for you to reflect on your work and think about your achievements and please enjoy this opportunity.  It's a small token of our appreciation for the sacrifices you've made in delivering your work of art and only writers know the sacrifices they make and the stresses they go through. 

But it always gives me great pleasure, and I don't use these words lightly, but I want to thank everybody involved in the awards ‑ not just the nominees but everybody involved in making them possible on behalf of all the people of New South Wales because all of us owe you a huge debt of gratitude.  Thank you for expressing yourself through your work, thank you for entertaining us on so many levels, thank you for educating us, and thank you for inspiring us all into the future.  I now look forward to presenting some of the awards.  Thank you and I deeply feel honoured to be here with you this evening.  Thank you very much (applause). 

(Video played)

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Well, thank you, Premier, very much for addressing us and helping us make sure that there isn't a hole in our soul.  Your support is very, very important to us. 

We're going to begin the award presentations now.  I'm going to announce the winner in each category and I will ask the winner then to make his or her way to the stage to accept the award.  While you're doing that, I'll say something very briefly about what the judges said and then when you're up on the stage and you've received your award, could you please stay for a moment so you can have a photograph taken and then you're welcome to say a few words.  I do mean a few words.  I know you're writers, but this is a context in which less is more.  If you are tweeting tonight, please use #NSWPLA.

So the first award this evening is the Multicultural NSW Award, sponsored by our friends at Multicultural NSW.  It's valued at $20,000 and covers all genres of writing, including fiction, non‑fiction, memoir, history, poetry, playwriting and scriptwriting.  The works under consideration must display a high degree of literary merit and in addition must also address the Australian migration experience and aspects of cultural diversity and multiculturalism in our society. 

The shortlist reflects modern multicultural Australia, the realities, the problems and the joys, and the works we are recognising this evening offer timely and necessary messages of compassion, empathy and common humanity in a uniquely Australian voice.

The shortlist for 2019 is made up of:  The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad; Rainforest, by Eileen Chong; Too Much Lip, by Melissa Lucashenko; Home is Nearby, by Magdalena McGuire; Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, by Sisonke Msimang; and Miss Ex‑Yugoslavia, by Sofija Stefanovic.  And the winner is The Lebs, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (applause).

With all that applause, I haven't had a chance to tell you what it's about.  So you're going to have to buy a copy at the back.  There is a shop at the back and you can pick one up on the way out.

MICHAEL MOHAMMED AHMED:  Firstly, please join me in a prayer for the victims of Christchurch and the victims in Sri Lanka who lost their lives to terrorism.  (Prayer in Arabic).

Just a few people I need to thank ‑ firstly, Jane and our son, Kahlil.  I want to thank the team at Hachette, Fiona, Sophie, Alana and especially Robert Watkins.  As we like to say in the western suburbs of Sydney, you're all white but you're all right.  I want to thank a lost Arab named Omar Sakr, all my brothers and sisters at Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, someone very dear to my heart, Winnie Dunn.  Lastly, I'd like to thank my fellow shortlistees and the judges.  I have a message for one of the judges, Osman Faruqi, next time the white supremacists troll you, send them to my place and we'll sort them out like Lebs.  Thank you.  This is a great honour (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Next is the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting worth $30,000.  We're delighted to have Nick Enright's brother Ian here with us this evening to share in the celebration.  And the 2019 shortlist is made up of: The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver; Oil Babies, by Petra Kalive; Going Down, by Michele Lee; Lost Boys, by Lachlan Philpott; The Long Forgotten Dream, by H Lawrence Sumner; and Barbara and the Camp Dogs, by Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine.  And the winner is The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver.  (Applause).

I'm not comfortable about interrupting this applause, but this is a play about the complexity of living with someone with a mental illness.  Kendall is not able to be with us this evening.  She's currently working in London.  So that's Lee Lewis, the Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre Company, to accept the award on her behalf (applause).

