Deep Time Dreaming captures imaginations and literary award

Griffiths’ Deep Time Dreaming, Uncovering Ancient Australia charts that archaeological journey through pioneering scholars, excavations and discoveries, winning this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Award Book of the Year and sharing the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction with Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner.

A research fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Griffiths set out to learn the craft of «deep time» by joining an archaeological excavation in Arnhem Land, working on site during the day — «slowly trowling our way through time, coming across these little residues of former worlds and piecing them together, what stories they had to tell» — and earning his keep as camp cook.

»The local indigenous people were interested and sceptical,» Griffiths says. »They could see the currency of the deep past and they were actively mobilising insights from our excavations in their own contemporary fight against uranium mining, which brought home how politically charged this field is.»

People's choice: Trent Dalton for Boy Swallows Universe.

People’s choice: Trent Dalton for Boy Swallows Universe. Credit:Russell Shakespeare

Judges applauded Griffiths’ book as groundbreaking, filling a critical gap in the understanding of Australia and showing how archaeology dramatically shifted history and opinions, particularly in regard to ownership of sites, artefacts, land and history by first Australians.

«Never before has there been a voice to explain the importance played by archaeology in Australian culture,» they wrote. «Archaeology stopped the damning of the Franklin River – the biggest environmental controversy in Australia’s history – challenged perceptions of wilderness, and empowered Indigenous activists by proving that their links to country went back tens of thousands of years.»

A special award of $10,000 was made to Manus Island refugee Behrooz Boochani for No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, one of a number of winning entries, according to senior judge Suzanne Leal, «rigorous in their interrogation of our past and consideration of our present”.

Michelle de Kretser added to her overflowing trophy cabinet with The Life to Come awarded the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe was awarded the prize for new writing and picked up the people’s choice award.

Book of the Year: Deep Time Dreaming

Book of the Year: Deep Time Dreaming

Griffiths said he had written Deep time Dreaming for the general reader, not scholars. «This is why it’s such an immense honour to win this award because it is the public I’m seeking to address. I’ve been overjoyed to see the book brought into the conversations around voice, treaty, truth, and I finish the book with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I want the book to join that conversation because I do think we are at a critical, pivotal moment in Australian cultural life.»


Book of the Year ($10,000)
Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia by Billy Griffiths

Special Award ($10,000)
No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrooz Boochani

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000)
The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5000)
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction ($40,000)
Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia by Billy Griffiths
The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000)
Interval by Judith Bishop

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000)
Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood
Dingo by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature ($30,000)
Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting ($30,000)
The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting ($30,000)

Jirga by Benjamin Gilmour

Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000)
The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000)
Alison Entrekin

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