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The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Subcategory of Victorian Premier's Literary Awards
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Winners

2018 winner y separately published work icon Australia Day Melanie Cheng , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2017 11202969 2017 selected work short story

'Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes abut are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.' (Introduction)

2017 winner y separately published work icon Between a Wolf and a Dog Georgia Blain , Brunswick : Scribe , 2016 8849783 2016 single work novel

'Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.

'Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the woes of the middle class. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Ester wants to be able to let herself fall in love again. Meanwhile, April and Lawrence are battling through their own messy lives, and Ester and April’s mother, Hilary, is facing the most significant decision she’ll ever have to make.

'Taking place over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a novel about dissatisfactions and anxieties in the face of relative privilege. Yet it is also a celebration of the best in all of us — our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art. Ultimately, it is a joyous recognition of the profound beauty of being alive.' (Publication summary)

2016 winner y separately published work icon The World Without Us Mireille Juchau , London : Bloomsbury , 2015 8766255 2015 single work novel

'It has been six months since Tess Müller stopped speaking. Her silence is baffling to her parents, her teachers and her younger sister Meg, but the more urgent mystery for both girls is where their mother, Evangeline, goes each day, pushing an empty pram and returning home wet, muddy and dishevelled.

'Their father, Stefan, struggling with his own losses, tends to his apiary and tries to understand why his bees are disappearing. But after he discovers a car wreck and human remains on their farm, old secrets emerge to threaten the fragile family.

'One day Tess's teacher Jim encounters Evangeline by the wild Repentance River. Jim is in flight from his own troubles in Sydney, and Evangeline, raised in a mountain commune and bearing the scars of the fire that destroyed it, is a puzzle he longs to solve.

'As the rainforest trees are felled and the lakes fill with run-off from the expanding mines, Tess watches the landscape of her family undergo shifts of its own. A storm is coming and the Müllers are in its path.

'Sometimes we must confront what has been lost so that we can know the solace of being found.

'The World Without Us is a beautifully told story of secrets and survival, family and community, loss and renewal.' (Publication summary)

2016 winner y separately published work icon To Name Those Lost Rohan Wilson , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2014 7588348 2014 single work novel historical fiction

'Summer 1874, and Launceston teeters on the brink of anarchy. After abandoning his wife and child many years ago, the Black War veteran Thomas Toosey must return to the city to search for William, his now motherless twelve-year-old son. He travels through the island's northern districts during a time of impossible hardship - hardship that has left its mark on him too. Arriving in Launceston, however, Toosey discovers a town in chaos. He is desperate to find his son amid the looting and destruction, but at every turn he is confronted by the Irish transportee Fitheal Flynn and his companion, the hooded man, to whom Toosey owes a debt that he must repay.

'To Name Those Lost is the story of a father's journey. Wilson has an eye for the dirt, the hardness, the sheer dog-eat-doggedness of the lives of the poor. Human nature is revealed in all its horror and beauty as Thomas Toosey struggles with the good and the vile in himself and learns what he holds important.' (Publication summary)

2012 winner y separately published work icon Foal's Bread Gillian Mears , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2011 Z1821887 2011 single work novel (taught in 4 units)

'The sound of horses' hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn't totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn't died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he's pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

'Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land.

'It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.' (From the publisher's website.)

2011 winner y separately published work icon That Deadman Dance Kim Scott , Sydney : Picador , 2010 Z1728528 2010 single work novel historical fiction (taught in 43 units)

Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

'The novel's hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

'But slowly - by design and by accident - things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia...' (From the publisher's website.)

2010 winner y separately published work icon Truth Peter Temple , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2009 Z1594714 2009 single work novel crime thriller (taught in 2 units)

'Stephen Villani is the acting head of the Victoria Police homicide squad. But his first months on the job have not gone well: two Aboriginal teenagers shot dead in a botched operation he authorised in the provincial city of Cromarty; and, no progress on the killing of a man in front of his daughter outside a private girls' school.

Now five men are found dead in horrifying circumstances on the outskirts of the city. Villani's superiors and the media are baying for arrests. To add to his woes, some of the country's richest people are alarmed by the baffling killing of a young woman in the high-security tower where they live.

Villani, a man who has built his life around his work, begins to find the certainties of both crumbling. As the pressure mounts, he finds that he must contemplate things formerly unthinkable. Truth is a novel about murder, corruption, family, friends, honour, honesty, deceit, love, betrayal and truth.' (from Quercus website)

2009 winner y separately published work icon The Slap Christos Tsiolkas , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2008 Z1739894 2008 single work novel (taught in 40 units)

'At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

'This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.