LEE LEWIS:  I was the very lucky director of this play and the very passionate Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company and I have to say sitting here tonight I've loved all of the plays that are nominated and I wanted to thank, as someone who works in theatre, all of those playwrights for continuing to thrill us.  These are Kendall's words:

Thank you to the New South Wales Premier, the State Library of NSW, judges Jenny Medway and Ian Sinclair for this incredible honour.  Equally thrilling is to be nominated alongside Petra Kalive, Michele Lee, Lachlan Philpott, H Lawrence Sumner, Alana Valentine and Ursula Yovich, all of whom are playwrights and theatre makers I have long admired. 

Unfortunately I can't be there tonight and in my place I'm sending the play's formidable director, Lee Lewis, who now has the uncomfortable task of reading out the very many compliments that will be directed at herself. 

The Almighty Sometimes is a play about how difficult it is to diagnose, live with, love and care for someone with a mental illness.  Over the years, dozens of psychiatrists, mental health workers, parents and young people have contributed to the play's development and I want to thank them all for their time and support.  Their very real stories, questions, hopes and fears make up the beating heart of this play.

I want to thank the play's original producers, the extraordinary Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, dramaturg Suzanne Bell, director Katy Rudd, cast, crew and creatives for their beautiful first production. 

The play then found a second home at Griffin Theatre Company, Australia's new writing theatre, led by artistic director and current speech giver Lee Lewis.  Thank you, Lee, for loving this play from its very first draft, for refusing to be fazed by the addition of magic realism and a whole second act and for fighting tooth and nail to bring the play home to Australia.

Now, I don't believe in editing playwrights, but I'm not going to read the next bit.  She's very lovely.  To my powerhouse agent, Kristin Foster, and my brilliant publishers Faber & Faber in the UK and Currency Press in Australia, thank you.  My two wonderful parents, thank you for being here today.  My mum, Jenny Hordern, to whom this play is dedicated, has featured heavily in thank you speeches over the years, but this is the first time that my dad, Kevin Feaver, has been able to attend an event of this kind.  To that end, it would be remiss of me not to say and very, very publicly thank you, dad, for your unwavering support, careful guidance and sound advice delivered more often than not in the form of several early morning essay‑length text messages.  Thank you for forcing an entire office of Sydney insurance brokers to attend your daughter's play ‑ yes, thank you.  It has been an honour and a privilege to feature so heavily in the monthly Gow‑Gates Insurance Company newsletter.  I love you, dad.

And finally I want to acknowledge the life and work of actress Penny Cook.  Penny played Vivienne in The Almighty Sometimes and it was the last performance she gave before she passed away just after Christmas.  In a sentiment borrowed from Lee herself, there is some small comfort to be found in the fact that Penny's last performance was on the Griffin Theatre Stage, the company she helped to found and the building she helped to save some 39 years earlier.  She was a friend, colleague and mentor to so many in this industry and a passionate advocate of all things Australian theatre.  We are so lucky to have known you, Penny, and this award, as always, is dedicated to you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Thank you very much, Lee.  Now we have the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting, which is worth $30,000, for a screenplay of a feature length film, script of a documentary film, or the script of a television or radio program.  We're delighted to have with us here tonight Gilda Barrachi, who is Betty Roland's daughter.  This year's shortlisted entries for this award are:  Picnic at Hanging Rock, Episode 4, by Alice Addison; Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour; Seoul City Sue, by Noelle Janaczewska; Mystery Road, Episode 5 ‑ "The Waterhole", by Timothy Lee; Mystery Road, Episode 1 ‑ "Gone", by Michaeley O'Brien; and Riot, by Greg Waters.    The winner is Jirga, by Benjamin Gilmour.  (Applause).  I'll try to speak over the applause this time.  An account of the return to Afghanistan of an Australian soldier still haunted by his panicked shooting of an unarmed villager in the heat of combat.  A deeply moving new take, the judges say, on the war story, Jirga explores the human cost of military conflict.

BENJAMIN GILMOUR:  Thank you.  Thank you for having me here.  This is quite a surprise and I really want to dedicate this award to the Afghans that we worked with, Sam Smith and myself, in Afghanistan to bring this film to the screen, this story to the screen.  Originally this screenplay looked a little bit different and it was only through that process of being on the ground with the Afghan actors and with Sam Smith, I've got a lot of gratitude for Sam for crossing out so much of my dialogue and for the Afghans for refusing to do some of the scenes that weren't authentic.

