For the second year in a row a play has taken out the $100,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Australia’s richest literary prize. Leah Purcell’s radical reimagining of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife, which premiered at Belvoir last year, follows in the footsteps of Mary Anne Butler’s Broken, which won the award in 2016.
Georgia Blain was posthumously honoured with the Prize for Fiction for her novel Between a Wolf and a Dog. She had been notified of her win before her death in December last year, the result of a brain tumour.
The novel itself starts with a mother announcing that she has cancer and that it’s spread to her brain, but Blain wrote it before her own diagnosis. The award was accepted by Blain’s partner, filmmaker Andrew Taylor.
The Prize for Non-Fiction went to Madeline Gleeson for Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru, a book exploring what life is really like in Australia’s offshore detention centres. Maxine Beneba Clarke won the Prize for Poetry for Carrying the World. She was also short-listed for the Prize for Non-Fiction for her book The Hate Race.
The Prize for Writing for Young Adults went to Randa Abdel-Fattah for When Michael Met Mina, a story of xenophobia and love in Australia.
Purcell’s play won not only the $25,000 Prize for Drama, but was selected as the overall winner from a shortlist of 21 works.
The play takes Henry Lawson’s beloved short story of the same name and injects an Indigenous perspective back into the colonialist era that it covers.
Ben Neutze wrote in his review of the production:
“Just like Lawson, Purcell finds an unusual beauty in the harsh landscape and pays tribute to those who tackle its challenges. But writing from the perspective of an Indigenous woman, the experiences which shape this character, and the way she takes charge of her own destiny, are entirely new … Purcell has embraced the full violence and terror of Lawson’s frontier myth, as well as the violence and terror he never would have committed to words.”
The win comes just a week after the Belvoir production won Best New Australian Work and Best Mainstage Production at the Sydney Theatre Awards.