ALS Gold Medal Report, July 2010 (for books published during 2009)

Responsibility for this year’s ALS Gold Medal was with Queensland. The Qld Representative, Roger Osborne (UQ), invited Bronwen Levy (UQ) and Maggie Nolan (ACU) to join the judging panel. Nominations came from mainstream publishers, independent publishers and university presses. Mixed with short story and poetry collections from first-time authors were a number of first novels and a significant collection of works from established authors, making the judges’ job particularly challenging. Fictional settings were spread across time periods and geographical locations, indicating the broad interests of Australian writers at national and international levels.The judges agreed on the following short-list:

  • Emily Ballou, The Darwin Poems, UWA Press
  • Steven Carroll, The Lost Life, Fourth Estate
  • Eva Hornung, Dog Boy, Text
  • Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath, Scribe
  • David Malouf, Ransom, Knopf

Subsequent discussion and debate on the merits of each book in the short list led the judges to award the ALS Gold Medal for 2009 to David Malouf’s Ransom.

ALS Gold Medal

David Malouf, Ransom
Twenty-six years ago, David Malouf was awarded the ALS Gold Medal for his poetry collection Neighbours in a Thicket, providing a poignant link to this year’s award. The eighth poem from that collection, ‘Episode from an Early War’, was Malouf’s attempt to integrate his childhood memories of war-time Brisbane with the themes and imagery of Homer’s The Iliad. In Ransom, Malouf’s restrained and poetic retelling of the final book of The Iliad draws the reader into Priam’s decision to extricate himself from his god-given royalty to offer humanity along with treasure as a ransom for his son’s body. Beautifully written, Ransom is a moving story of grief, revenge, honour, mortality and immortality, as well as the power of storytelling; themes fit for Homer’s world – and our own. This simple yet extraordinarily powerful story demonstrates that the vision of Australian writers can fruitfully extend beyond national and temporal boundaries to make a substantial contribution to the writing and reading of great works of literature.

Highly Commended

Eva Hornung, Dog Boy
The judging panel agreed that Eva Hornung’s heart-breaking exploration of humanity through a vivid account of a boy’s life with dogs in the cold streets of an unsympathetic city deserves special mention. Hornung’s narrative skill evokes the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the family lair and makes an unusual setting vivid and convincing. The path to the boy’s choice between humanity and his canine family is utterly compelling, leading to one of the most memorable endings of Australian fiction in 2009.

Commended

Emily Ballou, The Darwin Poems
With consistent grace and timing in the arrangement of poems, Emily Ballou’s The Darwin Poems builds an intriguing and emotionally charged portrait of the nineteenth century naturalist Charles Darwin.

Steven Carroll, The Lost Life
Steven Carroll’s The Lost Life generates a striking, evocative mood that completely envelops this reconstruction of one event in T. S. Eliot’s turbulent personal life in the 1930s.

Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath
Cate Kennedy’s superb tale of family dysfunction caused by parental nostalgia for an earlier period of exciting political action leads the reader through carefully paced episodes that draw laughs, complaints and tears as a father, mother and daughter seek their own place in a confusing, modern world.