Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 18, 2016

Carmel Bird wins the 2016 Patrick White Award

It must be a bittersweet experience, receiving the Patrick White Award.  It was set up  to acknowledge authors who have been highly creative over a long period but have not necessarily received adequate recognition.  If you check out the list of recipients at Wikipedia you can see that it is a distinguished company indeed, but while many of these authors have been nominated for Australia’s major literary prizes,  few of them were ever awarded our most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award.  Yet receiving this Patrick White prize confers great prestige because it’s only ever given to really impressive writers: it’s never compromised by the inclusion of ‘encouragement awards’ or agenda-driven issues or anything else.  It goes to inspirational people who have made a career of writing and write because they must, even though the rewards may be meagre.  Every one of these authors should have an OA as well.

Patrick White used his 1973 Nobel Prize winnings to establish his award, and as the Perpetual Trustees Press Release says:

Like many philanthropists, Patrick White established the award to create a legacy – one that would reward Australian writers and help them to continue to flourish.   This legacy now extends more than 40 years and has had a significant impact on the lives of so many in the literary community. It is a demonstration of just how important philanthropic giving is in the community.

This year the prize is worth $20,000, and has been awarded to Carmel Bird in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Australian literature.

Child of the Twilightfair-gameCarmel Bird is a prolific writer: I’ve read quite a few of her books including her 1998 novel Red Shoes and a collection of short stories called Automatic Teller (1996) and two more reviewed here on this blog: Child of the Twilight and Fair Game, a short piece in the FL Smalls Collection.  She has published more than 30 works, including writes novels, short stories, essays, anthologies, children’s books and books about the craft of writing.

(From the Press Release) Reflecting on the award, Carmel Bird paid homage to Patrick White:

I am honoured and also overcome with joy to have been selected to receive the Award, to have been added to the list of distinguished writers who have received it in the past. Patrick White has been one of the key writers in my life. In awe, I met him in 1961, never imagining that one day I might receive a wonderful gift from him.

First of all I fell for the plays, then the stories, then the novels which I began reading in the sixties. I like to believe his work has in many subtle ways affected my own. Perhaps his interest in what he called the ‘sin of goodness’ can be found in some of my own narratives. I treasure the deep, pictorial quality of his prose, its spirituality, its humour, its grandeur, the power of its music.

A story I love about Patrick White is that when he was a child he went to my homeland of Tasmania for a holiday, remembering it ever after as Paradise Lost. I do like that. I am so grateful to Patrick White first of all for his work. And naturally I am grateful to him for setting up the award.

The judges for 2016 were  Dr Bernadette Brennan (Chair), Professor David Carter and Associate Professor Debra Adelaide and their commendation reads:

The judges are pleased to select Carmel Bird as the 2016 winner of the Patrick White Award.   Carmel has contributed widely and uniquely to Australian literature since her first book in 1976. Carmel has since gone on to publish 30 more books – her imagination is extraordinarily wide-ranging and her fiction consequently creates a world that criss-crosses textual, intellectual and geographical boundaries.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the Patrick White Literary Award celebration at Readings Carlton, 309 Lygon Street, Carlton, Victoria on Friday 11 November 2016. To book, visit the Readings website.

Thanks to Jessica Effeney at Honner Media for sharing the news about this award.


  1. Interesting that the award is meant to be presented in the Friday after the Melbourne Cup to move a nation’s thinking from sport to writing therefore this year, at least, the announcement is three weeks early!!! The many criteria stipulated by White must have been watered down!!!


    • Hmm, yes, Sue at Whispering Gums commented on that too. I don’t approve of trustees tinkering with the clear provisions of a legacy, and there seems to be no good reason for this aberration. Perhaps we should write them a letter taking them to task…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Consider it done – I have a nice writing kit that I rarely use. My weekend task.


        • Me too, I’ve just conveyed my ‘dismay’ to the publicist and asked her to refer it to the trustees and the judges for an explanation.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well now, this is interesting. I emailed Jess at Honner Media about this and she got back to me straight away with the info that there’s nothing in the Will about the timing. This is what she says:

            “I have been in touch with Perpetual regarding your concern. The Trust Manager has confirmed that there is no direction in the deed as to the timing of the announcement.

            The timing follows last year’s announcement in October, prior to the award presentation on 13 November 2015, to maximise media attention and encourage members of the general public to attend. Previously, it had not been a public event.”

            I haven’t read the article in the ABR, Tony, because I don’t subscribe to it any more, but it sounds to me as if there’s a bit of mischief-making going on. IMO some in the media like to perpetuate the idea of PW as a curmudgeon so that they can write about that to cover up not ever having read his books…

            I get indignant if people interfere with a Will, but legally there’s no obligation on executors or trustees to fulfil wishes expressed elsewhere, and indeed it can cause strife if they do. (E.g. Aunty Myrtle said one afternoon when she was in her 90s that Gertrude who’s not in the Will could have this (very expensive) item, the sale of which would have added substantially to her estate for sharing amongst the beneficiaries who are in the Will.)

            Of course there’s no money involved in timing the announcement one way or another, but as Jess says, the publicity is important. If it’s maximised, .then the author benefits from increased sales.

            But isn’t it nice that a busy publicist can find time to enquire about this for us, and that the Trustees responded so quickly!


            • Yes, I was advised in a comment on my blog that it wasn’t a requirement. I’m guessing that it’s something White said – Marr has reported it I believe for a start – but it sounds like he may not have actually stipulated it when he set up the award.

              BTW This prize doesn’t come from his will. It was set up before that (unless he gave more money to it in his will?). He was a judge for the first awards (at least as far as I’ve read) and the first ones were made in that week after the Cup.


              • Yes, of course, you are quite right, it wasn’t in his Will at all, I should have realised that.
                Anyway, I think it’s a beaut award, and it adds to the many reasons why I love PW.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Absolutely … he was pretty irascible but he supported and believed in things that most of us approve, didn’t he?

                  Liked by 1 person

                • I like the (rare) concept that one can have enough money and don’t need any more, so it can be used to benefit others.

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree, a bittersweet award.


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: