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Australian Biography of the Year
Subcategory of Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA)
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Winners

2020 winner y separately published work icon When All Is Said and Done Neale Daniher , Warwick Green , Melbourne : Pan Macmillan Australia , 2019 18075246 2019 single work autobiography

'A wise man said, 'Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.'I understand the wisdom of this - right now, I don't have much 'forwards' left.

'Neale Daniher sat down to pen a letter to the grandchildren he'll never get to know. And then he kept on writing ...

'In 2013, the AFL legend was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease - a cruel and incurable condition. He had a choice. He could spend his remaining time focused on himself, or he could seize the opportunity to make a better future for others.

'Neale is no stranger to challenge. He grew up on a farm in remote New South Wales, the third of eleven children. He battled injury during his football career with Essendon, then jumped on the coaching rollercoaster, leading Melbourne for a decade. As general manager of football operations, he was part of the West Coast Eagles' cultural rebuild.

'From the hard-won wisdom of life on the land and the love of his family, to the triumphs and gutting lows of elite football, Neale has learnt to make the most of the cards he's been dealt - to always live with purpose and to appreciate what he has.

'True to form, Neale chose to stare down the disease he calls 'The Beast', and in 2014 he co-founded FightMND, an organisation that has since invested over $40 million into research and care initiatives. In 2015, he became the public face of the foundation's biggest fundraising event, The Big Freeze.

'When All is Said & Done is a book of stories and wisdom from a man who has always held his beliefs to the Bunsen burner of life. Neale is unflinchingly honest, sharing a timely reminder that, even though life doesn't promise to be fair, we all have the power to choose how to make our time on this earth matter.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

2019 winner y separately published work icon Eggshell Skull Bri Lee , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2018 13717214 2018 single work autobiography

'EGGSHELL SKULL: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must 'take their victim as they find them'. If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim's weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime.

'But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his 'victim' as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?

'Bri Lee began her first day of work at the Queensland District Court as a bright-eyed judge's associate. Two years later she was back as the complainant in her own case.

'This is the story of Bri's journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge's associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland -- where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she'd vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.

'Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past as well as with the stories around her, to speak the truth with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.' (Source: Publisher's blurb)

2018 winner y separately published work icon Working Class Man Jimmy Barnes , Sydney : Random House Australia , 2017 12096667 2017 single work autobiography

'It's a life too big and a story too extraordinary for just one book. Jimmy Barnes has lived many lives - from Glaswegian migrant kid to iconic front man, from solo superstar to proud father of his own musical clan. In this hugely anticipated sequel to his critically acclaimed bestseller, Working Class Boy, Jimmy picks up the story of his life as he leaves Adelaide in the back of an old truck with a then unknown band called Cold Chisel. A spellbinding and searingly honest reflection on success, fame and addiction; this self-penned memoir reveals how Jimmy Barnes used the fuel of childhood trauma to ignite and propel Australia's greatest rock'n'roll story. But beyond the combustible merry-go-round of fame, drugs and rehab, across the Cold Chisel, solo and soul years - this is a story about how it's never too late to try and put things right.' (Publication summary)

2017 winner y separately published work icon Working Class Boy Jimmy Barnes , Pymble : HarperCollins Australia , 2016 9359803 2016 single work autobiography

'The time I have spent writing this book has caused me a lot of pain. Sometimes because of what I have remembered about my childhood and sometimes because of what I couldn't remember. It is funny how your mind blocks things out when those things can hurt you. There are a lot of things I wish I didn't remember... A household name, an Australian rock icon, the elder statesman of OzPubRock - there isn't an accolade or cliche that doesn't apply to Jimmy Barnes. But long before Cold Chisel and Barnesy, long before the tall tales of success and excess, there was the true story of James Dixon Swan - a working class boy whose family made the journey from Scotland to Australia in search of a better life. Working Class Boy is a powerful reflection on a traumatic and violent childhood, which fuelled the excess and recklessness that would define, but almost destroy, the rock'n'roll legend. This is the story of how James Swan became Jimmy Barnes. It is a memoir burning with the frustration and frenetic energy of teenage sex, drugs, violence and ambition for more than what you have. Raw, gritty, compassionate, surprising and darkly funny - Jimmy Barnes's childhood memoir is at once the story of migrant dreams fulfilled and dashed. Arriving in Australia in the Summer of 1962, things went from bad to worse for the Swan family - Dot, Jim and their six kids. The scramble to manage in the tough northern suburbs of Adelaide in the 60s would take its toll on the Swans as dwindling money, too much alcohol, and fraying tempers gave way to violence and despair. This is the story a family's collapse, but also a young boy's dream to escape the misery of the suburbs with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join a rock'n'roll band and get out of town for good.' (Publication summary)

2016 winner y separately published work icon Reckoning : A Memoir Magda Szubanski , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2015 8858243 2015 single work autobiography

'Heartbreaking, joyous, traumatic, intimate and revelatory, Reckoning is the book where Magda Szubanski, one of Australia's most beloved performers, tells her story.

