This morning the shortlist was announced for the 2011 Miles Franklin award. This award honours novels “portraying Australian life in any of its phases”. The award itself is a point of debate for the great Australian novels ignored due to its criteria – Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, despite being written by an Australian, composed of mainly autobiographical material, and maybe an Australian attitude, would be unable to contend for the prize because it was set in America – of course, this text was published before the award began, but it’s the most readily available example from my dead brain this morning. Many novels written by Australians would fit this same bill.

But this year there is talk for a different reason. The short list released this morning is very much that – short.

It is only three works long:
Bereft by Chris Womersley
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

For a comprehensive and updating run-down of said ‘brouhaha’ check out Angela Meyer’s post, which will also no doubt generate some decent discussion in its comment section.

The general unrest seems to be about the narrow scope of the definition of “Australian life”. As mentioned before, many great novels have been discounted from the running for this award in the past, but never before has the shortlist been as short as just 3 titles – and those three titles favour the rural male voice in a historical setting. The criteria for the award is narrow to begin with (and fair enough – it’s an important goal, to be writing about Australian life), but at what cost? This year’s shortlist might suggest that the preferred depiction of “Australian life” is narrowing still.

–> No judgement is being passed here on the texts themselves – I haven’t read any of them yet, but have heard they’re great. Speculation is on the nature of the award itself and this year’s incredibly short shortlist.

–> How great is the word “brouhaha”? Damn straight, I put it in a sentence!


I just found this post by Jennifer Mills, which makes some interesting points in the debate, including this brilliant one:

“I think that the prevalence of such stories is a result of living in a colonising culture which still has fractures along its frontiers. Yeah, we need diversity in our voices. But we also like to scratch the itches of our culture and i don’t think writers are the sole determinants of where their cultures itch.”