Unlikely biography on former PM wins nation’s richest prize for life writing

An unlikely biography of a “complicated” and “flawed” Australian prime minister, William McMahon, has won the 2020 National Biography Award.
 
Patrick Mullins’s Tiberius with a Telephone: The Life and Stories of William McMahon (Scribe Publications) claimed this year’s $25,000 prize from a strong field of 89 entries. 
 
“Political biography can be tedious reading,” says senior Judge Margy Burn. “William McMahon is not the obvious candidate for an extensive scholarly biography, but Tiberius with a Telephone is a substantial and surprising achievement.” 
 
In his online acceptance speech, Mr Mullins said: “Very few people thought that a biography of the man regarded as this country’s worst prime minister would be worthwhile… [but] there was more to McMahon than the caricature.”
 
This year the $5,000 Michael Crouch Award for a Debut Work was presented to Jessica White for her skillful interweaving of biography and memoir in Hearing Maud (UWA Publishing). 
 
“Her book is simultaneously a contribution to the reclamation of the lives of nineteenth century women, a revelatory study of deafness and a fine work of Australian life writing.” said Ms Burn.
 
In her online acceptance speech, Ms White said: "Hearing Maud is about the consequences of the entrenched and erroneous belief that deaf people are inferior to hearing people."