A history of WA's Aboriginal Legal Service, described as a "must-read" for all West Australians, has won the $25,000 Premier's Prize.
The book by Fiona Skyring beat 595 other entries from across Australia, including Anna Funder's Miles Franklin Award-winning novel All That I Am and Tim Winton and Ellen Fontana's screen adaptation of Cloudstreet.
At the awards ceremony last night, Premier Colin Barnett said A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia made a significant contribution to increasing understanding of the changes in criminal justice and policing and to attitudes about racial discrimination and land rights.
A thrilled Skyring said the book, commissioned by the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA and which this year won the 2012 Margaret Medcalf Award, was intended to be as engaging and readable as possible.
"Clearly (the ALS) didn't just want an academic tome that would sit on the shelf and gather dust," she said. "My attitude is if you make history boring, you're doing something really wrong. I'm really thrilled that the judges thought my work ticked all the right boxes."
The judges praised the book as an "elegantly written, painstakingly researched and profoundly relevant publication" and a "must-read" for all West Australians.
Judges chair Dr Rose Lucas said there was robust discussion before deciding on the Premier's Prize winner.
"In the end it was a really passionate argument that put Justice at the top," she said. "In the WA context, to have a book such as this is really important. It's very well written, it's very engaging and it takes complex historical material and makes it accessible."
Winton and Fontana were awarded the $10,000 Scripts Award for the Cloudstreet screen adaptation.
Funder won the $15,000 Fiction Award and $5000 People's Choice Award.
"It was quite a confronting process because I couldn’t remember the book," said Winton, who had to write the screenplay in just three weeks. "I thought I could remember but one of the producers was having to send me back to the book all the time, like a school teacher.
"I felt like I was studying for my own TEE exam on Cloudstreet and mostly failing. It was onerous but I felt it worked."
Winton was also inducted into the State State Library of WA’s Hall of Fame of notable and prolific WA writers.
"Tim Winton is one of Australia's most esteemed writers for both adults and children,” Mr Barnett said. "He is truly worthy of this honour."
Winton said he didn't know what to make of it when he received the news. "I think I have to say I was bemused," he said.
2011 CATEGORY WINNERS
State Library of Western Australia West Australian History Award ($10,000) & Premier's Prize ($25,000)
Justice: a History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia by Fiona Skyring (UWA Publishing)
Fiction Award ($15,000) and People's Choice Award ($5000)
All That I Am by Anna Funder (Penguin)
Her Father's Daughter by Alice Pung (Black Inc.)
Children's Books ($15,000)
Sam, Grace & the Shipwreck by Michelle Gillespie and Sonia Martinez (Fremantle Press)
Cloudstreet: the Screenplay by Tim Winton and Ellen Fontana (Penguin)
The Argument by Tracy Ryan (Fremantle Press)
Young Adults ($10,000)
Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
Digital Narrative Award ($5000)
Machine Man by Max Barry (Scribe Publications)