While we were over there in Afghanistan and during the whole process of writing this, I certainly felt ‑ the whole team felt ‑ as if we were possessed, channelling something way beyond us, way greater than us as human beings that needed to be in the world.  So it's kind of a bit weird accepting this as a human, but I just want to acknowledge that greater power and hopefully put this money towards working for that power again and acknowledge the Afghans and my collaborator, Sam Smith, in bringing this story and putting it out there.  So thank you very much and what a great surprise.  Good night.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  And now to the category for our youngest readers, the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature.  You may be aware that we're planning to build a special library for children in the Macquarie Street building next door.  Design work will start on that tomorrow.  I'm hoping this will become the Australian centre for all people interested in writing for children, not least for children themselves as well.

Shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize this year we have: Shine Mountain, by Julie Hunt; Maya and Cat, by Caroline Magerl; Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood; Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks; Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend; and The Dog with Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer. 

And this year we have joint winners.  They are Leave Taking, by Lorraine Marwood, and Dingo, by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks (applause).

It's going to take a while for them to get their trophy, so I can tell you that Leave Taking is a verse novel in which the central character's younger sister has recently died from cancer.  The layered and yet accessible story, say the judges, describes so well the pain of farewell to a beloved family member

Dingo, on the other hand, say the judges, is a non‑fiction picture book outstanding because of the way in which it combines a story and factual text paired so well with particularly striking oil‑painted artwork.

LORRAINE MARWOOD:  Wonderful.  Thank you very much.  It's such a privilege to have this book a winner with my friend Claire Saxby, fantastic.  A verse novel isn't an easy thing to write or to be accepted.  So I thank my fabulous agent, Jane Novak, and my UQP publishers Kristina and Vanessa, my editor, and the wonderful team ‑ sorry, I'm a bit overwhelmed.  Leave Taking is dedicated to all those who are facing cancer.  It was not an easy novel to write, but one that I hope will help families and especially children with the grieving process.  And thank you for the wonderful award.  It's great to be noticed in this way and to be in this fabulous library is wonderful.  Thank you very much.  (Applause). 

CLAIRE SAXBY:  It's really so fortunate to live in a country that includes so many iconic animals, we are lucky to live in a world full of wonder, and we are grateful for the opportunity to create books to share our curiosity and passion with young people.  On behalf of Tannya and myself, thank you to the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards and the New South Wales State Library.  Thank you to Sue Whiting and Donna Rawlins and to Walker Books Australia.  Thank you to Patricia Wrightson for tilling the Australian soil both as a writer and as an editor and for giving your name to this award.  Thank you to our fellow shortlistees for creating such rich and diverse works.  And last but never least, thank you to our families, who support us always.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  We now come to the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature, which is worth $30,000.  If you'll permit me another shameless plug for the State Library, we hold the original manuscript for Seven Little Australians and it's just been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.  We are also very pleased that this evening we have Ethel Turner's great grandson, Peter Poole, and his family here with us this evening.  The 2019 shortlist is made up of: Between Us, by Clare Atkins; Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein; I Am Out With Lanterns, by Emily Gale; Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough; Stone Girl, by Eleni Hale; and The Art of Taxidermy, by Sharon Kernot.  And the winner is Amelia Westlake, by Erin Gough.  (Applause). 

This book is a funny, queer romantic comedy about two schoolgirls who can't stand each other.  Despite this, they ultimately join forces in a grand feminist plan to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school ‑ hmm.  Erin Gough continues to be an important voice in Australian young adult fiction.  She's now at the podium, so I'll hand over to her.  Congratulations.

ERIN GOUGH:  Sorry, I'm just texting my mum.  Thank you so much to the New South Wales Premier's Awards and to the judges for this incredible honour.  It is such an honour especially to be shortlisted amongst such terrific authors tonight.  I'd like to thank the best publishers of all time, Hardie Grant Egmont, especially Hilary Rogers, who commissioned Amelia Westlake, Luna Soo, who vastly improved my manuscript, and a big special thanks to my editor.  Amelia Westlake would not be half the book it is without her talent and dedication.

