Leading Victoria University researcher, academic, author, and educator Professor Tony Birch has been awarded the 2017 Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to contemporary Australian literature.
He is the first Indigenous writer to win the $20,000 annual literary prize, established by Australian novelist Patrick White in 1973 with the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for Literature.
The award is bestowed to an author who has made an ongoing contribution to Australian literature, but may not have received due recognition.
Dr Birch is the author of several acclaimed novels including Blood, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award, and Ghost River, the 2016 winner of the Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing. He has also written several short story collections including The Promise (shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award) and a book of poetry.
He is widely published in literary magazines and anthologies, and is a regular guest at writers’ festivals. Dr Birch was a writer-in-residence at the Wheeler Centre in 2014, the venue of last night’s announcement of his win.
Dr Birch said the award provided him with “a deep sense of personal satisfaction for what I spend a great deal of my time thinking about and putting to the page for readers.”
Since arriving at Victoria University in July 2015 as the inaugural recipient of the Bruce McGuiness Fellowship (named for one of Victoria’s most respected Aboriginal elders and a long-time activist in the struggle for Aboriginal justice) Dr Birch has combined his creative writing with academic research, student mentoring, and public lectures.
His role sits within VU’s Moondani Balluk Academic Unit, and is linked to the University’s creative arts and writing programs.
Dr Birch delivered the Bruce McGuinness Lecture last June to mark the 100th anniversary of VU’s founding school, Footscray Technical School, in 1916.
Entitled Things Gotta Go Both Ways’: Climate Change, Indigenous Knowledge and Social Justice, the lecture focused on the implications of climate change on Indigenous communities, and the value of Aboriginal knowledge of land and the natural environment to inform the wider community.