'In this extraordinary memoir, Magda describes her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood, haunted by the demons of her father's espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her secret awareness of her sexuality, to the complex dramas of adulthood and her need to find out the truth about herself and her family. With courage and compassion she addresses her own frailties and fears, and asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on.

'Honest, poignant, utterly captivating, Reckoning announces the arrival of a fearless writer and natural storyteller. It will touch the lives of its readers.' (Publication summary)

2015 winner y separately published work icon A Bone of Fact David Walsh , Sydney : Pan Macmillan Australia , 2014 7675406 2014 single work autobiography

'David Walsh - the creator of The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart - is both a giant and an enigma in the Australian art world. A millionaire who made his wealth gambling, he has turned a wild vision into a unique and bizarre reality, he is in turns controversial, mysterious and idolised. A Bone of Fact is his utterly unconventional, incredibly absorbing and brilliantly surprising memoir, about which he says:

'Stanislaw Lem, noted Polish science fiction author and notorious smartarse, once told an American colleague that his new collection of short stories would be published in a paper bag. This conjured a mental picture of the stories being selected by lucky dip. The idea that my life story could be told that way, without a disabling manifesto, is appealing.

'Unfortunately Mr Lem had actually said 'paperback' (his meaning concealed underneath his thick accent), a wholly ordinary practice to deliver extraordinary stories. My story lacks Mr Lem's magical reality and philosophy, and it also lacks a paper bag.~

'One friend who perused an early manuscript of A Bone of Fact suggested I consign it to a garbage can, and I like the idea. The idea of a vignette popping out every time you depress the foot-pedal is a good one. So if you are reading this after it having popped out of the trash I'm probably paying royalties.'

(Publication abstract)

2014 winner y separately published work icon The Crossroad Mark Donaldson , Sydney : Pan Macmillan Australia , 2013 6570192 2013 single work autobiography

'On 2 September 2008, in a valley in eastern Afghanistan, Trooper Mark Donaldson made a split-second decision that would change his life. His display of extraordinary courage that day saw him awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, making him the first Australian to receive our highest award for bravery in wartime since Keith Payne in 1969.

'Yet Mark's journey to those crucial moments in Afghanistan was almost as exceptional as the acts that led to his VC.

'He was a rebellious child and teenager, even before the death of his father - a Vietnam veteran - when Mark and his brother were in their mid-teens. A few years later, their mother disappeared, presumed murdered. Her body has never been found.

'Mark's decisions could have easily led him down another path, to a life of self-destructiveness and petty crime. But he chose a different road: the army. It proved to be his salvation and he found himself a natural soldier, progressing unerringly to the SAS, the peak of the Australian military.

'From his turbulent early years to the stark realities of combat in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan, Mark's book is the frank and compelling story of a man who turned his life around by sheer determination and strength of mind.' (Publisher's blurb)

2011 joint winner y separately published work icon The Happiest Refugee : The Extraordinary True Story of a Boy's Journey from Starvation at Sea to Becoming One of Australia's Best-Loved Comedians Anh Do , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2010 Z1720525 2010 single work autobiography

'Anh Do nearly didn't make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing - not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days - could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about.

'Life in Australia was hard, an endless succession of back-breaking work, crowded rooms, ruthless landlords and make-do everything. But there was a loving extended family, and always friends and play and something to laugh about for Anh, his brother Khoa and their sister Tram. Things got harder when their father left home when Anh was thirteen - they felt his loss very deeply and their mother struggled to support the family on her own. His mother's sacrifice was an inspiration to Anh and he worked hard during his teenage years to help her make ends meet, also managing to graduate high school and then university.

'Another inspiration was the comedian Anh met when he was about to sign on for a 60-hour a week corporate job. Anh asked how many hours he worked. "Four," the answer came back, and that was it. He was going to be a comedian! The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of our favourite personalities. Tragedy, humour, heartache and unswerving determination - a big life with big dreams. Anh's story will move and amuse all who read it.' (From the publisher's website.)

Joint winner with Paul Kelly's 'How to Make Gravy'.
2011 joint winner y separately published work icon How to Make Gravy Paul Kelly , Camberwell : Penguin , 2010 Z1726360 2010 single work autobiography 'This extraordinary book has its genesis in a series of concerts first staged in 2004. Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, one hundred of his songs from the previous three decades. In between songs he told stories about them, and from those little tales grew How to Make Gravy, a memoir like no other. Each of its hundred chapters, also in alphabetical order by song title, consists of lyrics followed by a story, the nature of the latter taking its cue from the former. Some pieces are confessional, some tell Kelly's personal and family history, some take you on a road tour with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, some are like small essays, some stand as a kind of how-to of the songwriter's art – from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking.' Source: www.penguin.com.au/ (Sighted 20/09/2010). Joint winner with Anh Do's 'The Happiest Refugee'.
2010 winner y separately published work icon Bart: My Life Bart Cummings , Sydney : Pan Macmillan , 2009 Z1639836 2009 single work autobiography
2009 winner y separately published work icon The Lucy Family Alphabet Judith Lucy , Camberwell : Viking , 2008 Z1495862 2008 single work autobiography

'Judith Lucy has been cracking jokes about her parents for years. But when a birth relative's casual comment implied that she despised them, Judith was shocked. Sure, she had been talking about Ann and Tony Lucy like they were one-dimensional Irish nutbags who'd ruined her life for years, but there was always more to them and her own feelings than that.

