Unmaking Angas Downs wins the 2023 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Australian History
Shannyn Palmer's Unmaking Angas Downs, an exceptional work of history that seeks to unmake mythologies of pioneers, pastoralism and possession in the Northern Territory, has won the 2023 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Australian History.
From the judging panel:
"Shannyn Palmer sets herself an ambitious task: to ‘explore the implications of different ways of knowing the world for historical research and writing in a colonised settler nation’. In an age that calls for truth-telling, she models an exemplary act of truth-listening. Unmaking Angas Downs relates the history of a place layered with stories and varied human experience. Colonising stories of pastoralism, policy-making and tourism sit alongside Anangu life stories and journeys, and the complex practices that transformed a cattle station into Country. Palmer employs an innovative style and structure that gives equal place to variant and even contradictory histories of everyday things, concepts and words. She is ever-present in the text, weaving her methodological and ethical processes into the narrative without a hint of ego or self-aggrandisement. Recounting her own coming into awareness, from halting conversations in English to complex acts of listening through an interpreter to stories in Pitjantjatjara, she shows how Angas Downs was made and unmade by Anangu through journeys and rupture, belonging and dislocation, relatedness and exchange. The result is a narrative carefully grounded in time and place, even as it problematises the cultural constructs of time and place that have marginalised Indigenous storytelling voices and techniques.
Palmer pulls off a book with the highest degree of difficulty: a nimble high-wire act of cross-cultural research, interpretation and communication. Her book not only rewrites the history of colonisation in Central Australia; it offers a model of engaged listening and interwoven truth-telling that pushes the boundaries of the discipline of history in Australia. A book for our times, it invites new ways of reading, as well as writing, the history of a colonised nation. An exceptional work of historical scholarship by an exciting new voice in history-making (and unmaking)."