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and, in particular, my partner Emma Kersey for everything she's done to make this book a possibility.

I'd like to also thank the Australian Young Adult community, the LoveOzYA community.  Despite us being spread across the country, it effectively provides the warmest and most supportive workplace that I've ever had the privilege of working in.  I'd like to dedicate this win to my young queer readers, who I hope Amelia Westlake inspires to stand up and be proud of who they are because they ought to be.  Thank you.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  And now the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, which has a particular weight this evening as I said earlier, worth $30,000.  There are six shortlisted for the 2019 prize and they are:  Interval, by Judith Bishop; I Love Poetry, by Michael Farrell; Things I've Thought To Tell You Since I Saw You Last, by Penelope Layland; Wildlife of Berlin, by Philip Neilsen; Blindside, by Mark Reid; and Rondo, by Chris Wallace‑Crabbe.  And the winner is Interval, by Judith Bishop.  (Applause).

JUDITH BISHOP:  What a wonderful evening this is.  Thank you to the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian and the State Library of NSW.  There's so much strength in the poetry that's being written in this country today, in the works on this shortlist and beyond, so to win an award such as this is an extraordinary and very humbling gift.

My deepest thanks to the judges for the confidence and the energy that this will give me.  To my publisher, Madonna Duffy, my editor, Felicity Plunkett, and the whole team at UQP, thank you for everything.  This book owes its existence to you.  To Peter Kuzman and my daughters, my parents, whose love made it possible, all my love to you. 

This is unexpected news obviously about Les Murray, which is very sad.  I'm particularly deeply saddened to hear it.  I would like to, however, dedicate this win to another wonderful poet Chris Wallace‑Crabbe, a dear friend for more than 20 years, an inspiration and my first poetry teacher.  Some of Chris's poems to me stem among the greatest lyric poems of any time. 

I'd also like to dedicate this win to the values of kindness, respect and compassion for all our fellow beings and other forms of life on this earth, values that matter deeply to me and to this book.  Thank you (applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Thank you.  And now the NSW Premier's Translation Prize, which is presented every two years to a translator for a body of work.  The trophy for this award is sponsored by Sydney PEN.  In 2019 the shortlisted translators are Harry Aveling, Stephen Corcoran, Alison Entrekin, Penny Hueston, Stephanie Smee, and Omid Tofighian, who has received a highly commended award from the judging panel for his translation of Behrouz Boochani's No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison.  But the winner of this award this year is Alison Entrekin. (Applause).  Over the course of her career, Alison has established herself as one of the world's leading translators from Portuguese.  She has been shortlisted three times previously for this award and the judges say she's a thoroughly deserving winner in 2019.  She can't be with us tonight because she's currently in Brazil, quite a good place for a Portuguese translator to be, and she has sent us a very short video acceptance speech.

ALISON ENTREKIN:  Hello from Brazil.  I am sorry I couldn't be there with you tonight.  I'm so happy to be receiving this award, especially for literary translation, which is such an unsung art form.  So it's truly an honour.  I would like to thank the State Library of NSW and PEN Australia and a very special thank you to all the Brazilian writers whose work I've translated, without whom I'd be out of a job.  So thank you very much.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Now the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non‑Fiction.  There were 130 entries in this category this year, so first of all we have to thank the judges for reading all of them.  One of the members of the judging panel is Meg Stewart, who is the daughter of Douglas Stewart, and Meg is here with us this evening along with her fellow judges.

Now, after that monumental task, the following books have emerged on the shortlist for the Douglas Stewart Prize:  Saga Land, by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason; Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths; The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein; The Erratics, by Vicki Laveau‑Harvie; Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin; and Tracker, by Alexis Wright.  This year the judges have decided to split the prize between two winners and they are Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths, and The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein.  (Applause).

