It’s the politics, stupid.

Melbourne Gravy Tram

The winner of the 2012 Australian Prime Minister’s awards for Literature in the Poetry category was announced in July 2012. The people who appointed the judges, all the judges and the winner were all members of the cultural roundabout in… Melbourne. There were many reports of the event, all based on the official handout. Where were Australia’s literary editors, whose duty it is to notice and comment on such things? Fast asleep.

Here are the facts, below.

The Australian Prime Minister is Julia Gillard. She is a graduate of the University of Melbourne in both law (1987) and arts (1990). At Melbourne Gillard was active in student politics. One of the first female partners in the Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon at the age of 29, she specialised in industrial law. She became chief of staff to the Victorian State Leader of the Opposition, John Brumby, in Melbourne.

The man Ms Gillard appointed a Minster for the Arts in 2010 is the Honorable Simon Crean. He is from Melbourne, and his electorate is Hotham, in Melbourne.

The judges he appointed to the Fiction and poetry panel are:

Mr Joel Becker, Chair: Mr Becker is not a poet, but a cultural bureaucrat. He has been Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Booksellers Association since early 2010. Previously, he was Director of the Victorian Writers’ Centre in Melbourne for eight years. He was a participant in the bid to make Melbourne a UNESCO City of Literature and was integral in the development of what became the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. Mr Becker has judged the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Emerging Victorian Writer in Melbourne on three occasions. As well as serving on a number of Boards, Mr Becker has been a member of the State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship judging panel since its inception in 2003 in Melbourne.

Dr Lyn Gallacher: Dr Gallacher is not a poet, but a cultural bureaucrat. She has been a Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Fiction judge since 2009. She has been a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, where she studied the Magic Collection.

Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe AM: Professor Wallace-Crabbe is the Chair of Australian Poetry Limited, Australia’s peak body for poetry, based in Melbourne. He is a poet and cultural bureaucrat, and also Professor Emeritus and Chair of the Board of the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. He is also a member of the board of «Meanjin» magazine in Melbourne, and several other boards.

Mr Peter Craven: Mr Craven is not a poet, but a journalist and critic. He was one of the founding editors of «Scripsi», a literary magazine based in Melbourne. He went on to be the first editor of «Best Australian Essays», «Best Australian Stories» and «Best Australian Poems», all published by Black Inc in Melbourne.

And the winner of the 2012 poetry Prize: «Interferon Psalms» by Luke Davies. Luke Davies is best known for his regular essays on film in the «Monthly», a Melbourne magazine.

Campbell Newman

Those readers who are unhappy about the peculiar dominance of the Melbourne wooden horse on the carousel of Australian culture can relax: it can’t go on for much longer. There must be a Federal election before late November 2013, and the present Labor crew are unlikely to win (understatement!). In 2014, the triumphant right-wing parties are hardly likely to want to reward creative writers, poets or cultural bureaucrats with fat prizes, whatever clique they belong to.

Look what the conservatives did in the Australian state of Queensland. At the last state election, voters there threw out 43 Labor members of parliament and slashed the party’s representation to seven seats in its worst result on record.

Il Duce
A totally unrelated historical figure

The conservatives, with 78 seats, led by Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party, smashed nearly 14 years of Labor rule with a devastating 16 per cent swing. One of Newman’s first acts as Premier was to axe the Premier’s Literary Awards to save taxpayers $245,000.

Extrapolate that act of cultural thuggery to all of Australia; then make it a little worse each year, year after year, for fourteen years.

There: does that feel better?

One Reply to “It’s the politics, stupid.”

  1. Hi John – Your argument makes me (as the winner) feel a little uncomfortable on a few fronts. I feel that making me part of your Melbourne theory is a little round-peg-in-square-hole. And God forbid that I’m “best known” for my film writing in The Monthly (which has always been my pay-the-rent back-up job as a poet – albeit that I LOVE writing on film). I’d imagine rather that I’m best known as the author of Candy; and I’d hope that in the only world that matters, the world of poetry, I’m best known as a poet who’s been publishing since 1982. So there’s that: my two connections with Melbourne are my having lived there as a junkie 20 years ago, and my having written (out of Los Angeles these last five years) for a Melbourne-based magazine. I feel that had Gig Ryan or Ali Alizadeh won the award you’d have a more valid claim to current “Melbourneness”. Because is your piece implying that I might have won because I’m part of some Melbourne coterie? It’s not at all clear to me if that’s what you’re saying, but I felt enough of a tremor in the subsurface to want to make these points here. Forgive me if it’s based on utter misinterpretation. My point is I don’t really feel that your adding me into the Melbourne thrust of your argument is really all that valid – and that it leaves open an implication that my book may not have won on its own merits. My experience has always been that the judging on these things is pretty much a lottery once you’re on the shortlist – and certainly here, any one of these four other fine poets might have justifiably won the prize. But I can also think of any number of other scenarios – entirely different mixes of judges & backgrounds, entirely different city-biases etc – where Interferon Psalms might still have been the winner. It IS a strong book, and should certainly have been on the shortlist. In that sense, it’s an honour to make the shortlist. After that, the dice roll. But I for one feel comfortable that Interferon Psalms won on its merits, which are not inconsiderable.

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