Past winners

The list of winners since Patrick White in 1957 includes some of the greatest writers of the past 50 years – often more than once. Thea Astley and Tim Winton share the honour of having received the Miles Franklin Award most times, with four wins apiece.

2013 Winner - Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Michelle de Kretser's wonderful novel, Questions of Travel, centres on two characters, with two stories, each describing a different journey. The stories intertwine and pull against one another, and within this double narrative, de Kretser explores questions of home and away, travel and tourism, refugees and migrants, as well as ‘questions of travel’ in the virtual world, charting the rapid changes in electronic communication that mark our lives today.

“She brings these large questions close-up and personal with her witty and poignant observations and her vivid language. Her novel is about keeping balance in a speeding, spinning world."

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2012 Winner - All That I Am by Anna Funder

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Historical figures who bravely resisted the Third Reich in the 1930s – the socialist leader and writer Ernst Toller, the feminist activist Dora Fabian and the collaborator and journalist Hans Wesemann become compelling characters in this novel. These real lives are the fossil fragments, Funder tells us, which she clothes with the skin and feathers of fiction."

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2011 Winner - That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"A powerful and innovative fiction that shifts our sense of what an historical novel can achieve. Its language is shaped by the encounter of Noongar and Australian English, producing new writing and speech."

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2010 Winner - Truth by Peter Temple

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Peter Temple's Truth is writing tempered by fire. The novel fuses the exhilaration and tension of a complex crime narrative with lives broken, patched and tested against the background of Victoria's apocalyptic bushfires. In Inspector Stephen Villani, Temple has created an indelible Australian character."

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2009 Winner - Breath by Tim Winton

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

Breath is a searing document about masculinity, about risk, and about young people’s desire to push the limits. Winton is at the height of his powers as a novelist, and this is his greatest love letter yet to the sea, to the coast of West Australia, and a compelling testimony to the role of surfing in Australian culture. Written in Winton’s own distinctive voice, we can sense that it is also a homage to some of his favourite writers: Salinger, Faulkner, Melville and Hemingway. But as we are drawn in by the elemental currents of its narrative and the compelling, wave-like force of events, Breath raises disturbing questions about desire and ‘the damage done’. What lines are crossed during rite’s passage? What ethical constraints affect relations between different generations of men and women? Throughout the novel we hear the scream of wind and storm waves and the distant, siren call of the bombora – surf breaking far out at sea. After ‘so much damage, too much shame’, can there be a going back?”

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2008 Winner - The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

Commenting on the winner’s novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

“In the spare, episodic style of the two earlier novels (The Art of the Engine Driver and The Gift of Speed) in this trilogy, Steven Carroll undertakes a parallel task of representation as his cast of characters reconsider their lives in and beyond the suburb that has been their crucible. Michael, son of the engine driver, moves to the city and falls in love with a girl beyond his reach – or so, poignantly, he believes. Vic, the father, has long since travelled north to a life of abstracted retirement. The mother, Rita, too well turned out to quite fit into the street, sells the house which has been her refuge, and makes an unlikely alliance with the widow of the industrial entrepreneur they called ‘Webster the Factory’. At night they drive together across the thistle-landscape in a sleek black car that is both comet and hearse.

What do they all make of their lives? Do they hear ‘the music of the years’? Or are they deaf, missing the wonder of it? Carroll’s novel is a poised, philosophically profound exploration of the question, a stand-alone work that is moving and indelible in its evocation of the extraordinary in ordinary lives.”

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2007 Winner - Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Alexis Wright’s powerful novel about the Gulf country works on many levels and registers. At its centre is Norm Phantom, an old man of the sea and custodian of indigenous lore, his wife Angel Day, and their son Will, who is involved in a deadly fight for land rights against the shadowy proprietors of the huge Gurfurrit mine. At one level, the novel is a gripping account of that campaign and the mining company’s violent and illegal attempts to protect its interests in the Gulf. At another level, it is a stunning evocation – some will want to call it magic realism or postcolonial allegory – of a sublime and often overwhelming tropical world that is still inhabited by traditional spirits like the rainbow serpent, the groper, the sky people and the ghosts of the dead. These ancient spiritual forces work through the elements of sky and sea and land to throw off the presence of the strangers and restore this remarkable place to something like its ancient rhythms. The novel’s climax is quite literally apocalyptic, drawing together its different stylistic registers of myth, allegory and social satire; its conclusion is cathartic and even inspiring."

