Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 3, 2012

2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist

2012 Miles Franklin shortlist

Here’s the 2012 Shortlist for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, announced today.  Congratulations to all the authors, editors and publishers!

Blood by Tony Birch (University of Queensland Press).  I still haven’t got a copy of this *sigh* but you can read more about the author in Meet an Aussie Author.

All That I Am by Anna Funder (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Group Australia). See my review here and a Sensational Snippet here.

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin). See my review here.

Cold Light  by Frank Moorhouse (Vintage/Random House Australia) (I’m currently reading this one.)

Past the Shallows  by Favel Parrett, see my review, and read more about her in Meet an Aussie Author .

The following is taken from the Press Release:

“Announced at the State Library of New South Wales, the 2012 shortlist features five works of fiction and includes a mixture of well-established Australian authors and first time novelists.

“Established by writer, Miles Franklin, to support and encourage authors of Australian literature, the Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious literary prize. The winner of the award will receive $50,000 for the novel of the year judged to be of the highest literary merit which “must present Australian life in any of its phases”.

“For the first time this year the five person judging panel were formally authorised by the Trustee to use their discretion to modernise the interpretation of Australian life beyond geographical boundaries to include mindset, language, history and values.

“Judging the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award is Richard Neville, State Library of New South Wales Mitchell Librarian, Professor Gillian Whitlock, Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow at the University of Queensland, Murray Waldren, journalist and columnist at The Australian newspaper, Anna Low, a Sydney based bookseller and Dr Julianne Schultz AM, founding editor of Griffith REVIEW.

“Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, Gillian Whitlock said: “This year we had a big longlist that made the judging panel reflect on the power of historical fiction, extending from the colonial period through to memories of the world wars and their aftermath. We see this reflected in the shortlisted fictions by Anna Funder and Frank Moorhouse.

” “We also see more contemporary lives explored with a turn to trauma narratives and childhood, in the shortlisted novels by Tony Birch, Favel Parrett and Gillian Mears.

” “The breadth of the shortlist includes well-known and loved Australian authors and includes the end of one of the great historical trilogies in Cold Light, as well as featuring two wonderful first time novelists.

” “The Miles Franklin prize is now more than ever a national celebration of Australian writing.”

“John Atkin, CEO of The Trust Company, commended the five shortlisted authors on their challenging and evocative novels, “The Trust Company is extremely proud to be associated with the Miles Franklin Award and as Trustee we are constantly working to maintain and develop the legacy Miles Franklin entrusted us with for the advancement of Australian literature.

” “As part of that role we have been looking at the ambiguity around “Australian life in any of its phases”. It has been much cause for debate and there has been a traditionally conservative interpretation of the quote. I wrote to the judges authorising them to use their discretions to modernise the interpretation of “Australianess” beyond geographical boundaries to include mindset, language, history and values, as is in keeping with the current Australian literary landscape.”

“Each of the shortlisted authors will be awarded $5,000 prize money from Copyright Agency Limited’s Cultural Fund, a long term partner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

“The shortlist events at National Library of Australia, Canberra on 29 May, also sponsored by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund include a public meet the author event.

“The winner will be announced in Brisbane on 20 June 2012 at the State Library of Queensland”.

Many thanks to Rachel Caton of Honner Media for this information.

The irony of the announcement’s venue being Queensland, so recently the subject of a furore over the new Premier’s decision to axe the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, is not lost of any of us in the literary community.

PS I confess to some disappointment about some omissions.  I know a shortlist has to be short, and there are always some worthy books that just don’t make it, but still … I think it’s a shame they left out

And I’m still bemused by the omission of The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson from the longlist!


  1. Did they mention the thing about changing the guidelines in the initial longlist announcement? I don’t remember it.


    • I didn’t see it.
      I don’t approve of other people interfering with the terms of bequests like this. It puts people off making bequests like this if they can’t have confidence that their wishes will be fulfilled.
      Miles Franklin’s was a perfectly workable definition, and anyone who’s actually bothered to read Jill Roe’s biography knows full well what it was intended to mean.


  2. Thanks Lisa … I guess I don’t feel so strongly as you about this whole bequest thing. Times do change and I think it is fair enough to reinterpret in the light of that as long as the essence is retained. I’d like to see a little more of their analysis of what they actually mean by their change but presumable people will write more on’t. Do you think the change will actually change the sense of what Miles Franklin was about?


    • Maybe it’s having been an executor myself and knowing how strongly people feel about their Wills makes me twitchier than most.

