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Judging the Literary Lions Medal

Woman making speech at lectern

The presentation of the 2019 Writing WA Literary Lions Medal was made today in a ceremony hosted at The Perth Mint.

Prior to the announcement of the Award winner, Shelagh Magadza spoke on behalf of the judging panel and reflected on the difficulty they faced in selecting the finalists and Award winner.

In celebrating and valuing each the three Medal finalists and their outstanding contributions to the WA writing community, we have reproduced Shelagh’s speech below in full.

Good morning everyone and thank you for this opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the judging panel.

I’d like to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation on whose lands we meet today.  The stories that they continue to preserve and share about this country are a source of understanding and inspiration to all of us.

Judging an award like this is incredibly difficult and I was initially hesitant about joining the panel, but I was glad I did because the applications gave us a great respect for how much work is being done across the community by people who have a passion for literature and for ensuring our writers and stories are supported. 

The judging panel was Chaired by Renato Sansalone who can’t be here today as he is traveling overseas.  Renato is the Treasurer of Writing WA and long-term supporter of Western Australian arts, whose day job is as Chief Financial Officer of Tourism WA. 

Belinda Hermawan who is here today is an emerging author of novels and short fiction.  Her experience ranges from law to communications and HR and she is a former president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA.

I am the Executive Director of the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA – the peak representative body of our sector.  Prior to this I spent 20 years working in and programming festivals so I have a deep sense of solidarity with anyone who takes on the role of producing and managing opportunities for our artists and writers.

Whilst these are roles that are not often in the limelight, they are critical to the survival of our system.  Not only do you need to have a deep empathy for the work and the creative process, but you have to have business cunning and wiles that would rival any commercial enterprise.  From raising investment, navigating funding opportunities, growing markets and audiences, negotiating contracts, promoting books and authors, running workshops, producing publications and showing up at a myriad of industry events – often these roles work with little or no support.  Looking at the nominations you could also see how many volunteer hours are given to keeping Western Australian writing happening at all levels of our community. 

It was not easy to come to a shortlist and even harder to single out one recipient for this Award.  Many thanks to all of the people who took time to write the nominations – it was also an indication of how important these roles are within the sector.

To say a few words about today’s finalists, firstly congratulations to all of you.  Coming from very different aspects of the writing community you represent how diverse the sector is – in form, in culture and in scale.

The judges recognized Lesley Reece as an absolute powerhouse of determination and endurance since founding the Literature Centre in 1992. The Centre aims to celebrate, promote and nurture Australian children’s literature and Lesley was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for significant services to children through improving literacy skills and promoting Australian authors and illustrators in 2015.

This is a subject that is so close to many people’s hearts – fostering a love of reading and Australian literature in children.  We all know how important and transformative it can be to a child’s life to have access to books, to grow their minds and to give them confidence in who they are.  What sets the Centre apart is the way in which you have created programmes that reach up to 35,000 young people a year and provide authors and illustrators with regular opportunities across Western Australia.  From conferences to collaborations and events, the Centre has found numerous ways to engage a broad audience and be as inclusive as possible. We were struck by Lesley’s ambitious vision for WA and the tireless way she has worked to realise it and continuously invent new ways of bringing a love of writing to young people.

Gary de Piazzi has been nominated for his work with WA Poets Inc and for the judges what stood out about this nomination were the phrases “a foundation stone” and “unsung hero”.  Over ten years it seems there is nothing that Gary would not do to support fellow poets, co-ordinate gatherings and events, helping run competitions and producing publications. You get a true sense of the idea of service from the comments in the testimonials. With poetry being one of the most under-resourced areas of the arts, it takes this dedication and passion to stay alive. Gary, it also seems that you’ve been critical in bringing people together, ensuring connections for people who are often engaged in a very solitary activity and making them feel valued. This nomination is a recognition of the tireless advocacy you have done on behalf of poetry in Western Australia.

And finally, from the north of the State, Rachel Bin Salleh has been a trailblazer in the literary industry and an unparalleled advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and stories.

The judges recognised the impact you have had on Magabala Books, not only as a leader for the last 5 years but over a 28-year association with the company. Rachel’s career has seen her take on every aspect of publishing and promotion whilst growing her own vision for the company and for Indigenous writing in Australia. Recognised by national awards and international peers, Rachel has succeeded in delivering an ambitious vision from a remote part of our country. Sought after as a mentor, speaker, judge and collaborator, this nomination gave us a sense of how far reaching her impact has been.

It is always a humbling exercise to go through this process and see not only a person’s achievements, but the quality of thought and the the genuine care, that has been given by each of these people. I’d also like to thank my fellow judges whose carefully considered contributions helped us acquit a difficult task as best we could.  Thank you to Sharon and the team at Writing WA for your support and congratulations to everyone on this inaugural Award. 

All images: Chris Gurney


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