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2006 Winner - The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald

Commenting on the winner’s novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

“This is an historical novel in a grand, operatic style, an affectionate and bravura performance by a novelist at the height of his powers. Steeped in the lore of wool and bushcraft, it echoes a clutch of Great Australian and American Novels, from Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer to His Natural Life and Such is Life. It also recalls many of the best-loved works of English fiction, suggesting in its darker moments the mordant wit of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or, in its sunnier moments, the uplifting ethical vision of Fielding’s Tom Jones. It shares something with those novels in its sweeping geographical scope, its rich cast of characters, and the rollicking pace of its events, which take us from the bush beyond Parramatta to the Houses of Parliament in London, from the sheepwalks of Yorkshire to shipwrecks and piracy in the South Pacific, from the chaotic settlement at Sydney Cove to the grim melodrama of the convict system at Macquarie Harbour."

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2005 Winner - The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"The White Earth revisits the conventions of the Australian pioneering saga and the gothic novel, investing them with remarkable imaginative force and contemporary significance. On the eve of Native Title legislation, John McIvor of the historic Kuran Station in South East Queensland hopes to pass on the estate and its troubled legacy to his young nephew, William. As if seeing through the distracting pain of the boy's illness, McGahan subjects postcolonial Australia to a searing analysis. William's disease is literally the burden of the past. McGahan writes with a total command of thematic design and narrative structure. The White Earth draws on the full resources of the novel as an imaginative form to explore some of the most urgent social and political issues haunting Australians today."

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2004 Winner - The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Moving from postwar Japan, to Hong Kong, England and eventually New Zealand, Shirley Hazzard’s long-awaited new novel approaches the epic in its range of scenes and characters, though running to only 300 pages. At its heart is the growing love between an English war hero and a young Australian girl, providing one glimmer of hope in a world full of burnt survivors and uncaring victors. Hazzard surrounds her central figures with dozens of others, all perfectly evoked in a few words, as are the sights, sounds and smells of their lives. Complex and utterly engrossing, The Great Fire is a reminder of why, in a digital age, the novel still matters."

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2003 Winner - Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"The journey central to Alex Miller’s novel is one of both time and space, through a confrontation with the brutalities of the past to the possibilities for a happier future. Journey to the Stone Country is a moving story of the coming together of Annabelle Beck, granddaughter of a white station owner, and Bo Rennie, an Aboriginal stockman whose own grandparents had ignored racial divisions. Annabelle must not only learn to view the past without sentimentality, but to accept a different way of being in the world, to acknowledge not only that there are some things it is not appropriate for her to know, but also the depth of her own attachment to place.

Issues crucial to any reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians could be difficult territory for a novelist, but Miller handles them with skill and tact, ensuring that they come alive on the page and that the journey is never less than an engrossing one."

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2002 Winner - Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Dirt Music is a huge, powerful novel about love, guilt, pain, fear – and the visceral, transforming power of music. Beginning in a redneck fishing town, it takes to the road as Luther Fox, abalone poacher, on the run from himself, heads into the trackless country to the north. With his extraordinary powers of physical description and his readiness to take risks with his writing, Winton conjures a primordial land and seascape and unforgettable characters who live on the edge of the continent on the edge of their nerves. Contemporary Australia, on the surface so money-grubbing and self-absorbed, at its heart so deep and unfathomable, has rarely been laid as bare."

