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The 2009 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award winner

We are very happy to announce that in 2009 the award has been won by two writers:

Utopian Man, by Lisa Lang


Night Street, by Kristel Thornell

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Also shortlisted in 2009 were:

The Burial by Courtney Collins
The Book of Lilith by Nathan Markham
Squire Nation by Jeremy Ohlback

2009 Winners

'UTOPIAN MAN' by Lisa Lang

In the 1880s, when Marvellous Melbourne was full of colourful identities, Edward William Cole was both legendary and mysterious. He was the colourful proprietor of Cole's Book Arcade - a multi-storey book arcade full of animals and fun park antics in the heart of Melbourne - and the creator of Cole's Funny Picture Books. Melburnians adored him; they could read all day in his Arcade and never be pushed to buy. But others were scandalised by his advertisement for a wife on the front page of the Herald and outraged when he campaigned against the White Australia Policy.  Determined and eccentric, Edward ignored them all and went his own way.  He was a collector of interests and causes, and they all ended up in his Arcade: a giant squid, a brass band, pet moneys, a black man whose skin had turned white, and a Chinese Tea Salon. He turned his passions into business, and his business thrived. But he was hit hard by the 1890's depression and the death of one of his children; grief, corruption and an unscrupulous widow all threatened to derail his singular vision. But it was not until he visited Chinatown one night - and his own deeply suppressed past - that the idealist faced his toughest challenge of all.

Judges' comments

'Impressive, vivid and enjoyable.' Cate Kennedy 'Seductive, clear and evocative ... generous and full of wonders, just like the arcade itself.' Matt Rubinstein

Read an extract from the manuscript of Utopian Man

About Lisa Lang

Lisa Lang is a Melbourne writer. She is the author of the non-fiction title E.W.Cole: Chasing the Rainbow, and was selected in 2007 for the Australian Society of Authors’ mentorship program. She likes to write wearing a crocheted green poncho.

Lisa writes: "When I first heard about Cole’s Book Arcade I was astonished: a multi-storey book arcade full of animals and fun park antics in the heart of Melbourne.  And the man behind it was just as surprising, an eccentric humanitarian with a genius for promotion called Edward Cole. I could not believe it; I had lived my whole life in Melbourne and never heard of either of them. I had grown up on stories of criminal folk heroes and sporting legends - that was history, as I knew it. The Cole story radically altered my concept of the city and its past. Suddenly I saw a history full of colour and diversity: Turkish bathhouses, Chinese immigrants, séances, opium dens, entrepreneurs, conmen and grand idealists. And I wanted to bring it all to life on the page."

'NIGHT STREET' by Kristel Thornell

Based on the life of Melbourne artist Clarice Beckett (1887-1935), Night Street tells the story of Clarice, a prolific landscape painter working in the city and suburbs of Melbourne in the early decades of the twentieth century. Her highly atmospheric, enigmatic landscapes find little favour with the critics who disparage her style and subjects. But despite an indifferent art world and a seemingly confined existence as a spinster daughter in the parental home, Clarice leads an intense and sensual private life and has an extraordinary talent for making simple city and seascapes haunting and mysteriously revelatory.

Judges' comments

'Full of beauty, rhythm, humanity and surprising insights.' Margo Lanagan

'Beautifully written with a precise and measured authority.' Cate Kennedy

Read an extract from the manuscript of Night Street

About Kristel Thornell

Born in 1975, Kristel Thornell grew up in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. She studied French and Italian at the University of Sydney and spent a year in Italy, researching the author Giorgio Bassani and then teaching English as a foreign language. She has published reviews, poetry and fiction in a range of journals, including Meanjin, Overland, Southerly and Island. For the last two and half years, she has been working on a PhD in Creative Writing, supervised by Nicholas Jose, first through the University of Adelaide and now with the University of Western Sydney.

Kristel writes: "Night Street began with my first encounter with the paintings of the Melbourne artist Clarice Beckett (1887-1935) at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I was fascinated by the subtle power of her highly atmospheric, enigmatic landscapes and found myself imagining the inner life of such an artist. I began to learn about Beckett, largely from the scholarly work of Rosalind Hollinrake and later through conversations with Rosalind during my visits to Melbourne. Alongside my interest in the historical figure, I'd become obsessed with a fictional artist named Clarice, the protagonist of Night Street."

Shortlisted entries

The Burial by Courtney Collins

A dark, swooning upgrade of the Australian gothic genre. This time, a lost child speaks plaintively from beyond the grave, adding her voice to several others in tracing the life of Jessie, based on a real-life horse thief and murderess of the 1920s, whose real crime, it seems, was to have been born a woman.   

'It grabbed me ... great characterisation, a setting you can taste and smell and feel under your fingernails ... a story that propels itself along with real vigour.' - Margo Lanagan



The Book of Lilith by Nathan Markham

The grandest of grand guignols. Oozing with sex, violence and the blackest of comedy, The Book of Lilith recalls de Sade, Kathy Acker and William Burroughs. In the sheer antipodean exuberance of its characters transgressions, however, Markhams novel is sui generis.    

'A great seething subconscious full of dark wonders ... a compelling imagination at play, a sophisticated voice and a lot of black comedy.' - Matt Rubinstein 




Squire Nation by Jeremy Ohlback

A smooth and understated fictional reconstruction of the life of James Squire, convict and master brewer, whose death in 1822 inspired an outpouring of grief larger than any in the young colony's history. Well-researched, and deft in its exploration of the complex and ultimately tragic relationship between white and black during those early years.      

'A fresh and distinctive voice ... beautifully evoked ... subtle and devastating.' - Cate Kennedy



Download and read 'On judging the 2009 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award by Geordie Williamson' (PDF)