AustLit logo
image of person or book cover 7537760919053807840.jpg
Author Dr Tony Birch.
Tony Birch Tony Birch i(A19090 works by) (a.k.a. Anthony Birch)
Born: Established: 1957 Melbourne, Victoria, ;
Gender: Male
Heritage: Aboriginal ; Irish ; West-Indian
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.


Dr Tony Birch was born in inner-city Melbourne, into a large family of Aboriginal, West Indian and Irish descent. His upbringing was challenging and difficult, and much of this is captured in his remarkable debut, the semi-autobiographical Shadowboxing.

An altar boy and exceptional student at his local Catholic primary school, in adolescence, Birch went 'off the rails' as a teenager. He was expelled from two high schools for fighting and found trouble with the police for the same reason. Although somewhat adrift following his expulsions, he remained a voracious reader – once, when he was arrested by police, all they found when they patted him down was a copy of Camus’ The Outsider, which remains his favourite book.

Returning to night school to complete his studies, Birch met his mentor, Anne Misson, whose credo was very simple: 'You’ll be great, but only if you work your arse off.' Birch still lives by this and applies it to everything including his passion for running, which is where his writing is created and shaped.

Studying as a mature-age student at the University of Melbourne, Birch holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and, a PhD in History, which won the university's Chancellor's Prize for Excellence in 2013.

Birch has been publishing short stories and poetry regularly since the 1980s, although his first collection, Shadowboxing, only appeared in 2006. Since this, he has published four more collections of short stories and poetry (Father's Day [2009], The Promise [2014], Broken Teeth [2016], and Common People [2017] and two novels (Blood [2011] and Ghost River [2015]).

Among his awards are the Scanlon Prize and the Prize for Indigenous Writing (Victorian Premier's Literary Awards). He has also been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction (NSW Premier's Literary Awards), the Steele Rudd Award (with both the original Queensland Premier's Literary Awards and the later Queensland Literary Awards), and the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

In 2015, he joined Victoria University as the first recipient of its Dr Bruce McGuinness Indigenous Research Fellowship. His role sits within the Moondani Balluk Academic Unit and is linked to the University’s creative arts and writing programs. He has also taught creative writing at the University of Melbourne for many years.

Birch’s work is widely read and loved including by those who might normally avoid books, particularly teenage boys. Through his outreach work, he visits many schools to speak to students, and takes particular pleasure in returning to the two schools that expelled him, as both of his previous books are on the syllabus.

In 2022, he was appointed as the third Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne, following Richard Flanagan and Alexis Wright.


Most Referenced Works

Personal Awards

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon Whisper Songs St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2021 20983046 2021 selected work poetry

'A timely and important collection of poems by the award-winning author of The White Girl and Blood. Divided into three sections – Blood, Skin and Water – the poems in Whisper Songs address themes of loss (of people and place), the legacies of colonial history and violence, and the relationships between Country and memory.

'Tony Birch invites the reader into a tender conversation with those he loves - and has loved - the most. He also challenges the past to speak up by interrogating the archive, including documents from his own family history, highlighting forcefully the ways in which the personal is also intensely political. Whisper Songs reveals Birch at his lyrical and intimate best.' (Publication summary)

2022 shortlisted Colin Roderick Award
y separately published work icon Dark As Last Night St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2021 19702775 2021 selected work short story

'Dark as Last Night confirms, once again, that Tony Birch is a master of the short story. These exceptional stories capture the importance of human connection at pivotal moments in our lives, whether those occur because of the loss of a loved one or the uncertainties of childhood. In this collection we witness a young girl struggling to protect her mother from her father’s violence, two teenagers clumsily getting to know one another by way of a shared love of music, and a man mourning the death of his younger brother, while beset by memories and regrets from their shared past. Throughout this powerful collection, Birch’s concern for the humanity of those who are often marginalised or overlooked shines bright.'

Source : publisher's blurb

2022 shortlisted Prime Minister's Literary Awards Fiction
2022 winner Queensland Literary Awards University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award
2022 longlisted Colin Roderick Award
2022 shortlisted Booksellers Choice Award Adult Fiction Book of the Year
2022 winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
y separately published work icon The White Girl St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2019 15595276 2019 single work novel

'Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves.

'In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.'  (Publication summary)

2021 longlisted International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
2020 shortlisted Barbara Jefferis Award
2020 longlisted Booksellers Choice Award Adult Fiction Book of the Year
2020 shortlisted Miles Franklin Literary Award
2020 winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Indigenous Writer's Prize
2020 shortlisted New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
2020 shortlisted Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Small Publishers' Adult Book of the Year
2020 longlisted APA Book Design Awards Best Designed Commercial Fiction Cover Cover designed by Josh Durham, Design by Committee
2020 longlisted Indie Awards Fiction
Last amended 14 Dec 2022 15:53:09
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: