Persistence pays off for Maria Papas who has won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award a decade after she made the shortlist for the first time around

Karrinyup author Maria Papas has won the 2020 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award for her manuscript I Belong to the Lake. She takes home a $15,000 cash prize and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press.

Papas is no stranger to the thrill of making the Hungerford shortlist, having had her previous manuscript on the list in 2010. A decade later, Papas was convinced she wasn’t going to win this time around either. She said, ‘I didn’t expect to win and honestly as my Mum and Dad walked in the door I said, “Mum it’s not me, it’s not me, so be there for me at the end.”’ While confessing that she submitted her latest novel just twenty minutes before entries closed, Papas says she hopes her win will convince other writers to stay committed, keep learning and keep going.

Judged anonymously, the biennial prize is in its 30th year and is presented to an emerging West Australian writer for their first full-length, unpublished work of fiction or narrative non-fiction.

Fremantle Press publisher and Hungerford judge Georgia Richter said this year’s winning novel was moving, subtle and skilful. Richter said: ‘I Belong to the Lake explores a family’s experience of childhood leukaemia. It’s about the bond forged by two teenagers hovering on the periphery of their siblings’ illness and it captures some of those unseen long-term changes wrought in families affected by cancer.’

Set in Lake Clifton, just south of Mandurah, the novel is told from the perspectives of Grace, a nurse, who runs into Nate, a boy whose family lived nearby. The connection they had as teenagers – both sidelined and made to witness the progression of their siblings’ leukaemia – is reaffirmed in adulthood.

Papas said too often literature and cinema represented cancer as a neat trajectory or plot point – a disruption to the norm that was to be overcome. She said, ‘In our family we have had the very intimate experience of watching loved ones be treated for cancer and I wanted to write about paediatric cancer in a way that honoured the very fragmented and often disorientating nature in which such an experience is commonly lived. What happens to siblings, for example? How does one retain a sense of wonder even in the midst of such heavy hospital treatment? Can families impacted ever leave the shock or trauma behind? These are the questions that kept me going as I wrote.’

The winner was announced at a ceremony at Fremantle Arts Centre on Thursday 22 October. Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said he was confident the other shortlisted authors Sharron Booth for The Silence of Water and Joanna Morrison for Still Dark would also go on to successful writing careers. Mayor Pettitt said: ‘The City of Fremantle has always been a huge supporter of the arts and literature. It has been a challenging year in many ways, and a time in which we have seen creative artists in particular struggle with their livelihood. So, the importance of awards like the Hungerford, which the City of Fremantle proudly sponsors, has become even more pronounced.’

The three judges of this year’s award, Sisonke Msimang, Richard Rossiter and Brenda Walker, read 66 manuscripts of a variety of forms and genres, including literary fiction, young adult novels, short story collections and narrative non-fiction. What they were looking for was a confident narrative delivery, a distinctive, compelling voice and stories that needed to be told.

Tom (T.A.G.) Hungerford was widely admired as a quintessential West Australian writer and identity. He was proud to have this unique award for debut writers named for him and was always a great supporter of new and emerging writers. Former winners include Gail Jones, Simone Lazaroo, Alice Nelson and Brenda Walker, with Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott identified for publication from the Hungerford shortlist.

The award is sponsored by the City of Fremantle and Fremantle Press.

Social media: #FremantlePress #HungerfordAward, @MariaPapas5 (Twitter), @FremantlePress, @CityofFremantle

Media contact: Claire Miller,, 08 9430 6331, 0419 837 841


About the winner

Maria Papas’ stories and essays have appeared in a number of Australian and international journals including Griffith Review, Axon, The Letters Page, The West Australian, SBS online and Review of Australian Fiction. In 2011 her play Arbour Day won the Maj Monologues competition. She has previously been longlisted for the Australian/Vogel Literary Award and shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award. She has recently completed a PhD at the University of Western Australia.

About T.A.G. Hungerford (1915–2011)

T.A.G. Hungerford was widely admired as a quintessential Western Australian writer and identity. He was a major contributor in helping us define our sense of self and place in a rapidly changing world. His first collection of short stories was published in 1976 by Fremantle Press. His books Stories from Suburban Road, A Knockabout with a Slouch Hat and Red Rover All Over have all been major publishing successes. In 1987, T.A.G. Hungerford was made a member of the Order of Australia. In 2002, he was the recipient of the Patrick White Award and in 2004 he was declared a Western Australian State Living Treasure. He was proud to have the unique WA award for debut writers, the T.A.G. Hungerford Award, named for him. He was always a great supporter of new and emerging writers.

Past winners

1990 Brenda Walker, Crush
1991 Gail Jones, The House of Breathing, shortlisted Kim Scott
1993 Simone Lazaroo, The World Waiting to Be Made
1995 Bruce Russell, Jacob’s Air
2000 Christopher Murray, A Whispering of Fish
2002 Nathan Hobby, The Fur
2004 Donna Mazza, The Albanian
2006 Alice Nelson, The Last Sky
2008 Natasha Lester, What is Left Over, After
2010 Jacqueline Wright, Red Dirt Talking
2012 Robert Edeson, The Weaver Fish
2014 Madelaine Dickie, Troppo
2016 Jay Martin, Vodka and Apple Juice: Travels of an Undiplomatic Wife in Poland
2018 Holden Sheppard, Invisible Boys

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