The Miles Franklin Award

For some years now I have been rather annoyed that the Miles Franklin Award is held in such little regard in this country. I've said in other places that I feel a bit ambiguous about awards in the arts - both sides of the argument hold sway at any one time: you can't expect to be able to pick the "best" novel out of a list of widely divergent subjects, and it tends to diminish the value of the work down to a "beauty contest"; it focuses the public's attention on books that are generally considered "worthy" and which might, in other circumstances, have been overlooked.

So let's, for the sake of this piece, acknowledge that the award is here to stay, and that it does have an important role to play in the literature of Australia. Why, then, does it only come to the public's attention when there is a fuss? And why so often?

At the end of 2004, "The Age" reported on the changes to the award judging structure being implemented by the Trustees. This "Judging Panel Charter" sought to define the roles of the judges, to limit their activities and place restrictions on their tenure and ability to elect a panel chair. Three of the judges - Mark Rubbo, David Marr and Kerryn Goldsworthy - resigned and have since been replaced. The award was in a bit of a sorry state during the latter part of the 1990s following the debacle of the choice of The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko/Darville in 1995. Slowly, confidence and trust in the award had begun to re-emerge, and now it seems like it has hit on hard times again.

There are a number of things about the award that I would like to see changed. Although I can see that having a fixed judging panel has had a beneficial effect of late, I would like to see some new faces included. From time to time. The Booker experience, of completely changing the panel each year, is too far the other way, but having judges
appointed for life (as in the original set-up), or unchanging for a considerable period doesn't appeal either. Maybe a combination of the two might work: a number of judges, say 4, which have extended appointments and from whom the panel chair is chosen on a rotating basis, and another 2 who are new appointments each year. That way you get "fresh new blood" each year with a level of continuity that the award seems to require. But what do I know? I'm only an interested observer.

Michael Williams, on the other hand, has more telling and informed things to say about the current mess. And maybe his final paragraph sums it all up:

A look at the winners over the 47 years of the award shows a considerable bias towards historical novels, novels with rural settings. Anglocentric, predominantly male. Is this an excessively narrow interpretation of the phases of Australian life? Arguably the Archibald Prize has a higher profile than the Miles. The spike in sales offered by its endorsement doesn't come within a bull's roar of that enjoyed by the Mann Booker, and almost 50 per cent of its winning titles are out of print. Somewhere along the line, this cultural icon has lost its way.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 15, 2005 4:11 PM.

Germaine Greer Out of Touch was the previous entry in this blog.

Weekend Round-Up #3 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en