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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Literary award winners announced

Media release
12 September 2008

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The winners of the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been announced tonight at Parliament House in Canberra.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was joined by Arts Minister Peter Garrett to announce the two winning works, both by first time authors and selected from a competitive field of 14 short-listed Australian fiction and non-fiction books.

The Zookeeper's War, by emerging novelist Steven Conte, has won the $100,000 Fiction award.

Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, by South Australian museum curator Philip Jones, has won the $100,000 Non-fiction award.

The Prime Minister said it had been inspiring and heartening to see the quality and breadth of contemporary Australian literature represented in the winning and short-listed works.

"I look forward to these new awards continuing to celebrate great Australian writing in the years to come," Mr Rudd said.

"The two winning works have all the qualities these awards celebrate, they are beautifully written and exciting books by two exceptionally talented Australian writers," Mr Garrett said.

The Fiction winner, Steven Conte's The Zookeeper's War, is set in Berlin during the Second World War, and was described by the Prime Minister's Literary Awards judges as a striking first novel, enriched by formidable research, and a breadth of historical imagination.

The Non-fiction winner, Philip Jones' Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, creates a vivid picture of Australia's past and has been described by the Prime Minister's Literary Awards judges as a work of elegance, simplicity and outstanding clarity.

The Rudd Government introduced the Prime Minister's Literary Awards to recognise excellence in Australian literature and celebrate its important role in the nation's cultural and intellectual life.

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Background Information

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Fiction winner: The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

The Zookeeper's War is a powerful novel of a marriage, and of a city collapsing. It confronts not only the brutality of war but the possibility of heroism. (Fourth Estate)

Fiction judging panel comments: The Zookeeper's War is a striking first novel, imbued with the melancholy of a collapsing world-Nazi Germany in the last years of the Second World War. Vera, married to the keeper of the Berlin Zoo, struggles each day to survive Allied air raids and betrayal by neighbours. As characters negotiate intricate and destructive moral choices, the narrative drive is sustained to the satisfyingly uncertain ending.

The author: Steven Conte was born in Sydney in 1966 and raised in Guyra in rural New South Wales. He worked for a year as a bank teller in Sydney before hitchhiking around Europe and lived for several months in Berlin, which later provided the initial inspiration for The Zookeeper's War. Conte studied professional writing at the University of Canberra, as well as Australian literature (as a civilian) at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. He has supported his writing by working as a barman, life model, taxi driver, public servant and book reviewer. Conte did a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne from 2000-2005, developing the manuscript that became The Zookeeper's War, and he now works as a student advisor in a university college.

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Non-fiction winner

Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers by Philip Jones

Ochre and Rust takes Aboriginal artefacts from their museum shelves and traces their stories, revealing charged and nuanced moments of encounter in Australia's frontier history. (Wakefield Press)

Non-fiction judging panel comments: Jones' conception of using artefacts such as a cake of red ochre, Aboriginal shields and Daisy Bates' travelling suit to discuss aspects of the Australian frontier is an original one. His work has depth and breadth of analysis; and his prose has simplicity and elegance.

The insights drawn are through a true historian's eye and the work illuminates larger debates about encounters between the first Australians and the European settlers.

The author: Philip Jones is an historian interested in the Australian frontier and in the artistic and cultural activity engendered by it. Before writing his doctorate on the history of ethnographic collecting, he completed a law degree and majored in French history at the University of Adelaide. Appointed curator in the Anthropology Department at the South Australian Museum in 1984, he was a contributor to Peter Sutton's seminal Dreamings: the Art of Aboriginal Australia (1988). Jones has curated a number of ethnographic and historical exhibitions, and designed the concept for the South Australian Museum's Aboriginal Cultures Gallery.

Since 1985 he has undertaken fieldwork with Aboriginal communities in southern and central Australia. He is currently involved in a site-recording project with Aboriginal people of the Birdsville region. The contemplative and reflective strain in Ochre and Rust reflects Philip's strong interest in literature; from Goethe to Cortazar, and Stendhal to Sebald.

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards short list for Fiction

Burning In Mireille Juchau
El Dorado Dorothy Porter
Jamaica: A novel Malcolm Knox
Sorry Gail Jones
The Complete Stories David Malouf
The Widow and Her Hero Tom Keneally
The Zookeeper's War Steven Conte

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards short list for Non-fiction

A History of Queensland Raymond Evans
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time Clive James
My Life as a Traitor Zarah Ghahramani with Robert Hillman
Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 Philip Dwyer
Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers Philip Jones
Shakespeare's Wife Germaine Greer
Vietnam: The Australian War Paul Ham

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