Sorry, that's a family joke.
I went to the Prime Minister's Literary Award bestowal. The winners were flabbergasted. And very happy. Well, why wouldn't you be, getting a tax-free bundle of $100,000 notes plopped into your lap?
"Welcome to the house of non-fiction," said Kev. "This is the House of Representative side of Parliament House. Over there, on the Senate side, is the House of Fiction. Oooh, that'll get me into trouble next week."
The judges and contenders (five from each house of fiction/non-fiction, the short-listed) wriggled in their chairs.
The chairs are worth mentioning. Someone (probably one of the Shiny Young Things who hovered constantly) had put out one less chair than was needed, so for most of the award ceremony one of the hosts, judges or contenders had to stand awkwardly until someone else vacated their seat, and then hurriedly take that seat (repeat, repeat). Finally, a woman who looked like she was involved somehow came up, put her organiser and keys and glass carefully down on the floor and moved a chair into the zone of awkwardness, then picked up all the bits and shuffled to the back. She didn't add a chair, she just made the zone of awkwardness slightly less obvious.
The compere set the tone of the evening. He was jolly and approachable and oddly familiar, in a handsome, personable sort of way. I couldn't place him until Pen* told me that her six-yo would be disappointed he missed seeing Rhys Muldoon. Aahh! Different generation of Play School host from my eleven-yo. Apparently he recently hosted the Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Fiction, and he may have other literaturish connections. But more likely he's just a good personable bloke. The ceremony wasn't terribly well organised; they handed out prizes, did a bit of musical chairs, let the winners stand in the Awkward Zone for a while, and then slapped their foreheads and brought them up on stage for a speech each.
The winner for fiction was Stephen Conte, for his novel The Zookeeper's War, which made a number of people audibly gasp. His speech was short, pithy, delighted, and smacked of gob.
The prize for non-fiction was given to Philip Jones, for Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers. His speech was longer, more deliberate, equally gobsmacked and very very interesting. It talked about the process of writing in hurried moments, of delighting in artifacts and their stories, and of the weirdness of sudden glares of fame.
Peter Garrett (who is absolutely awesome when he stands in front of you) spoke about lying in bed with a torch, reading until the batteries went. Kevin stood up and said that as a kid he did the same thing, albeit in a shorter bed. They have to make jokes like that, because when they stand and walk together, it's a sight to behold.
Apologies for the blurry photo -- I wasn't sure if I was allowed, so I took it very quickly. The main part of the crowd is to the left of the photo.
The champagne flowed, the nice nibblies were nibbled. It was an interesting crowd, not that I got to see a lot of who was in it, since I was standing by as Helper. We were deep in Parliament House -- really deep, took AGES to walk to the venue from the carpark -- and it was noted by someone that it may have been better held at the National Library. But I think that was the point of the whole exercise. There were a lot of writers and publishers in the room, but there were also a lot of odd but very Canberra choices -- a commercial printer who supports the Canberra Art scene, curators and academics, bookshop owners. This event was clearly trying to differentiate itself from the usual Literazi, to be -- dare I say it? -- relaxed, and comfortable.
I got to gaze fondly across the room at John Doyle (yummy) and Thomas Keneally (sweet). Germaine and Clive weren't there, poo bum. Neither were Dorothy Porter nor David Malouf (he's in Tuscany, poor man). Oh -- and the runners-up got gold pens. In nice boxes. In nice wrapping paper.
I did get to shake Kevin's hand. He's like a little cartoon of himself, with a very round face and oddly plastic hair. His minders were very young and very stressed and when I overheard them were saying that 'we've almost got him out of here' (I was close to the exit). I got to talk -- properly -- to Peter Garrett, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He does his best to really engage with you, no matter who you are. I wonder when that will get knocked out of him.
Coincidentally a Midnight Oil song played on the radio as I drove home, and that was a weird moment. But the whole thing was a bit surreal.
*A shy hello to Fiona and Pen, who did come up to see if I was Ampersand Duck. I enjoyed meeting both of you.
[cross-posted at Sarsaparilla]