We are just over two weeks away from the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Miles was one of our most influential novelists and the author of My Brilliant Career.
The winner will be announced on 26 August and be selected from a shortlist that includes the Reading Australia novel, The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood.
To celebrate the upcoming announcement, we take a look at some of the past winners of Australia’s most prestigious literary award.
1. The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll (2008 winner)
This is the final book in a trilogy that began with The Art of the Engine Driver and The Gift of Speed, each of which follows the same contemporary family as they adapt to a changing Australian society. The novel interrogates the history of a Melbourne suburb and its inhabitants just as the town celebrates its centenary. Wife and husband have separated and their son Michael falls in love for the first time, though this relationship seems to have no future either. The characters, living in a community suddenly concerned with the notion of progress, reflect on the passing of time, what it means to exist and what it means to love.
2. The White Earth by Andrew McGahan (2005 winner)
The White Earth is a novel about country; about the ways you can own it and the ways you can belong to it. When 8-year-old William’s father dies, he and his fragile mother go to live with his great-uncle John McIvor on Kuran Station. His uncle is obsessed with his land and with finding an heir to pass it on to, but the looming Native Title debate proves to be another threat. Andrew McGahan brilliantly explores the tensions between the rights of property owners and the dispossessed Aboriginal people.
3. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (1999 winner)
There are over 500 species of eucalypt and widower, Holland, has spent his life planting every last one of them on his rambling NSW property. On his daughter Ellen’s 19th birthday, Holland decrees that she will marry the man who can name all the types of eucalypt on his property. Suitors pour in from everywhere, including eucalypt expert, Mr Cave. But Ellen has already begun falling in love with a mysterious stranger… This novel is an exploration of knowledge and imagination, love and beauty, and landscape and language.
4. The Unknown Industrial Prisoner by David Ireland (1971 winner)
David Ireland is the “great forgotten Australian novelist”. He won three Miles Franklin Awards within the space of one decade, the first of which was The Unknown Industrial Prisoner. It is a sprawling, mosaic novel about a collection of working class characters working for a multinational oil refinery in Western Sydney. Their workplace is the setting of blue collar escapades, sexual shenanigans and human tragedy. What Ireland achieves is a humorous and uncompromising depiction of a society trapped in a dehumanising cycle of labour.
5. Voss by Patrick White (1957 winner)
Patrick White became the first-ever winner of the Miles Franklin Award with his novel about obsessive love and parallel journeys. Voss is a German explorer who embarks on an expedition to cross the Australian desert, and Laura is the young woman who waits for his return. Though separated by half a continent, they are passionately and powerfully connected throughout Voss’s expedition. The novel was inspired by the life of Prussian explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, who disappeared during an expedition across the Australian desert.