Fremantle Press detention centre novel named one of 15 top Australian books by the Colin Roderick Literary Award judges

Avan Judd Stallard’s Spinifex & Sunflowers has been longlisted for one of Australia’s oldest and most esteemed literary awards.

Given to the best original book published in Australia during the previous calendar year, the Colin Roderick Literary Award produced a formidable longlist, with Stallard joining well-known writers Judith Beveridge, Robert Drewe, Gail Jones, Behrouz Boochani and recent Miles Franklin winner Melissa Lucashenko.

Based on the author’s own experiences at the (now closed) Curtin Detention Centre, Spinifex & Sunflowers is about Nick Harris, a man who takes a job as a refugee-prison guard to pay his debts. Despite being described by Books+Publishing as a novel that ‘deserves to be read by any Australian with a conscience’ and by the Adelaide Advertiser as ‘page-turning’, ‘compelling’ and ‘fascinating’, it seems the wider Australian public has been a little hesitant to embrace this story – perhaps because it asks Australians to look at something intrinsically uncomfortable.

In a media release announcing the longlisted books, judging panel chair Dr Leigh Dale said, ‘In addition to being a crucial step along the path of finding the winner, the longlist recognises the breadth of the Award. We have listed some books that might otherwise fly a little under the radar. We wanted to draw readers’ attention to them – every book on the longlist is special, and the authors and publishers have all done very well to have their book recognised from such a large field.’

Dr Leigh said all four judges found reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir and other genres, and then comparing books across these genres, testing but exhilarating. She said even with ruthless pruning, coming up with a longlist of 15 books was challenging.

WA publisher Magabala Books made the longlist with Simply Ing by Helen Nellie and Margaret O’Brien. The other longlisted books were: Sun Music: New & Selected Poems by Judith Beveridge, No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani, Staying: A Memoir by Jessie Cole, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, The True Colour of the Sea by Robert Drewe, The Lost Man by Jane Harper, Butterfly on a Pin by Alannah Hill, The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones, Wintering by Krissy Kneen, The Dead Still Cry Out: The Story of a Combat Cameraman by Helen Lewis, Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, The Biographer’s Lover by Ruby J. Murray, and Dinner with the Dissidents by John Tesarsch.

Founded in 1967 by Professor Colin Roderick, the award is given to the best original book published in Australia in the previous calendar year dealing with any aspect of Australian life. Winners receive a cheque for $20,000. The shortlist was announced this week and the winner will be announced on 31 October.

Spinifex & Sunflowers by Avan Judd Stallard is available from the and all good bookstores.

Books discussed
Spinifex & Sunflowers

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