Last night I went along to the ‘streamlined’ Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, run by the Wheeler Centre. The awards took place in the grand Plaza Ballroom (part of the Regent Theatre), built in 1929. The decadent entrance and room is apparently in the Spanish Rococo style, but it seemed very eclectic to me: nouveau flourishes, grotesques, set-like balconies, nautical images. As impressive (if not more so) than many of the buildings I saw in Europe.
Waiters formed a blockade across the ballroom entrance, proffering champagne, beer and cosmopolitans. I drank three before my bum even hit the seat (sitting tall in my tight blue-and-white wiggle dress). Plans for live-tweeting went out the window – if there had been windows – as Optus had no coverage whatsoever in the ballroom bunker.
‘Welcome to the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards: Print Never Dies’, began our host, Casey Bennetto. It was right into the entree then, something fishy, more sips, overhearing conversations on everything from the literary scene in Melbourne through to global warming.
The Wheeler Centre representatives gave speeches. Eric Beecher welcomed Premier Ted Baillieu to his first awards, noted that he was enjoying himself already (raucous laughter broke out on one side of the room). Chrissy Sharp said her goodbyes as she is leaving the Wheeler Centre to head overseas. Michael Williams is her worthy successor. Sharpe said that the ‘last few years have been a marvellous whirlwind’. She explained the new ‘streamlined’ awards which include more consultation with writers and booksellers, and she announced that the Readings Foundation are offering 20 more Wheeler Centre fellowships (with stipend) in the next 12 months. Keep an eye out for those, writers.
Anna Krien won the inaugural People’s Choice Award for Into the Woods. She wasn’t there to accept it as she was at the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards.
My main meal was chicken, pesto, red cabbage. Wine.
Casey Bennetto sang a hilarious ditty about the Premier: ‘Oh Ted… Well I never thought Ted would be so well-read’. I was pretty drunk by this stage but the premier’s speech was along the lines of ‘city of literature’, ‘cultural heritage’, the ‘core character’ of Victoria, and something about not being sad if you don’t win because there are enough sad faces on the walls (the grotesques). He talked about the new Victorian Prize for the Literature (the big kahuna $100,000 prize) and we all imagined how much writing you could get done with that kind of dough. He awarded Casey Bennetto a beetroot sandwich for songwriting.
The category winners were:
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott. Scott thanked his family, ‘who have to put up with the self-absorption’.
An Eye for Eternity: the Life of Manning Clarke by Mark McKenna. McKenna said that the book took seven years to write.
Do Not Go Gentle by Patricia Cornelius. Cornelius thanked the people who championed the play as, she said, it’s hard to get work on in this country.
The Taste of River Water by Cate Kennedy. Casey Bennetto’s opening song for this category asked ‘what is it with poets and water?’ Kennedy said that another writer once said to her: ‘maybe occasionally a poem is like a glass of water’. It’s not about changing the world, she said, ‘I just want to give you a glass of water’.
The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds. Golds thanked her publisher, Penguin, for their ‘broad-mindedness and openness to the unconventional’.
The Victorian Prize for Literature was then announced, and went to Kim Scott for That Deadman Dance. The big bucks. It was very humbly accepted. Scott thanked the ‘alpha male’ Premier Ted Baillieu who, disturbingly, thrusted his pelvis in reply. But it was that kind of night. He said that fiction allows us to provide a narrative that would otherwise not be available to us. The roots of who we are and where we live. That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin award, too, so it’s been a great year so far for Scott.
The night ended with gushy conversations and an enthusiastic taxi driver (he was new to Australia), and a glass of gin I seemed to pour but didn’t drink.
Thanks again to the Wheeler Centre for having me along!
As mentioned, the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were also held last night. You can see which books won those here.