Tom Patterson

2023 Winner

Book cover

Judges' Comments

A gripping story about a brilliant misfit and former law student who lives for decades in the wilderness of northern New South Wales, living off the land in remote, temporary camps and growing marijuana crops for cash. But when he appears to have vanished from civilisation entirely, and the locals are unable to confirm his whereabouts, his relatives and friends form a posse to search for him on foot.   

Yet this is no journalistic reportage or wild goose chase. Rather, it is an absorbing literary detective story graced with fine writing and empathic insights.  Fortunately, the author has access to the subject’s thoughts and feelings via diary entries later discovered in the bush, enhancing the level of detail and contributing to the structure. Patterson also uses interviews and police reports to create a seamless, riveting story about a gifted man who decided to turn his back completely on the world.    

This is an astonishing tale set at the edge of the Australian imagination, deep in the bush. Narrated in present tense, the writing is spare, unadorned and compulsively readable. Mark May, born into a close family, spent over three decades living alone. What drives an accomplished mind to such extreme solitude? While investigating one man’s unconventional choices, it also unfolds the furtive patterns of life within alternative rural communities with sensitivity and care. 

Patterson takes documentary material and turns it, with great skill, into an account that is utterly absorbing. The judges felt that this book fulfilled the criteria of exceptional creativity and originality of approach, combined with extensive journalistic research and a close and affectionate observation of the relevant regional landscapes, to achieve a uniquely Australian work.  



Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson studied engineering and has worked in this field in Australia and Germany. He won a 2022 Walkley Award for his Australian Magazine article, Lost Soul which was a precursor to the publication of his first book, Missing. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.

Updated on 01 November 2023