      But you can see how this change has already had an impact. Neither All That I Am nor The Street Sweeper (much as I loved it) would be eligible if they had stuck to the terms of MF’s Will. One is a story about Jewish-German refugees in England and America and the other is about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights issues in the US. Mind you, before they made the change, they included Parrot and Olivier in America and that had nothing to do with Australian life either.


      • This is an interesting debate. My initial reaction is ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ There are so many wonderful books that fit the criteria, it’s hard to understand why the definition needed to be expanded. Like Sue, I’d be interested to read more about the changes but, at this stage, I’m a little bemused I guess.


      • Thanks for that Lisa … I know what you mean about being executor and I certainly wouldn’t want to go against what a person wanted.

        As for Parrot and Olivier … Parrot did spend some time in Australia during the course of the novel (though admittedly it was rather to the side of the main game!


        • Oh that whole episode was so tacked on, it’s almost as if PC was hastily trying to remember his Australian audience!


          • Now don’t be mean … just because it’s Peter Carey! Still, I do recollect laughing about that little episode!


            • I’m allowed to be mean about that one – I wrote a glowing review of his latest one, The Chemistry of Tears, and I’ve *raved* about how much I loved Bliss and Oscar & Lucinda. Not to mention spending a small fortune of first editions of his books because I expect him to win, um, not the Nobel, but certainly the Man International at some stage. And then they’ll all be worth megabucks and he and I will both be rich!!


              • yes, I noticed you liked it … I hope to read it within the next month. Looking forward to it.


  3. ‘All That I Am’ over ‘The Street Sweeper’ and ‘Spirit of Progress’ = Joke.

    That is all. I am rapidly becoming disillusioned by this whole prize business :(


    • Hmm, well yes, the consensus among the well-read people I know is that All That I Am is a disappointment.
      The only reason I didn’t add Spirit of Progress to my list of disappointments at the bottom of the post was that Carroll has at least won it once before. Not that being a previous winner should be a criteria for exclusion, but you know what I mean…


      • Sigh…

        By the way, is that a 3-2 female split I see?

        Surprising, no? ;)


  4. Well the two longlist titles that I have read didn’t make it, so I’m back in the starting gate.

    I am inclined to agree with your point about altering the terms of the Prize. If it is meant to acknowledge the fiction writer who best captures some version of “Australia” that seems an entirely fair criterion. The Street Sweeper is an excellent book — it simply doesn’t fit that criterion. There are lots of other prizes for which it can be considered.


    • Thanks, Kevin. I also think that contrary to intention, broadening it may doom the prize to irrelevance. At the moment, people here and overseas look to it to offer a distinctively Australian book and its prestige derives from that, (It’s certainly not because it offers the most money!) If the MF becomes just ‘the Australian prize for best book’ the winners will be no different to a best book from anywhere else. When it comes to cultural identity we ought to resist succumbing to globalisation pressures i.e. Americanisation. I think that the Canadian Giller and the Australian Miles Franklin ought to stand firm against that, and Miles Franklin who had been to America knew what she was doing when she set the terms of the award in her name.


      • I am inclined to agree — better to aim the prize at something specific instead of just having another “great book” prize. I have to admit that you Australians already have a wealth of prizes, even more than we do in Canada. And I thought we had a lot.


        • *chuckle* It’s because we’re so overgoverned here. 22 million people, 1 federal gov’t, 6 state gov’ts, 2 territory govt’s, hundreds of local councils, 6 governors (or is that 8?), a governor general and a queen. All the Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers have to have a prize in their names, so does the PM, and they all like to outdo each other (except for Qld which – in a first – has just dumped its Premier’s Prizes to please the political constituency that just voted it in). And then there are various generous individuals and bodies that fund awards like the Barbara Jefferis, the Dobbies, the ALS etc.
          But the one that counts, the one with the most prestige has always been the Miles Franklin and that’s because of the terms she laid down in her Will: ‘the highest literary merit’ and ‘Australian life in all its phases’. They tinker with this at their peril!


  5. I also thinks it is disappointing list. I think they have lost the plot. Some good books, like the Spirit of Progress, Street Sweeper and Lovesong should be on the list. But I am just a reader. I wonder if Frank Moorhouse will take out the prize – seeing he missed out several years ago. Consolation prize!!



    • Never say, I am ‘just a reader’, Meg. We readers are the lifeblood of the industry!


  6. and what do you feel will win lisa ? must admit of ones I ve heard about foals bread leaps out at me ,all the best stu


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