More past winners


Kim Scott for his novel That Deadman Dance (Picador, 2010)

Kim Scott began writing for publication shortly after he became a secondary school teacher of English. His first novel, True Country, was published in 1993. Since then he has published poetry and short stories in a range of anthologies and has achieved literary success with his novels That Deadman Dance (2010) and Benang (1999), which won the RAKA prize in 2001. Both novels were also awarded the Miles Franklin Award (2011 and 2000). Scott is currently Professor of Writing at Curtin University, and recently placed as a state finalist in the Australian of the Year awards.


Yvette R Holt for the poetry collection Anonymous Premonition (University of Queensland Press, 2008)

The judges commended Holt’s work for its “strong weave of poetic testimony to the roles of Aboriginal women,” which “brings to the reader both linguistic richness and an engaging variety of lyrical forms”. Anonymous Premonition also won the 2005 David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer. Holt’s work has been published in Incommunicado, Slit Magazine, Meanjin and Hidden Desires. In 2004 she was awarded the University of Technology Sydney’s Human Rights Award for her contributions to the UTS community as a mentor, social facilitator, and activist for social justice. She is currently a member of the Academic Board at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. Holt is also a member of the Executive Advisory Group at The Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges, where she currently co-ordinates a Creative Writing course.


Warwick Thornton for the script for the feature film Samson and Delilah (2009)

The judges noted Thornton’s “brilliant use of cyclical time and compelling narrative that provides a ‘voice’ to children in the Northern Territory.” Great dramatic tension between the two main characters combined with an innovative mix of dialogue and other forms of communication create a powerful intimacy punctuated by moments of violence and conflict. The judges felt that this was one of the most important films to be produced in Australian film history. Thornton has since gone on to exhibit the 3D video Stranded (2011) at the Samstag Museum of Art, and recently took part in an exhibition at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image with his immersive film installation titled Mother Courage (2013). He also contributed to the 2012 hit film The Sapphires (directed by Wayne Blair) in the capacity of cinematographer.


Gali Gurruwiwi for his installation Banumbirr (Morning Star Pole), (2007)

Gali Gurruwiwi is a senior artist based on Elcho Island, Northern Territory. Traditionally Morning Star Poles are used in sacred Aboriginal ceremonies and rites of passage; however Gurruwiwi transforms the traditional object into an object of contemporary art by displaying the poles in a contemporary art space. The judges “marvelled at the delicate beauty of its construction, its reverential approach to the natural world and its poised translation of a traditional, spiritual art form into a thoroughly contemporary idiom.” Gurruwiwi’s Morning Star Poles have been exhibited in a number of collections including the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.


David Milroy for his play Windmill Baby (Currency Press, 2004)

The judges noted that Milroy’s script, set in a pastoral station in the Kimberley, gives voice to the musicality of Aboriginal English in a piece that skilfully combines emotional reach and deft characterization. Milroy’s involvement in theatre is multilayered: he has worked as a writer, director and musician. He was also the first artistic director of Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre Company in WA, which is currently in its 21st year. In 2002 Milroy received a Myer Award for his commitment and contribution to developing indigenous theatre. He views the space of the theatre as a crucial platform for indigenous story-telling, stating that it allows the community to “tell our stories the way we want them to be told.” In 2011 Milroy was awarded two Equity Guild Awards for his play Waltzing the Wilarra (2011). He has recently completed a play, titled Crowbones and Carnivores (2012).


Vivienne Cleven

In recognition of her literary versatility and poise, the 2006 RAKA Award was jointly awarded to Cleven’s two distinctive and accomplished novels: Bitin’ Back (University of Queensland Press, 2001) and Her Sister’s Eye (University of Queensland Press, 2002).

These works challenge stereotypes and give a previously unexpressed voice to indigenous experience in rural Queensland. Cleven has also written a play script for Bitin’ Back which was performed by Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Theatre Company. The play script has subsequently been included in the collection Contemporary Indigenous Plays (Currency Press, 2007) alongside the work of Wesley Enoch, Jane Harrison, David Milroy and Geoffrey Narkle.


Alexander Brown for the poetry collection Ngarla Songs (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003)

To create the collection Brown worked with linguist Brian Geytenbeek to collect, translate and assemble the most telling songs of the Ngarla People from the Pilbara region in Western Australia (who retain their ownership of these songs). In the resulting poems, which are written in English, Brown gives us images, movement, and gestures which evoke a direct physicality. The poems “capture the wit, humor, wisdom and vibrancy expressed in these songs, describing the thrill of the hunt, the wonder of whales and other events and life experiences as seen through Ngarla eyes” (Freemantle Press).


Ivan Sen for his short film Dust

Which was a development of his 2000 short film of the same title.

Dust received an ATOM Award for Best Short Drama; and was a DENDY Award (Ethnic Affairs) winner in 2000. In addition to Dust, Sen has received a number of awards for his work, including the 2002 Australian Film Institute Award: Best Achievement in Direction for his feature length film Beneath Clouds, which was also officially selected for the 2003 Sundance International Film Festival. He has also exhibited at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and produced documentaries for ABC television.


Ricky Maynard for his photograph ‘Arthur’ from the series Returning to Places that Name Us (2000)

Maynard is a documentary photographer of national and international repute. He has received a number of awards for his work, including the Mother Jones International Documentary Award (1994) and the Australian Human Rights Award for Photography (1997). His work is represented in major galleries and museums across Australia. Maynard’s photograph ‘Arthur’ is one of a series of portraits of Wik community elders, emotively titled Returning to Places that Name Us. The portraits are the result of a visit Maynard made to Aurukun.