'So Judith decided it was time to write the full story of her parents and her childhood. And here it is, a reference book on all things Lucy from:

'A is for Adoption (she is) to C is for Cleaning (they didn't) and for Counselling (you'll find out why she had a lot of it) to D is for Diets (she was put on one at eight) to H is for Heart Attack (her father's) to M is for Make Up (her father's) to N is for Nuts (there was a falling out over testicles) to R is for Review (to do with Nuts) to T is for Tanscendental Meditation (it didn't work) to X is for Xmas (when a lot of this started) and beyond...

'In amongst the gags Judith explores the people her parents were and the impact of finding out - at twenty-five - that she was adopted. We meet Judith's birth mother by learn that ultimately it was her very unusual parents who made her who she is today.' (Publisher's blurb)

2008 winner y separately published work icon Arthur Boyd : A Life Darleen Bungey , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2007 Z1442726 2007 single work biography

'Arthur Boyd's legacy is a collection of masterpieces that define the history of Australian art in the last century. But the man himself-enigmatic, inarticulate, modest-has remained in the shadows until now.

'Based on over six years of meticulous research and hundreds of interviews, Darleen Bungey sweeps us into the intimate circle of one of Australia's most fascinating families. Arthur Boyd emerges as a passionate, dramatic figure whose self-effacing demeanour cloacked a strong personality that refused to allow his turbulent and sometimes tragic personal life to interfere with his creative genius.

'From Victoria's bohemian enclaves to the heady swirl of Melbourne and London in the years of artistic and social revolution, to the rural removes of Suffolk and the Shoalhaven, this is a journey into the mind and heart of a complex man whose absolute commitment to his art thrust aside personal adversity in the relentless pursuit of his work.

'There are art books and there are biographies. Arthur Boyd: A life is rare - a revelation of an artist's life as compelling as the writing about his art.' (Publication summary)

2007 winner y separately published work icon Jonestown : The Power and the Myth of Alan Jones Chris Masters , 2006 Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2006 Z1281656 2006 single work biography

'How do we rank a man who raises millions for people in need but whose actions waste millions in support of unworthy mates and poor public policy? How do we define someone who on his own finds jobs for the out of work but who routinely trashes the careers of others?

'These are some of the many paradoxes of Alan Jones. Why is he adored? Why is he reviled? Why does this talk radio host have the power to dine with presidents, lecture prime ministers and premiers, and influence government ministers? And how is it that he could not only survive such a scandal as the 'cash for comment' affair, but go on to greater reward? Chris Masters seeks the answers to these questions and in doing so reveals a complex individual and the potent relationship he has with both Struggle Street and the big end of town.

'Compelling and probing, Jonestown takes us to the hazardous intersection of populism and politics. It reaches deep into a powerful industry and exposes the myth and the magic of a very powerful man. a very powerful man.' (Publication summary)

2006 winner y separately published work icon Margaret Olley : Far from a Still Life Meg Stewart , Milsons Point : Random House Australia , 2005 Z1220833 2005 single work biography

'Margaret Olley's life began in the tropics of north Queensland on a cane and dairy farm. But her family was soon on the move, first to the Tweed in New South Wales, then to Brisbane. During her last years at school, Margaret's artistic talent became apparent and she was encouraged to apply to study art formally.

So, in Sydney in the early 1940s, her life-long love affair with painting began. Here, too, she met artists such as Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, David Strachan and William Dobell, with whom she would form enduring friendships. In 1948 William Dobell asked if she would sit for him and the resulting portrait won the Archibald Prize, just as she was setting off overseas. Bohemian adventures in Europe followed.

Margaret travelled - sketch book in hand - in England, France, Italy and Spain, and lived on a vineyard in Cassis in the south of France. But in 1953 she returned to Australia struggling with her drinking and was forced to choose to dry out or dry up creatively. Once she'd made her decision, her return to life and painting was joyous.

Nowadays, despite a recent bout of profound depression, when not only did she want to give up painting but also living, she still produces magnificent art, donates to our galleries and entertains in her notoriously cluttered Paddington terrace in Sydney.

This is a rich and comprehensive look at eighty-odd years of Margaret Olley - at her lovers and friends, and, of course, her painting. It is glorious proof that indeed her life has been far from still. (Publisher's blurb)

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