Dr Shannyn Palmer awarded 2024 Ernest Scott Prize

The Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne is pleased to announce Dr Shannyn Palmer as the winner of the 2024 Ernest Scott Prize.

Pictured: Dr Shannyn Palmer. Image supplied.

The Ernest Scott Prize for History is awarded annually to a book based on original research judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation. The 2024 prize was judged by Emeritus Professor Grace Karskens, University of New South Wales and Professor Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University, who selected the winner from 54 publications.

Book cover of "Unmaking Angas Downs"

In awarding the prize to Dr Shannyn Palmer for her book Unmaking Angas Downs: Myth and History on a Central Australian Pastoral Station (Melbourne University Publishing, 2022) the judges said:

“Dr Shannyn Palmer’s Unmaking Angas Downs: Myth and History on a Central Australian Pastoral Station explores the histories and mythologies of Angas Downs pastoral station in the Northern Territory from the perspectives of the Aṉangu who lived there. She shows how a regional and truly place-based approach, and how understanding Aṉangu ways of seeing the world, together retell the history of colonisation, illuminating wider, mythologised landscapes and industries, and Aboriginal people’s extraordinary responses to the disruption and dislocation of invasion and pastoralism. Unmaking Angas Downs tracks the complex interplay of dreams, images and places over time and is a shining example of the power of slow history, of curiosity and asking new questions about forgotten places. It is built upon a tenacious dedication to listening carefully and patient ethnographic research that honours Aṉangu truth-tellers. Human-centred and written in mesmerising prose, this book demonstrates exhilarating new ways of researching and writing Australian history.”

In accepting the prize, Dr Shannyn Palmer said:

I am honoured and feel deeply grateful that Unmaking Angas Downs has been awarded the 2024 Ernest Scott Prize. I would like to thank the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne for the work that this award does in recognising research and writing that enhances our understanding of history in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. I would also like to thank the judges for their deep reading and careful consideration.

“I would like to say thank you to my publisher, Melbourne University Press, for believing in Unmaking Angas Downs and facilitating this important story of place. Angas Downs is a pastoral station in Central Australia, but pastoralism is only a fraction of the story of this place. We can’t understand a place like Angas Downs without the stories and memories of the people who lived there. When we listen to them, a very different kind of place emerges from that conjured in myths and histories of pioneers and pastoralists that have dominated understandings of the past in Australia.

“I am most indebted and feel a deep sense of gratitude to Tjuki Tjukanku Pumpjack and Sandra Armstrong – Angas Downs is their place and their stories are the beating heart of this book. Both Tjuki and Sandra were on a mission to have their knowledge and their relationship to Angas Downs recorded. They had their own reasons for choosing to work with me and were keenly aware that others might end up hearing their stories.

“I have no doubt that if they were still with us on this earthly plane today, that they would be extremely proud, and feel a deep sense of satisfaction, to see their stories and experience recognised in this way.”

Special commendations went to the following outstanding writers:

Dr Alecia Simmonds, Courting: An Intimate History of Love and the Law, (Black Inc Books, 2023)

Dr Alecia Simmonds’ Courting: An Intimate History of Love and the Law is a startlingly original book. It plumbs the long-neglected archives of breach of promise cases brought to court in Australia over a century and a half, recovering a past that is strange but also familiar. Through detailed contextual research and sparkling, empathic prose, Dr Simmonds brilliantly reconstructs places and times, and the predicaments and passions of people who turned to the law to succour broken hearts and shattered dreams. These stories of private intimacy and public justice are the basis of Dr Simmonds’ deep and radical rethinking of entangled legal and emotional histories, opening exciting fresh directions for new kinds of interdisciplinary research and writing.

Dr Alexandra Roginski, Science and Power in the Nineteenth-Century Tasman World: Popular Phrenology in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, (Cambridge University Press, 2023)

Dr Alexandra Roginski’s Science and Power in the Nineteenth-Century Tasman World: Popular Phrenology in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand explores the long-discredited ‘science’ of phrenology as a marvellous portal into the lived world of the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand colonies. Dr Roginski traces the way scientific knowledge – or versions of it – permeated all levels of colonial societies, evolving in form and shaping popular knowledge and beliefs. Her keen and empathetic eye recovers how phrenology and its associated arts were remade, deployed, performed and circulated, from the bush to the burgeoning cities, often by people from the margins who travelled constantly and were as likely to be jeered as cheered. This rich, accomplished and beautifully written study places the so-called ‘edges of empire’ at the centre of enquiry, revealing how interwoven strands of gender, race and class intersected with science and power in the places where empire and colonies were actually made.

Shortlisted books (alphabetical order by author)

Professor Linda Bryder, The Best Country to Give Birth? Midwifery, Homebirth and the Politics of Maternity in Aotearoa New Zealand 1970-2022, (Auckland University Press, 2023)

Professor Kate Fullagar, Bennelong & Phillip: A History Unravelled, (Scribner Australia, 2023)

Mavis Kerinaiua and Dr Laura Rademaker, Tiwi Story: Turning History Downside Up, (NewSouth Publishing, 2023)

Find out more about the Ernest Scott Prize, including full citations of shortlisted authors and the full list of past winners.

More Information

Emily Wrethman