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Magarey Medal for Biography (2004-)
Subcategory of ASAL Awards Subcategory of The Australian Historical Association Awards
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Donated by Professor Emerita Susan Magarey, the Magarey Medal for Biography is awarded to the female person who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject. The awarding of the prize is administered and judged by a panel established by the Australian Historical Association and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. Established in 2004, the medal is awarded every two years.

Source: Sighted: 26/11/2013.


  • The Magarey Medal for Biography is the gift of Professor Susan Magarey, founding editor of Australian Feminist Studies. The award was inaugurated in 2005. It will be presented again in 2006 and from then onwards 'will be a biennial prize of at least $10,000 in the first year and thereafter indexed to inflation; a medal named after the prize will be awarded to the female person who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject. The awarding of the prize and medal will be administered and judged by a panel set up by the Australian Historical Association and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.'

    Source: Association for the Study of Australian Literature website,
    Sighted: 11/07/2005

Latest Winners / Recipients

Year: 2024

winner y separately published work icon My Tongue Is My Own : A Life of Gwen Harwood Ann-Marie Priest , Carlton : Black Inc. , 2022 23813031 2022 single work biography

'A masterful portrait of a major Australian writer, her incandescent poetry and her battles to be heard in a male-dominated literary establishment.

'The first biography of Gwen Harwood (1920-1995), one of Australia's most significant and distinctive poets.

'Harwood is renowned for her brilliance, but loved for her humour, rebellion and mischief. A public figure by the end of her life, she was always deeply protective of her privacy, and even now, some twenty-six years after her death, little is known of the experiences that gave rise to her extraordinary poems. This book follows Harwood from her childhood in 1920s Brisbane to her final years in Hobart in the 1990s. It traces how a lively, sardonic and determined young woman built a career in the conservative 1950s, blasting her way into the patriarchal strongholds of Australian poetry.

'Harwood refused to be bound by convention, 'liberating' herself, to use her word, before women's lib existed. Yet she also struggled for much of her life to combine marriage and motherhood with her creative ambitions. In this sense, she is a twentieth-century everywoman. She is also a unique and powerful presence in Australian literary history, a poet who challenged orthodoxies and spoke in a remarkable range of voices.

'This illuminating, moving biography reveals a deeply passionate figure both at odds with her time and deeply of it, and reclaims and celebrates this important Australian writer.' (Publication summary)

Year: 2022

winner y separately published work icon Leaping into Waterfalls : The Enigmatic Gillian Mears Bernadette Brennan , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2021 22584811 2021 single work biography

'Leaping into Waterfalls explores the rich, tumultuous life of Gillian Mears, one of Australia's most significant writers of the last forty years.

'Gillian Mears appeared to many to be a shy woman from Grafton, but her lived and imaginative lives were rich with adventure, risk and often transgressive passion. In her award-winning and acclaimed novels and short stories, Mears wrote fearlessly of the dark undercurrents of country and family life, always probing the depths and complexity of human desire.

'Mears' sensuality and sexuality were the driving forces of her life and writing. As an adult, she was plagued by ill health yet remained steadfast in her quest to be independent and free; while recovering from open-heart surgery, she traversed the country alone in a de-commissioned ambulance. By her midforties, multiple sclerosis had confined her to a wheelchair. Undaunted, she continued to write and publish until her death five years later in 2016.

'Mears amassed an extensive collection of diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, recordings and ephemera, and deposited it with the Mitchell Library. She was a prolific correspondent with significant figures of the cultural landscape-Gerald Murnane, David Malouf, Tim Winton, Elizabeth Jolley, Helen Garner, Drusilla Modjeska, Kate Grenville and Marr Grounds. This meticulous and moving biography reads Mears' life and work within that broader cultural community to celebrate her truly extraordinary achievements and adventures.' (Publication summary)

Year: 2020

winner y separately published work icon Olive Cotton : A Life in Photography Helen Ennis , Pymble : Fourth Estate , 2019 16573779 2019 single work biography

'A landmark biography of a singular and important Australian photographer, Olive Cotton, by an award-winning writer - beautifully written and deeply moving.

'Olive Cotton was one of Australia's pioneering modernist photographers, a woman whose talent was recognised as equal to her first husband's, Max Dupain, and a significant artist in her own right. Together, Olive and Max could have been Australia's answer to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Ray and Charles Eames. The photographic work they produced during the 1930s and '40s was extraordinary and distinctively their own.

'But in the early 1940s Cotton quit their marriage and Sydney studio to live with second husband Ross McInerney and raise their two children in a tent on a farm near Cowra - later moving to a hut that had no running water, electricity or telephone. Despite these barriers, and not having access to a darkroom, Olive continued her photography but away from the public eye. Then a landmark exhibition in Sydney in 1985 shot her back to fame, followed by a major retrospective at the AGNSW in 2000. Australian photography would never be same.

'This is a moving and powerful story about talent, creativity and women, and about what it means for an artist to manage the competing demands of art, work, marriage, children and family.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2018

winner y separately published work icon Tracker Tracker : Stories of Tracker Tilmouth Alexis Wright , Artarmon : Giramondo Publishing , 2017 11570382 2017 single work biography

'The legendary Indigenous activist ‘Tracker’ Tilmouth died in Darwin in 2015. Taken from his family as a child and brought up on a mission on Croker Island, he returned home to transform the world of Aboriginal politics. He worked tirelessly for Aboriginal self-determination, creating opportunities for land use and economic development in his many roles, including Director of the Central Land Council. He was a visionary and a projector of ideas, renowned for his irreverent humour and his colourful anecdotes. The memoir was composed by Wright from interviews with Tracker before he died, as well as with his family, friends and colleagues, weaving his and their stories together into a book that is as much a tribute to the role played by storytelling in contemporary Aboriginal life as it is to the legacy of a remarkable man.'  (Publication summary)

Year: 2016

winner y separately published work icon Warrior : A Legendary Leader's Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier Warrior Libby Connors , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2015 8532889 2015 single work biography

'In the 1840s, white settlement in the north was under attack. European settlers were in awe of Aboriginal physical fitness and fighting prowess, and a series of deadly raids on homesteads made even the townspeople of Brisbane anxious.'

'Young warrior Dundalli was renowned for his size and strength, and his elders gave him the task of leading the resistance against the Europeans' ever increasing incursions on their traditional lands. Their response was embedded in Aboriginal law and Dundalli became one of their greatest lawmen. With his band of warriors, he had the settlers in thrall for twelve years, evading capture again and again, until he was finally arrested and publicly executed.'

'Warrior is the extraordinary story of one of Australia's little-known heroes, one of many Aboriginal men to die protecting their country. It is also a fresh and compelling portrait of life in the early days of white settlement of Brisbane and south east Queensland.' (Source Publisher's website)

Works About this Award

Fiona Paisley's Compelling Book, The Lone Protestor on Little Known Rights Campaigner Anthony Fernando Wins Magarey Medal 2014 single work column
— Appears in: National Indigenous Times , 16 July 2014; (p. 14)
'The Lone Protestor, written by historian Dr Fiona Paisley and pyblished by Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP), has been announced as winner of the 2014 Magarey Medal for Biography.'