Miles Franklin Literary Award 2000

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

Thea Astley has won the Miles Franklin Award three times; the first time, in 1962, was for The Well-Dressed Explorer. She won it again in 1965 for The Slow Natives, and in 1972 for The Acolyte.

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."

Miles Franklin Literary Award 2000 Shortlist

Too Many Men
Lily Brett

The daughter of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, Lily Brett has sought repeatedly to bear witness to their experiences in her poetry and fiction.

In Too Many Men, Lily Brett's narrator is Ruth Rothwax, daughter of Holocaust survivors, who has persuaded her father to return to Lodz with her, his birthplace and the city he was taken from in 1940. Here the reader too is led inexorably into the heart of racism and madness: where Poles in white-face act in ‘Jewish cabaret', where the elderly Poles in her grandparent's house sell Ruth pieces from her grandmother's fluted china dinner service, and in Auschwitz, now a tourist destination, where wooden carvings of Jews are sold as souvenirs. When her distress and rage threaten to unhinge her, it is her father's huge life force that starts to set his daughter free and forces her to confront her own racial hatred. Lily Brett's narrative skills are considerable, the sweep of the novel courageous and unforgettable.

What a Piece of Work
Dorothy Porter

Following the success of her verse novel, The Monkey's Mask, a crime thriller, Dorothy Porter has written a powerful novel in verse about psychiatric care. Narrated by the manipulative psychiatrist in charge of Sydney's Callan Park Hospital, What a Piece of Work is a chilling study of the malign exercise of power over the vulnerable. Not a word is wasted in the brilliant mirror world Dorothy Porter creates. A novel of sharp tones and bright surfaces, it is an experience that is both disturbing and enthralling.

Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop
Amy Witting

In I for Isobel, Patrick White prize winner Amy Witting traced a young girl's rite of passage as she moved from a difficult childhood towards independence and self-discovery. In Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop, Amy Witting's young protagonist finds herself a patient in the closed, overheated world of a TB sanatorium. With poised control, Witting shows Isobel learning to observe people's characters in the close-up of the TB wards - thus setting her on the way to being a writer. Modest in its expectations, Witting's novel is rich and satisfying in its achievements.