The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award shortlist

Offshore cover

Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru

Madeline Gleeson

NewSouth Publishing

About the book

What has happened on Nauru and Manus since Australia began its most recent offshore processing regime in 2012? This essential book provides a comprehensive and uncompromising overview of the first three years of offshore processing since it recommenced in 2012. It explains why offshore processing was re-established, what life is like for asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus, what asylum seekers, refugees and staff in the offshore detention centres have to say about what goes on there, and why the truth has been so hard to find. In doing so, it goes behind the rumours and allegations to reveal what is known – and what still is not known – about Australia’s offshore detention centres.

About the author

Madeline Gleeson is a lawyer and Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law where she is also Director of the State Responsibility and Borders, Offshore Processing, Protection of Children and Regional Cooperation and Protection projects. Madeline has extensive experience working with forcibly displaced people around the world.

Judges' Comments

This book takes us inside Australia’s controversial offshore detention centres where no journalists or independent observers are allowed access. Gleeson does this through meticulous research, using her many years of experience working with forcibly displaced people around the world. She covers the first three years of offshore processing – why this system was established, what life is like for asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru, what asylum seekers, refugees and staff say about what goes on there, and why the truth has been so hard to find. This is a vitally essential book, uncompromising in its overview and analysis of a shameful blot on our national psyche.

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Talking to My Country cover

Talking to My Country

Stan Grant

HarperCollins Australia

About the book

An extraordinarily powerful and personal meditation on race, culture and national identity, written by Stan Grant in response to Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games in 2015, Talking to My Country is a rare and special book that talks to every Australian about their country - what it is, and what it could be. It is not just about race or Indigenous people but all of us, our shared identity. Direct, honest and forthright, Stan is talking to us all. He might not have all the answers but he wants us to keep on asking the question: how can we be better?

About the author

Stan Grant is a Wiradjuri man. He has worked as a journalist for the ABC, SBS, and the Seven Network, CNN and is now the International Editor for SKY News. He has received a string of prestigious international and Australian awards, including a Walkley award in 2015 for his coverage of indigenous affairs. He is Managing Editor of National Indigenous Television and Indigenous Affairs Editor at The Guardian.

Judges' Comments

This is Stan Grant’s very personal meditation on race, identity and history. Blistering in parts, honest and forthright, it lingers in the memory of those who read it. Grant is a Wiradjuri man, a journalist with a very successful career in Australia and around the world. As a young person he chose to leave his country in NSW but after years away, and outraged by the racial abuse of Adam Goodes, he has re-entered his country and is speaking out for a better life for his people. His experience in some of the world’s most troubled places gives his voice a unique perspective and an urgency to his exhortations.

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Second Half First cover

Second Half First

Drusilla Modjeska

Penguin Random House Australia

About the book

Beginning with the disastrous events of the night before her fortieth birthday, in Second Half First Drusilla Modjeska looks back on the experiences of the past thirty years that have shaped her writing, her reading and the way she has lived. In asking the candid questions that so many of us face – about love and independence, the death of a partner, growing older, the bonds of friendship and family – Drusilla Modjeska reassesses parts of her life, her work, the importance to her of writers such as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, among many others.

About the author

Drusilla Modjeska is one of Australia's most acclaimed writers. She was born in England but lived in Papua before arriving in Australia in 1971. Her books include Exiles at Home; the NSW Premier's Award-winning Poppy; Sisters, which she co-edited; the Nita B. Kibble, NSW Premier's Award and Australian Bookseller's Book of the Year Award-winner The Orchard; Timepieces; and Secrets with Robert Dessaix and Amanda Lohrey. She is also the author of the bestselling Stravinsky's Lunch and her first novel, The Mountain, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Award, the Western Australia Premier's Award and the Barbara Jefferis Award.

Judges' Comments

Modjeska is a writer renowned for her beautifully-articulated reflections on life and love, sometimes her own, usually others. This memoir tells her story beginning as she turns 40, hence the second half first of the title. She meanders through seminal events over the ensuing decades, beginning with her decision on the eve of her birthday to leave the relationship which she feels has no future. She tells her story gently, even though there is often sadness and poignancy in the events. This is an examined life and Modjeska allows the reader to accompany her on this journey. The result is an intellectually satisfying and deeply honest book.

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Island Home cover

Island Home

Tim Winton

Penguin Random House

About the book

'I grew up on the world's largest island.' This apparently simple fact is the starting point for Tim Winton's beautiful, evocative and sometimes provocative memoir of how this unique landscape has shaped him and his writing. For over thirty years, Winton has written novels in which the natural world is as much a living presence as any character, and what is true of his work is also true of his life. Wise, rhapsodic, exalted, Island Home is the story of how that relationship came to be, and also a passionate exhortation for all of us to feel the ground beneath our feet. Much more powerfully than any political idea, the physical entity of Australia defines us, in ways we too often forget, to our detriment and to the country's.

About the author

Tim Winton has published twenty-eight books for adults and children, and his work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Since his first novel, An Open Swimmer, won the Australian Vogel Award in 1981, he has won the Miles Franklin Award four times (for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath) and twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (for The Riders and Dirt Music). He lives in Western Australia.

Judges' Comments

Tim Winton’s memoir is a soaring book which provokes and moves in equal proportion. Winton’s connection with the natural world is well known, but this account of how the land makes us who we are reaches a whole new level of wisdom and understanding. It is a book for everyone, for us all to feel the ground beneath our feet and to embrace the physical entity that is Australia. Profoundly respectful of the first people in our land, he leads us to a genuine understanding of their love of country and their wise custodianship of it. It is impossible to remain unmoved by this book and to not feel a greater love for our island home.

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Small Acts of Disappearance cover

Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger

Fiona Wright

Giramondo Publishing

About the book

Small Acts of Disappearance describes the author’s affliction with an eating disorder which begins after she leaves school, and escalates into life-threatening anorexia. Fiona Wright is a highly regarded poet and critic, and her account of her illness is informed by a keen sense of its contradictions and deceptions, and by an awareness of the empowering effects of hunger, which is unsparing in its consideration of the author’s motives and actions. The essays offer perspectives on the eating disorder at different stages in Wright’s life: at university, in Sri Lanka as a fledgling journalist, in Germany as a young writer, in her hospital treatments back in Sydney. They combine travel writing, memoir and literary discussions of how other writers have dealt with anorexia and addiction; together with accounts of family life, the observation of detail and the humour which is so compelling in Wright’s poetry.

About the author

Fiona Wright’s poetry book Knuckled won the Dame Mary Gilmore Award for a first collection. Her poems and essays have been published in the Australian, Meanjin, Island, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Seizure and HEAT. Small Acts of Disappearance won the 2016 Nita B. Kibble Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the NSW Premier’s Award.

Judges' Comments

This is a brilliant albeit disturbing collection of essays by Fiona Wright about her long association with an illness experienced by many young people in our land of plenty. She refers to her eating disorder as hunger, and in so doing she re-frames this mysterious illness so that we as readers are better able to understand it. She unsparingly highlights the contradictions and deceptions inherent in the illness, and what she sees as the empowering and addictive effects of hunger. She references anorexic moments in books we’ve all read and probably missed, sobering indeed.

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