I'm doing a shocking job telling you what the books are about, but I remind you that you can buy them all on the way out.  Billy is going to speak to accept his award.  Sarah can't be with us this evening because she's overseas.  So after we've heard from Billy Griffiths, I'd like to invite Michael Heyward, from Text Publishing, to accept that award.

BILLY GRIFFITHS:  Thank you and congratulations to the other shortlisted authors.  This is a huge honour to receive this award and I'm delighted to be sharing it with Sarah.

A book like Deep Time Dreaming is only made possible by the generosity of others and also institutions such as the State Library of NSW and some of the book was written in this very room.  I want to thank in particular the scholars, activists and custodians who invited me on to their lands, into their lives and allowed me to share some of their stories.  I've had a wonderful publisher in Black Inc. and a very supportive group of family, friends and colleagues.

I wanted to write this book to help change the conversation that we've been having about Australian history, to deepen our understanding of the history of this continent, and I've been overjoyed to see this book being read and engaged with in the context of the movement for a voice treaty and truth.  I finished the book with the Uluru Statement from the heart.  And if you haven't read it yet, please do.  It is a remarkable document, a modest proposal and a radical opportunity.  It asks us all, all Australians, to confront our past and reimagine our future.

Deep Time Dreaming is sustained by hope and it is my hope that we might be ready to listen and to hear that profound offering.  Thank you.  (Applause). 

MICHAEL HEYWARD:  I've got a short statement from Sarah which I'll read to you in a minute, but first of all, Premier, thank you so much for your support for these awards and the reason why they're so important is apparent I think to us in all the books around us in this beautiful room.

I know Sarah would want me to say how thrilled she is to share this award with Billy Griffiths.  If you haven't read Deep Time Dreaming, read it.  It's a book that literally changes the history of this country.  It's a wonderful thing.  Every so often a book comes into a publishing company that's so special that so much itself and not anything else that we have to teach ourselves how to publish it and The Trauma Cleaner is such a book.  It's a book of great formal invention, of great courage and great humanity and it was an extraordinary thing for us to have the honour of publishing it.

Sarah can't be with us tonight, she's in London.  She's shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, which is another tremendous honour for her and her book.  She sends her apologies, but she wrote this short statement for me to read to you which is: 

I am deeply grateful to the New South Wales Government, the State Library, Create NSW and the judges for their commitment to Australian literature and for all their hard work.  Thank you to the writers on this list for your books.  It is a privilege to be in your company.  I will be forever grateful to Sandra Pankhurst and to the people she worked with for letting me in and for allowing me to write about their extraordinary stories.  My eternal gratitude to my editor, Mandy Brett, for her wisdom, to my publisher, Michael Heyward, for his fortifying belief in this book ‑

I've read that pretty shamelessly.  You can take it with a grain of salt I think: 

And to the wonderful team at Text Publishing and allow me to pay credit and pay tribute to the people at Text who made this book possible, not least Chong Weng Ho for that extraordinary design which you see up on the screen.  Thank you to those heroes the booksellers for their time in reading this book and for their efforts in hand selling it and to my family for their love and support which kept me going throughout the writing process.  Thank you.

(Applause)

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  The $5,000 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing is sponsored, as you will have imagined, by the University of Technology and is chosen from debut works of fiction submitted for the Christina Stead Prize.  This year's shortlisted works are:  Flames, by Robbie Arnott; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; Scrublands, by Chris Hammer; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Pink Mountain on Locust Island, by Jamie Marina Lau; and The Lucky Galah, by Tracy Sorensen.  And the 2019 winner is Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.  (Applause).  Well, that seems to have gone down well.

TRENT DALTON:  I think it's fair to say I love every person in this room right now.  That's like a fact.  Self-doubt, David Maher, you should know what it feels like to be a journo and be sat near you for the whole night.  That's self‑doubt right there. 

I just want to say something about a guy I spent two days with for a story for the Weekend Australian Magazine, the amazing poet Les Murray.  He put me up in his house.  He put a folded towel out on the end of the bed.  His beautiful wife, Val, cooked a roast lamb.  Les cooked fried eggs for breakfast and on Saturday night we spent all night just drinking red wine and talking about the wonderful Juanita Phillips and he read a poem to me called Home Sweet and that poem starts with the words, "Home is the first and final poem" and the next sort of opening sentence of the next kind of bit of that poem is "home is the weakest enemy".  I went home, Les ‑ I just want you to know, man, I went home and that's what this book is about.  He was trying to tell me never be afraid to go home. 