'In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

'What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and truth.' (Publisher's blurb)

2008 winner y separately published work icon The Spare Room Helen Garner , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2008 Z1457068 2008 single work novel (taught in 10 units) 'Helen lives in Melbourne, and her friend Nicola flies down from Sydney for a three-week visit. She will sleep in Helen's house, in her lovingly prepared spare room. This is no ordinary visit. Nicola has advanced cancer and is seeking alternative treatment from a clinic in Helen's city. From the moment Nicola steps off the plane, gaunt, staggering like a crone, her voice hoarse but still with something grand about her, Helen becomes her nurse, her protector, her guardian angel and her stony judge.' (Publisher's blurb)
2007 winner y separately published work icon Carpentaria Alexis Wright , Artarmon : Giramondo Publishing , 2006 Z1184902 2006 single work novel (taught in 47 units) Carpentaria's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, whose members are the leaders of the Pricklebush people, and their battles with old Joseph Midnight's tearaway Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other. Wright's storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, politics and farce. The novel is populated by extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, leader of the holy Aboriginal pilgrimage, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the ever-vigilant Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, Angel Day the queen of the rubbish-dump, and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stand like giants in this storm-swept world. (Backcover)
2006 winner y separately published work icon Theft : A Love Story Peter Carey , Milsons Point : Random House , 2006 Z1244799 2006 single work novel humour (taught in 5 units) Michael 'Butcher' Boone is an ex-'really famous' painter now reduced to living in the remote country house of his biggest collector and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh, a damaged man of imposing physicality and childlike emotions. Together they've forged a delicate equilibrium, a balance instantly disarrayed when a mysterious young woman named Marlene walks out of a rainstorm and into their lives. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, she's also the daughter-in-law of the late great painter Jacques Liebowitz, one of Butcher's earliest influences. She's sweet to Hugh and falls in love with Butcher, and they reciprocate in kind. And she sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making--or the ruin--of them all. (Source: Trove)
2005 winner y separately published work icon Surrender Sonya Hartnett , Camberwell : Viking , 2005 Z1173634 2005 single work novel young adult 'As life slips away, Gabriel looks back over his brief twenty years, which have been clouded by frustration and humiliation. A small, unforgiving town and distant, punitive parents ensure that he is never allowed to forget the horrific mistake he made as a child. He has only two friends - his dog, Surrender, and the unruly wild boy, Finnigan, a shadowy doppelganger with whom the meek Gabriel once made a boyhood pact. But when a series of arson attacks grips the town, Gabriel realizes how unpredictable and dangerous Finnigan is. As events begin to spiral violently out of control, it becomes devastatingly clear that only the most extreme measures will rid Gabriel of Finnigan for good'. Source: publisher's website.
2004 winner y separately published work icon Slow Water Annamarie Rustom Jagose , Milsons Point : Vintage , 2003 Z1040249 2003 single work novel historical fiction
2003 winner y separately published work icon Shanghai Dancing Brian Castro , Artarmon : Giramondo Publishing , 2003 Z1011730 2003 single work novel (taught in 5 units)

'After 40 years in Australia, António Castro packs a bag and walks out of his old life forever. The victim of a restlessness he calls "Shanghai Dancing," António seeks to understand the source of his condition in his family's wanderings. Reversing his parents' own migration, António heads back to their native Shanghai, where his world begins to fragment as his ancestry starts to flood into his present, and emissaries of glittering pre-war China, evangelical Liverpool and seventeenth-century Portugal merge into contemporary backdrops across Asia, Europe and Australia. A "fictional autobiography," Shanghai Dancing is a dazzling meditation on identity, language and disorientation that combines photographs and written images in the style of W.G. Sebald. ' (Publication summary)

2002 winner y separately published work icon Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish Richard Flanagan , Sydney : Pan Macmillan Australia , 2001 Z912793 2001 single work novel (taught in 4 units) 'Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all the living things on the land and the fishes in the sea were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman's Land who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer, forger, fantasist, condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened'. (Source: Trove)
2001 winner y separately published work icon True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2000 Z668312 2000 single work novel historical fiction (taught in 29 units)

'"I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false."

'In TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semi-literate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.' (From the publisher's website.)

2000 winner y separately published work icon Out of Ireland Christopher Koch , Sydney : Doubleday , 1999 Z513277 1999 single work novel

'A leader of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, Robert Devereaux is an Irish gentleman who is prepared to hazard a life of privilege in the fight for his country's freedom. transported to Van Diemen's land as a political prisoner, he enters a life that greatly changes him, falling in love with a young Irish convict woman. Through Kathleen O'Rahilly he comes to know the people he's long romanticised; but his cause, and the life he has lost, will not let him go.'