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2001 Winner - The Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"In Dark Palace, the companion novel to his earlier 'Grand Days,' Frank Moorhouse takes the twinned histories of the League of Nations of Edith Campbell Berry, his Australian heroine, through to the demise of the League after World War II. As its title suggests, this is a more sombre novel than its predecessor, a song of experience rather than innocence, with Edith's earlier idealism and optimism repeatedly challenged by failures in her private life as well as by the League's failure to prevent a world war. Even her trip home to Australia has its darker moments, as she discovers that Canberra has a yet no room for a woman like her. Moorhouse's effortless control of his historical material is matched by his remarkable insight into his character lives."

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2000 Winners - Drylands by Thea Astley and Benang by Kim Scott

Commenting on the winners' novels, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Drylands takes us into the heart of One Nation territory. Bewildered by what she perceives as a drifting and increasingly illiterate culture, Janet Deakin, a shop-keeper in a small Queensland town, sets out to write ‘a book for the world's last reader'. She offers us seven partly allegorical tales of social upheaval. This is gloomy and sometimes discomfiting ground, for the novel deals with gender politics, race relations, the alienation of youth, and violence and hopelessness in rural Australia. But Drylands is written with Thea Astley's trademark concision, bite, and linguistic verve, and brilliantly transcends the darkness at the heart of this novel. It is a powerful achievement by one of our most eminent writers.

Harley, the levitating narrator of Kim Scott's Benang, is the ‘first white man born', the culmination of his white grandfather's enthusiastic pursuit of the official eugenic policy of ‘breeding out' and ‘elevating' the Native Race. Ambivalent, confused, angry, Harley goes in search of the relatives and ancestors whose genealogies - full-blood, half-caste, quarter-caste, octaroon - his grandfather has painstakingly documented. Harley's journey takes him across the inland to the coast, through past and present lives, into Nyoongar heartland.

Homeric in its ambitions and its largesse, unsettling in its swirling narrative, Benang is an absorbing, moving novel, wryly ironic in tone, in which unregarded, powerless lives are given voice and substance against a lovingly observed land- and sea-scape."

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1999 Winner - Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"You could say that in terms of the characteristic landscape of Australian writing, Murray Bail's Eucalyptus is about ‘the knowledge'. That is its amusing working conceit; but much more seriously it is about how one acquires the knowledge. In his characteristically elegant and deceptively sparse manner, Bail demonstrates the importance of narratives, of story telling, as a way of acquiring and learning about one's self and one's place. It reconstitutes traditional romance conventions (the father setting an impossible task for those who would win the hand of his daughter) and rewrites them for Australia, so that it is simultaneously local and universal in its orientation. And the point of the novel lies not in the young man's success but in what the daughter learns. This is a masculine construct of femininity, no doubt; but then antipodean courtship has ever been more stringybark than lemon-scented gum."

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1998 Winner - Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Peter Carey returns to the nineteenth century in an utterly captivating mystery. The year is 1837 and a stranger is prowling London. He is Jack Maggs, an illegal returnee from the prison island of Australia. He has the demeanor of a savage and the skills of a hardened criminal, and he is risking his life on seeking vengeance and reconciliation. Installing himself within the household of the genteel grocer Percy Buckle, Maggs soon attracts the attention of a cross section of London society. Saucy Mercy Larkin wants him for a mate. The writer Tobias Oates wants to possess his soul through hypnosis. But Maggs is obsessed with a plan of his own. And as all the various schemes converge, Maggs rises into the center, a dark looming figure, at once frightening, mysterious, and compelling. Not since Caleb Carr's The Alienist have the shadowy city streets of the nineteenth century lit up with such mystery and romance."

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1997 Winner - The Glade within the Grove by David Foster

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"David Foster invokes tradition in his learned and comic novel The Glade within the Grove. The book is a sharp, witty and seductive critique of one of the most influential periods in the recent history of ideas in Australia. A serious interest in the ideologies of the liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, in the rhetoric of Trotstyite politics, and the causes and effects of young peoples' retreat to the promise of a rural paradise is brought into balance by reference back to the myths of Attis and Cybele, and to ancient practices and religious beliefs."

