Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 7, 2020

2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards winners and shortlist

Updated 14/12/22 to include the winners in bold and some reviews.

The shortlist for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and works which are highly commended have been announced.

The Judges’ Shortlist


The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (Penguin Random House), see my review
Our Shadows by Gail Jones (Text Publishing), see my review
The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay (Scribe Publications),
The Coconut Children by Vivian Pham (Penguin Random House), abandoned, see why here.

I confess to being surprised by this fiction shortlist.  The new Flanagan is brilliant, but these others were on my radar and I was expecting a difficult choice between The Living Sea of Waking Dreams and The Labyrinth which is the best book Amanda Lohrey has ever written.  (In fact, it has the distinction of being the first book I could earbash my friend about, when we had our first post-lockdown coffee together last week.)

Lisa’s shortlist (which is, I admit, a bit long for a shortlist.  But every one of these books is wonderful.)

The rest of the Judges’ Shortlists


Songlines: The Power and Promise by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly (Thames & Hudson Australia)
Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us by Paddy Manning (Simon & Schuster Australia)
Show Me Where It Hurts by Kylie Maslen (Text Publishing)
Witness: An Investigation into the Brutal Cost of Seeking Justice by Louise Milligan (Hachette Australia)
Blueberries by Ellena Savage (Text Publishing)
Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia by Victor Steffensen (Hardie Grant Travel)


Wonnangatta by Angus Cerini (Sydney Theatre Company)
SLAP. BANG. KISS. by Dan Giovannoni (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Sunshine Super Girl: The Evonne Goolagong Story by Andrea James (Currency Press)


Ask Me About the Future by Rebecca Jessen (University of Queensland Press)
Case Notes by David Stavanger (UWA Publishing)
Throat by Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press)

Writing for Young Adults

The F Team by Rawah Arja (Giramondo Publishing)
Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore (Text Publishing)
Where We Begin by Christie Nieman (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Indigenous Writing

Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music by Archie Roach (Simon & Schuster Australia), see Sue’s review at Whispering Gums
Kindred by Kirli Saunders (Magabala Books)
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson (Hachette Australia), on my TBR, see my review
Where the Fruit Falls by Karen Wyld (UWA Publishing), on my TBR, see my review

Unpublished Manuscript

Anam by André Dao
On a Knife’s Edge by Neela Janakiramanan
But the Girl by Jessica Zhan Mei Yu

Highly commended


Revenge: Murder in Three Parts by S.L. Lim (Transit Lounge), see my review
Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan (Brio Books)


After the Count by Stephanie Convery (Penguin Random House)
Hazelwood by Tom Doig (Penguin Random House)
People of the River by Grace Karskens (Allen & Unwin)
British India, White Australia: Overseas Indians, intercolonial relations and the Empire by Kama Maclean (NewSouth Publishing)


Wherever She Wanders by Kendall Feaver (Griffin Theatre Company and Currency Press)
Torch the Place by Benjamin Law (Melbourne University Publishing)


Of Memory and Furniture by Bron Bateman (Fremantle Press)
Turbulence by Thuy On (UWA Publishing)

Young Adult

The End of the World is Bigger than Love by Davina Bell (Text Publishing)
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

Indigenous Writing

Late Murrumbidgee Poems by John Mukky Burke (Cordite Books)

Unpublished Manuscript

Children of Tomorrow by J.R. Burgmann
Goblins by Patrick Hunn
The Guest House by Kylie Mirmohamadi

The prizes are worth $25,000 to the winners of the major awards, which are then eligible for the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, worth an additional $100,000, the most valuable award in Australia.

The winner of the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript receives $15,000. The winner of the People’s Choice Award receives $2,000. Voting is open until Monday 18 January 2021, and you can vote for your choice here until January 18th.

Congratulations to the authors, editors and publishers!


  1. I’m trying to read The Fifth Season and I’m struggling (having loved Waiting). I still have the Flanagan to read. Should I try the Lohrey?

    I’ve purchased three Steven Carroll books – the ones the library doesn’t have – my Christmas/New Year reading! He’s wonderful!


    • Yes, I agree, it’s a tricky book. My advice is to go with the flow, and just see where it takes you, even if ti doesn’t seem to make sense.
      But Oh yes, read The Labyrinth, I loved that book… I loved the portrayal of an older woman whose son had upended her life and she had such courage in finding a creative way to bear her sorrow and find a kind of peace.


  2. Interesting list Lisa. I’m completely out of touch with this year’s books so can’t really comment at all, but I have heard a lot of good things about Laura Jean Mackay’s book. (I gave it to Daughter Gums, but am not sure whether she’s read it yet.) I’ve bought the Dovey for a friend (but would love to read it for myself)!

    Anyhow, if you want to add a review to your list, I have read the Archie Roach:


  3. I think I like ‘Lisa’s List’ better than the actual list but we all know that judging lit prizes is a thankless and difficult task! They can never please everyone. Like Sue, I’m not really across this year’s books. Blueberries is on my TBR, as is just about everything shortlisted under the ‘Indigenous Writing’ category. Looking forward to the day when we don’t need a separate ‘Indigenous Writing’ category, actually, but I certainly understand the motive, and support the VPLA’s efforts give terrific books a bit more air.


    • A lot of awards now carry a separate Indigenous category, and I support it too because it encourages people to read these books. But what I like is that whereas before I just used to read everything that came out regardless of subject or genre, now there’s enough variety for me to be able to choose just the ones that really appeal to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve read (and recommend) ‘Song of the Crocodile’. Some others I have read (but not yet reviewed). I like your list, Lisa. ‘Symphony for the Man’ (which I have, but haven’t yet read) must be really good as you mention it twice ;-)


    • Ha! That’s what happens when I rush to finish things before dinner’s on the table!


  5. I’ve read the The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay and have the Gail Jones in my TBR. I am hoping to read it in Kalgoorlie when we go on a bit of an adventure next week. I also MUST read the Lohrey you kindly posted to me. I’m taking some time off at Xmas so hope to catch up on some reading then.

    Out of interest, how are these books chosen? Do publishers have to enter?


    • I don’t get on with Gail Jones. I keep buying her books in the hope that I’ll find one that reveals to me why she is so well thought of, but it hasn’t happened yet.
      I don’t know what the process is, but with the exception of A Jealous Tide which is not published by a major Australian publisher, I can’t imagine a process that didn’t send what’s on my shortlist their way. The criteria is a mystery to me too.


      • I find her hit and miss. I didn’t like Sorry and thought A Guide to Berlin a bit heavy handed. But I ADORED both Sixty Lights and Five Bells. Not read her others, but they’re in the TBR.


        • I quite liked Sixty Lights, but after that… some are still in the TBR and others have made their way elsewhere…


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