Source: Publisher's blurb (HarperCollins 2013 ed.)

1999 winner y separately published work icon Mr Darwin's Shooter Roger McDonald , Milsons Point : Knopf , 1998 Z494491 1998 single work novel historical fiction

'Last century Charles Darwin set out on a voyage in the Beagle that would change forever the way human history was viewed. It was on this voyage that Darwin collected the information that gave birth to his controversial Theory of Evolution.

'This is a novel of scientific discovery, of religious faith, of masters and servants, and of the endless wonder of the natural world. But its greatest triumph is Covington himself, the boy who looked up at the beckoning figure of a yellow-haired Christian in the stained glass window in his boyhood church of Bedford, and sought to follow.

'He leaves Bedford as a lad of 13 and goes to sea with the evangelical sailor John Phipps and becomes one of Phipps' 'lads'. But Phipps' catechising can't repress Covington's passage into manhood, nor prevent him chasing the exotic native maidens of Tierra del Fuego. When next he returns to sea it is to serve on the Beagle.

'Mr Darwin's Shooter re-creates the voyage of the Beagle, where Covington spends time exploring – and collecting specimens – inland. And we travel on to the Galapagos Islands, with their huge turtles and armadillos and remarkable finches. Years later, in Sydney's Watson's Bay in beset middle age, Covington awaits the arrival of the first copy of Darwin's The Origin of Species, which contains the scandalous theory of evolution. What part of his life might be in it? What truths may it contain? How can one man absorb the meaning of Creation?' (Publication summary)

1998 winner y separately published work icon The Sound of One Hand Clapping Richard Flanagan , Sydney : Pan Macmillan Australia , 1997 Z366585 1997 single work novel (taught in 4 units) 'In the winter of 1954, in a construction camp in the remote Tasmanian wilderness, when Sonja Buloh was three years old and her father was drinking too much, Sonja's mother walked into a blizzard never to return. Some thirty-five years later, when Sonja visits Tasmania and her drunkard father, the shadows of the past begin to intrude into the present - changing forever his living death and her ordered life.' (Source: Libraries Australia).
1997 winner y separately published work icon The Drowner Robert Drewe , Sydney : Macmillan , 1996 Z287656 1996 single work novel historical fiction

'In the warm alkaline waters of the public bath, a naive and headstrong young engineer accidentally collides with a breathtaking actress. From this innocent collision of flesh begins a passion that will take them from the Wiltshire Downs to the mythical source of life in Africa - and to the most elemental choices of life and death in the Australian desert.

'While the intense love story of William Dance and Angelica Lloyd is at the heart of The Drowner, it is but a part of the daring story that unfolds. By irresistibly mingling history, myth and technology with a modern cinematic and poetic imagination, Robert Drewe has reached beyond the traditions of the romance and annexed new territory.

'Such is the grand scale and original texture of The Drowner that it is at once a fable of European ambitions in an alien landscape, a magnificently sustained metaphor of water as the life and death force and, above all, an intimate and ambitious portrayal - of great resonance and haunting sensuality - of the essence of the differences between men and women.

'Lyrical and astringent, vibrant and tender, The Drowner has all the mysterious powers of a dream. Robert Drewe's seventh work of fiction shows an author at the peak of his powers demonstrating the full vigour of his artistic vision.' (Publication summary)

1996 winner y separately published work icon Camille's Bread Amanda Lohrey , Pymble : Angus and Robertson , 1995 Z566183 1995 single work novel (taught in 2 units)

'After too many nights of takeaway pizzas, Marita wants just one year off to look after her daughter, Camille. Then she meets Stephen, a public servant in the complex process of reinventing himself, training as a shiatsu masseur. As their relationship grows, so does the drama of parenting Camille, in this elegantly crafted, warmly appealing novel of contemporary Australian life.'

Source: Publisher's blurb (HarperCollins).

1995 winner y separately published work icon Dark Places Kate Grenville , Sydney : Macmillan , 1994 Z454528 1994 single work novel

'This is Albion Gidley Singer at the pen, a man with a weakness for a good fact. The first fact is always the hardest: you have to begin somewhere, and such is the nature of this intractable universe that the only thing you can start with is yourself.

'Dark Places, a companion novel to Lilian’s Story, is the tale of a man with a comically grand exterior who believes he has the right, and the duty, to conquer the mocking flesh of any woman. Even his own daughter.' (Publication summary)

1994 winner y separately published work icon What I Have Written John Scott , Ringwood : McPhee Gribble , 1993 Z435481 1993 single work novel
— Appears in: Approaching Coherence : Reflections on a Writing Practice 1997;
1993 winner y separately published work icon After China Brian Castro , North Sydney : Allen and Unwin , 1992 Z508518 1992 single work novel (taught in 3 units)

'An architect exiled from China meets an Australian woman writer who is terminally ill. He tells her traditional Chinese stories as a way of overcoming time/mortality, and of coming to terms with his own difficult past.

'For a book which takes loneliness and death for its themes, After China has unexpected reserves of warmth, affection and humour. Insisting on the erotic, it is surprisingly delicate, restrained and chaste. And for a work of such diverse and eclectic reference it is rewardingly resonant and interconnected. The whole novel is thus a brilliant feat of balance.' (Publication summary)

1992 winner y separately published work icon Double-Wolf Brian Castro , North Sydney : Allen and Unwin , 1991 Z307511 1991 single work novel

'Double-Wolf, Brian Castro's third novel, is a brilliant fictional creation which succeeds also in being humane, utterly readable and sometimes very funny.

'It takes as its starting point the life of Wolf-Man, Freud's most famous patient who inspired his work on infant sexuality, a life revealed in counterpoint to that of Artie Catacomb, con-man, psychoanalyst and archivist, who ends his days in the Blue Mountains, relegating the Wolf-Man to the world of myth even as he avoids the baleful glare of the shop assistant who would prevent him from entirely reconstructing the Wolf-Man's story.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

1991 winner y separately published work icon Still Murder Finola Moorhead , Ringwood : Penguin , 1990 Z232752 1990 single work novel crime

'...In love and in war there is killing, but is it still murder? Beginning with the discovery of an unidentified corpse, buried under a conspicuous plantation of marijuana seedlings in Wiley Park, Still Murder twists and turns giving voice to different perpetrators and victims of violence, from war to domestic violence. Senior Detective Margot Gorman has been assigned to watch over a raving woman in an asylum. What could a madwoman know? And Peter, the sportsman, can he become a warrior in Vietnam? With a deft hand, the author challenges the traditional stereotypes of a crime novel with questions of politics, patriarchy, sanity and murder...' (Source: Publisher's website)

1990 winner y separately published work icon Oceana Fine Tom Flood , North Sydney : Allen and Unwin , 1989 Z120844 1989 single work novel

'Beneath a vast constructed/deconstructed landscape (both human and geographic) lies a labyrinth of disused mineshafts. It is a landscape in which vast saline lakes suddenly appear overnight, in which wheat babies disappear into wheat fields, in which lizards are mistaken for rocks, in which a huge grain silo becomes a cathedral and a gold front-end loader the angel of the apocalypse. It is a place where history repeats/mirrors itself and is populated by doppelganagers and we find ourselves following the after-image of the phosphene as though it was a manuscript hoping for illumination.

'The book deals with multiplicity of perception - through history/memory, national mythologies, families and writing (blood and ink), puzzles and their reasons - which might be said to be their execution.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

1989 winner y separately published work icon Captivity Captive Rodney Hall , New York (City) : Farrar Straus and Giroux , 1988 Z346024 1988 single work novel historical fiction
1988 winner y separately published work icon Holden's Performance Murray Bail , Ringwood : Viking , 1987 Z803463 1987 single work novel satire

'Holden's Performance is the story of Holden Shadbolt, a guileless and matter-of-fact innocent as he passes through the cities and landscape of Australia. His reassuring silent presence and photographic memory make him useful to men of power and women who appear to need his protection. He is surrounded by larger than life figures whose exploits and adventures Holden follows—ex-Corporal Frank 'Bloodnut' McBee, the scrap dealer who woos his mother; his uncle Vern, a shortsighted proofreader who likes facts and eating newspaper with is breakfast cereal; and the crippled artist Harriet, whose twists and curves appeal to Holden as he holds to his own unswervingly straight lines.' (Publication summary)

1987 winner y separately published work icon Second Sight Janine Burke , Richmond : Greenhouse Publications , 1986 Z402471 1986 single work novel
1986 winner y separately published work icon Illywhacker Peter Carey , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 1985 Z359598 1985 single work novel (taught in 2 units) In Australian slang, an illywhacker is a country fair con man, an unprincipled seller of fake diamonds and dubious tonics. And Herbert Badgery, may be the king of them all. Vagabond and charlatan, aviator and car salesman, seducer and patriarch, Badgery is a walking embodiment of the Australian national character. (Source: Trove)
1985 winner y separately published work icon Antipodes : Stories David Malouf , London : Chatto and Windus , 1985 Z428468 1985 selected work short story (taught in 1 units)

'Antipodes - stories which pinpoint the contrast between the old world and the new, between youth and age, love and hatred and even life and death itself...'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

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