I just want to thank Alice Wood, Catherine Milne, every last person at HarperCollins who just helped take me home.  I want to thank my family for taking me home, Christine Midapp, from the Weekend Australian, Michelle Gunn, she took me home, all those folks, all my colleagues from newspapers, those hard‑working journos, I really love you guys and I just want to really kind of go home now and sort of look down here and I'm hoping ‑ I'm thinking about my wife and I'm thinking about Beth and Silvie.  I know you can see me because you two are wizards.  You guys inspired that book and I love you so much.  Your dad loves you so much.  You always remember you can go home.  David ‑ no doubt, man, no doubt.  Thank you so much.  This is an honour.  This is a great honour.  I'm so, so grateful.  Thank you.  Thanks to the Library.  Thank you.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Now, the judges have shortlisted six works from another very strong field of entries for the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize For Fiction.  You're about to hear, there may be another kerfuffle in a moment, two of the works shortlisted are debuts, which is an excellent achievement.  The shortlist for the Christina Stead Prize is: Man Out of Time, by Stephanie Bishop; Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton; The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser; The Everlasting Sunday, by Robert Lukins; Border Districts, by Gerald Murnane; and The Shepherd's Hut, by Tim Winton.  Each year we invite members of the public and visitors to the Library to vote for their favourite book out of this shortlist and this year the People's Choice Award goes to Trent Dalton and Boy Swallows Universe.  (Applause).  You can shake my hand this time.

TRENT DALTON:  I just hope you know that everything that's in that book tells you why this means so much to me.  And to my mum, my frickin' hero, I hope you see this.  You see my face, it's in the book, it's the best part of my book, look on my face.  I love you more, I love you more because of it all.  The people's choice like that is unbelievable to me because my old man would have been one of those people voting.  So thank you so much, guys.  I love you all even more.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  That was the People's Choice Award.  We've now got the 2019 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the one I mentioned at the beginning, and the winner of that is The Life to Come, by Michelle de Kretser.  It's not the first time, as you know, this has happened.  I won't interrupt this one.

MICHELLE DE KRETSER:  Thank you.  Thank you first to the Premier and the State Library of NSW for saying so resoundingly books matter.  I thank my agent Sarah Lutyens, Allen & Unwin my publisher, and especially Jane Palfreyman and Luke.  I also want to offer my heartfelt thanks to my partner, Chris Andrews.  Someone said earlier on that writers make sacrifices and go through a lot of stresses.  I think the partners of writers would have something to say about that too.  I thank Chris for being my first reader and for putting up with me through the writing of this book and before and after.  Thank you.

A huge thank you to the judges for the honour of this prize.  It really means an awful lot to me.  I'm so grateful for the gift of time in which to read and think and write that it brings with it.  And Kim Scott said it beautifully, didn't he?  The shortlist matters.  I'm so grateful to the judges also for placing me on an exceptional one, five wonderful writers whose work I salute and whose achievements I respect.

And finally I want to say thank you to all the writers here.  Thank you for writing the books that inspire me and teach me and make me think and make me want to write better.  Shirley Hazzard described literature as an intensification of life.  Thank you for intensifying mine.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Now the Special Award.  Previous recipients of the Special Award include Christina Stead herself, Ruth Park, Thomas Keneally, Thea Astley, David Williamson and most recently in 2016 Rosie Scott.  While the Special Award has historically been awarded to writers themselves, it is also sometimes awarded to ‑ it can be awarded to works that fall outside the existing guidelines.  The New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards guidelines stipulate that authors must be Australian citizens or permanent residents in order to be considered.  But this year the Special Award, which is valued at $10,000, is being presented to a work which, due to this rule, was not able to be considered in the existing award categories.  The 2019 Special Award goes to No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani and translated by Omid Tofighian.  (Applause). 