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1996 Winner - Highways to a War by Christopher Koch

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"The central character in Christopher Koch's haunting novel, Highways to a War is the strong tall, blond Australian war photographer, Mike Langford, whose essential character is reflected in inner strength , independence and a sense of moral value. Using his own memories, Langford's audio tapes and photographs of his colleagues, the narrator Ray, takes us on a journey of discovery about Langford – who he is now and how he deals with moral and ethical dilemmas. Though Highways to a War is set against the long and bitter saga of the Vietnam War and the subsequent Cambodian conflict, that is such an important component of the social and political landscape of Australian in the Latter part of this century, it is really a novel about loss. Mike Langford's early Tasmanian experience has shaped his character and he carries his haunted past everywhere with him."

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1995 Winner - The Hand that Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Helen Demidenko’s novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper, is about the response of a family of Ukrainian migrants to the war crimes tribunals in Australia at the end of the 1980s. When her uncle Vitaly is one of those charged, Fiona, the idealistic young Queensland university student who narrates the book, feels compelled to understand what Vitaly and his brother and sister - her father and aunt - actually did as Nazi collaborators during the war, and why. Appointing herself the family’s “recording angel”, Fiona gathers their accounts of their lives, as peasant children in the famine-stricken Ukraine under Stalin, as adolescents with the SS, as post-war migrant refugees. From this literary device comes a multi-voiced novel of shifting perspectives which renders, with great authenticity, both the inhuman horrors and the human pleasures of her characters’ lives. Its focus is the story of Vitaly, who becomes a guard at Treblinka. Ever present is the contrast with Fiona’s untroubled Australian childhood and adolescence. Her innocence is the story’s moral centre; her sense of righteousness, its driving force. Helen Demidenko’s first novel displays a powerful literary imagination coupled to a strong sense of history, and brings to light a hitherto unspeakable aspect of the Australian migrant experience."

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1994 Winner - The Grisly Wife by Rodney Hall

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"Rodney Hall’s The Grisly Wife is a novel with a rather surprising vision. In it he interrogates that curious kind of mind which desires things to be the way they are said to be, and observes what happens when that is found to be not so. For this is a place where astonishing things happen. Given this is about an unorthodox religious group, a band of, as it happens, deformed women led to colonial Australia by a bizarre zealot, this could have been a grimly gothic tale; but it is not. For example, the repressions are all redeemed by the heroine’s comic self-possession and the poetic power of her narrative. Essentially, Hall distinguishes between the fundamentalist and nonconformist cast of mind, and that is a very unusual subject for an Australian writer."

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1993 Alex Miller The Ancestor Game
1992 Tim Winton Cloudstreet
1991 David Malouf The Great World
1990 Tom Flood Oceana Fine
1989 Peter Carey Oscar and Lucinda
1988 The year of the Award was changed to the year granted rather than the year published
1987 Glenda Adams Dancing on Coral
1986 Elizabeth Jolley The Well
1985 Christopher Koch The Doubleman
1984 Tim Winton Shallows
1983 No award
 
1982 Rodney Hall Just Relations
1981 Peter Carey Bliss
1980 Jessica Anderson The Impersonators
1979 David Ireland A Women of the Future
1978 Jessica Anderson Tirra Lirra by the River
1977 Ruth Park Swords and Crowns and Rings
1976 David Ireland The Glass Canoe
1975 Xavier Herbert Poor Fellow My Country
1974 Ronald McKie The Mango Tree
1973 No award
 
1972 Thea Astley The Acolyte
1971 David Ireland The Unknown Industrial Prisoner
1970 Dal Stivens A Horse of Air
1969 George Johnston Clean Straw for Nothing
1968 Thomas Keneally Three Cheers for the Paraclete
1967 Thomas Keneally Bring Larks and Heroes
1966 Peter Mathers Trap
1965 Thea Astley The Slow Natives
1964 George Johnston My Brother Jack
1963 Sumner Locke Elliott Careful, He Might Hear You
  George Turner The Cupboard under the Stairs
1962 Thea Astley The Well Dressed Explorer
1961 Patrick White Riders in the Chariot
1960 Elizabeth O'Conner The Irishman
1959 Vance Palmer The Big Fellow
1958 Randolph Stow To the Islands
1957 Patrick White Voss