The 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist has been announced with mob heavyweights Tara June Winch and Tony Birch among those nominated.

The Copyright Agency Cultural Fund alongside award trustee Perpetual, announced the shortlist yesterday via a live YouTube ceremony online.

Contenders on the shortlist include:

  • Islands by Peggy Frew
  • The Returns by Philip Salom
  • Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
  • The White Girl by Tony Birch,
  • The Yield by Tara June Winch
  • No One by John Hughes.

Born and raised in Fitzroy Victoria, Tony Birch calls himself an urban blackfulla. He has strong ties to mob in Victoria and Tasmania and is an author, academic, climate activist and proud grandfather.

Birch’s novel, The White Girl, won the NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing. The story follows the story of Odette Brown and her granddaughter, Sissy, who fight to stay together against authorities attempting to split them up.

Although highlighting dark parts of the nation’s history, Birch said that at its heart, the book is about love.

“Being around a lot of older Aboriginal women who have, not only held communities together, but have gone through shocking tragedies and struggle—that was always the story I wanted to tell,” Birch said.

“As an academic and a historian, I’d done a lot of work in the government archives reading over the really shocking testimonies of Aboriginal women who have had their kids or their grandkids taken from them.

“I started doing that way back when the Bringing Them Home Report was released because one of the shocking responses to that by conservatives was that Aboriginal women gave their kids up to the state, they gave their kids up for a better life. In fact, I was reading hundreds upon hundreds of letters by women demanding their kids be brought home.”

“I wanted to pay tribute to the courage of those women, through Odette Brown, who is the central character, to show the tenacity of Aboriginal women. Importantly, I want blackfulla readers to know that it is a story and a book about tenderness and love.”

In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia, Birch spoke about the importance of stories of Aboriginal resistance and resilience.

“It is vital that these stories are out there, not necessarily my novel, but the stories of survival are out there. Again, while we are legitimate victims of colonial violence, we don’t want to be pitied, we don’t want to be seen as victims. What the book does, is say these people not only have great love, they have great courage,” he said.

“I wanted to show how Aboriginal women can be dignified with their courage, but they can also be angry … It is a book about women mostly.”

Tony Birch’s The White Girl. Photo supplied.

The White Girl also delves into different forms of colonial violence, whether it be through legislation or destruction of Country.

“Violence against Country and violence against people go hand in hand, that is obvious,” said Birch.

“In the novel, there is a river that runs through the town … the river has been choked to death because of the theft of water which has occurred for so many decades … also the theft of land, wetlands and billabongs.

“One of the great things that Indigenous people across the globe are doing is that when we talk about climate justice and protection of Country, we don’t talk about these issues separate from ourselves as people. The holistic nature of the relationship between Country and people is something the rest of the world needs to learn.”

Wiradjuri writer Tara June Winch’s nomination continues its trail of success. The Yield has already taken out 2020 Book of the Year, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the People’s Choice Award at the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

The novel features Wiradjuri language and talks to the presence of colonial legacies in contemporary identities.

The Yield has already taken home three awards this year. Photo supplied.

John Hughes’ novel No One brings stories of mob to the front of the literary world, with a brave commentary on the systemic issues of institutional care in contemporary Australia.

The Copyright Agency’s CEO, Adam Suckling, spoke of the organisation’s pride to be continuing its support of Australian literature by announcing the 2020 nominees.

“At a time when the creative infrastructure that supports the production, promotion and sales of writing is being smashed, the evolution into an online event offers greater reach and access while inspiring and challenging our view of Australian life, and most of all showcasing the vibrant voices of some of the country’s most talented authors,” said Suckling.

John Hughes’ No One. Photo supplied.

Each of this year’s shortlisted authors will receive $5,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

The 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award will be announced on July 16, with the winner taking home $60,000 in prize money.

By Rachael Knowles