I'm not sure that I need to read out my blurb because you clearly all know about this book, but I'm delighted that Omid Tofighian and Behrouz Boochani are able to be here to accept the award.  (Applause).

MOONES MANSOUBI:  It's a great pleasure for me to accept this award.  I can't say anything except I wish he was here and it's such a shame for humanity that he's not here.  Congratulations, Behrouz, and congratulations, Omid.  (Applause). 

OMID TOFIGHIAN:  Friends, lovers of literature, supporters of justice, Behrouz Boochani. 

BEHROUZ BOOCHANI:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, everyone.  Of course I didn't write this book to get an award.  I wrote this book for my readers around the world because for us we share this with people around the world and tell this story, this tragedy that people understand our situation and it should lead to freedom for everyone.  It was my big dream all of the refugees on Manus get freedom.  This I hope ‑ yeah, it's really hard for me to know ‑ honestly I feel sad because this award didn't bring ‑ still we are here and still people are suffering.  Just I want to thank you.  My dream is freedom for everyone, for everyone in Manus.  Thank you very much.  (Applause). 

OMID TOFIGHIAN:  I just want to say that it was extremely important that Moones was here tonight to accept the award with me as the very first translator.  Without Moones, I wouldn't have become familiar with his work.  We've all been travelling to different places, we are where all border crossers in some way.  We've had the opportunities to come here, to thrive and to enjoy freedom and protection here.  Unfortunately Behrouz hasn't been given that opportunity. 

But I travelled a number of different continents to get here today.  I actually arrived this morning.  And when I think about the fact that Behrouz has to go back to his isolated remote cell alone, cold, he's probably there in the dark right now as we're meeting here.  As we're going to celebrate afterwards, he'll be there alone just contemplating what he's missed out on all these many, many times that he's won awards and has been recognised.  It gives me a really sick feeling the fact that I've been able to travel to all of these different places, I've had all these freedoms and opportunities and I'm collecting the award for him.  It's horrible, it's horrific.  I think the style or the intellectual creative landscape that I imagine in terms of the character of his book is horrific surrealism.  I think what we need to do in order to move forward as a nation is to remove that element of horror and enjoy, thrive, appreciate, support the creative value in people like Behrouz Boochani.  Thank you.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Every year the judges select from the winners of each category a Book of the Year.  This work is awarded an additional $10,000 and it now gives me great pleasure to announce that the 2019 Book of the Year is Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, by Billy Griffiths.  (Applause).

BILLY GRIFFITHS:  Thank you.  I'm speechless.  What a wonderful celebration of the arts this evening has been and I've said my thank yous, so really this book has been the product of so many people.  In fact I say in the book that a book is a gift given to its author by all the people who made it possible and this is an immense gift.  So thank you so much.  Thank you.  (Applause).

DR JOHN VALLANCE:  Well, that brings us to the end of the awards.  You don't have to go yet, but I do want to thank once again the Premier for coming this evening, the Minister for coming this evening (applause).  I'd like to thank Bram Presser, Alex Miller, Patricia Cornelius, David Malouf, Thomas Keneally, Ursula Dubosarsky, Leah Purcell and Kim Scott, who you saw up on the screen.  They were in the video presentations.  Tomorrow at 1.30 in the Metcalfe Auditorium in the Macquarie Street building our Senior Judge Suzanne Leal will be hosting a panel talk with some of our winners from this evening, including Billy Griffiths, Judith Bishop, Michelle de Kretser and Michael Mohammed Ahmad.  It's free, please come along.  Please stay and enjoy the rest of the evening. 

Somebody asked me on the way in why we have this glass panel down the middle.  It's not because of us and them, there is no human taxonomy implicit in this.  It's just that the wretched glass panels are dynabolted to the floor and we just can't work out a way of getting them out without causing chaos, but we have technical consultations under way. 

Could all the winners please come up on stage for a final mug shot and the rest of you, thank you so much for coming.  Enjoy the Sydney Writers' Festival and enjoy the rest of this evening (applause).

(Video played)

 

Previous winners talk about the Awards

 

A celebration of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – 40 years