Jane Harrison Stolen and Dallas Winmar Aliwa!

For the first time in twelve years, the judging panel named two winners of the Kate Challis RAKA Award: Jane Harrison for her play Stolen (Currency Press, 1998), and Dallas Winmar for her play Aliwa! (Currency Press, 2002).

Stolen (Jane Harrison) examined one of the most important and complex issues for contemporary Australia, the heartrending stories of the Stolen Generation. In her play, Harrison provides the opportunity to think about the powerful meanings of these experiences. The production of the play was a defining one and the script was evocative, at once personal and representational of Aboriginal lives. Stolen has subsequently been widely staged both nationally and internationally, and is frequently taught as part of high school English curricula within Australia.

Aliwa! (Dallas Winmar) is a warm, affectionate, nostalgic family history. It is an uplifting, empowering, positive story about the everyday lives of Aboriginal people, with appeal to both indigenous and non-indigenous audiences. Winmar went on to win the Kate Challis RAKA prize a second time in 2012 for her play Yibiyung (see above for more details about Winmar’s recent creative pursuits).


Kim Scott for his novel Benang (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999)

Benang was published in 1999 by Fremantle Arts Centre Press. It also won the 1999 WA Premier’s Book Award in both the fiction and overall categories, and the 2000 Miles Franklin Literary Award (shared with Thea Astley). Scott has received grants from the Literature Board of the Australia Council and the WA Department of Arts to enable him to devote more time to writing. Scott went on to win the Kate Challis RAKA prize for a second time in 2011 for his novel That Deadman Dance (see above for more details about Scott’s recent achievements).


John Muk Muk Burke for his collection Night Song and Other Poems (Northern Territory University Press, 1999)

John Muk Muk Burke is a Wiradjuri man from southern NSW. His David Unaipon Prize-winning novel, Bridge of Triangles, appeared in 1994, and he has published poetry and numerous articles as well as being a guest editor of Northern Perspective. Burke has a BA in Philosophy from Auckland and a MA in English Literature from Northern Territory University. He has previously worked as a lecturer in the Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at NTU (now Charles Darwin University), and as an Indigenous Learning Skills Advisor at Charles Sturt University. Presently he is working as a freelance writer and editor.


Rima Tamou for the script for his short film Round Up (1996)

After earning a BA in media production and Asian studies at Griffith University, Tamou went on to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School indigenous training course, furthering his technical experience in lighting, sound recording and camera operation, as well as his creative experience in scriptwriting, and directing. Round Up, which was directed by Tamou, tells the story of two country boys who discover that their differences are not so great when they find themselves in the ‘big smoke’. In 2005 Tamou wrote and directed a short film titled Sa Black Thing which was screened on Australian television. He has also contributed to SBS’s Living Black, a current affairs program which focuses on indigenous issues. Tamou currently works as the Internal Producer at National Indigenous TV.


Brook Andrew for his photograph ‘Sexy & Dangerous’ (1996)

Alongside his artistic practice, Brook Andrew lectures at Monash University, and has been a committee member for Sydney’s Mardi Gras celebration. As well as solo exhibitions, he has been included in many group exhibitions in galleries around Australia. His work is represented in a number of collections, including the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Victoria which purchased ‘Sexy & Dangerous’ in 1999. In 2011 Andrew was awarded a Sidney Myer Fellowship. In 2012 he was commissioned to create a public work for the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. This artwork, titled ‘Warrang’, is on permanent public display in the gallery. Working as a guest curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Andrew recently curated the exhibition TABOO, which explores the concept, evolution and cultural relativity of social taboos.


John Harding for his play Up the Road (Currency Press, 1997)

John Harding is a prominent Aboriginal community worker, playwright and director. He has been a Koori Liaison Officer at the University of Melbourne, a former senior project officer for Aboriginal education in Victoria, and a ministerial adviser for the Victorian Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Harding combined his role as National Employment Co-ordinator at the Australian Film Commission with writing and directing for radio, television and the theatre. Working together with a number of other indigenous writers and activists, including Kerry Reed-Gilbert and Cathy Craigie, Harding has recently been involved in establishing the First Nations Australia Writers Network which aims to “foster a vibrant Aboriginal writing sector that offers greater opportunities to participate in, share and strengthen the arts practice, and to develop careers and businesses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers.”


Mudrooroo for his critical introduction to indigenous Australia, Us Mob (Angus and Robertson, 1995)

Mudrooroo’s writing career began in 1965 with his first novel, Wildcat Falling. Six novels, three poetry collections, two critical works and a non-fiction guide to Aboriginal mythology followed, along with extensive critical and creative contributions to international anthologies, journals and mass media. Active in Aboriginal cultural affairs, Mudrooroo co-founded the Aboriginal Writers, Oral Literature and Dramatists Association with Jack Davis, and has served on the board of the Aboriginal Arts Unit of the Australia Council.


Kevin Gilbert for his collection of poetry Black from the Edge (Hyland House, 1994)

Until his much-lamented death in 1993, Gilbert was widely respected as one of Australia’s finest poets and a powerful spokesman for the rights of his people. He was posthumously awarded the RAKA. Gilbert’s involvement in the struggle for Aboriginal rights led to two important political landmarks: the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra that he initiated in 1972, and the ‘Treaty 88’ campaign, that worked for a sovereign treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians under his chairmanship. His oral history, Living Black (1977), won the National Book Council Award in 1978, and in 1988 he was awarded, and refused, the Human Rights Award for Literature. Gilbert’s art work is represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia by linocuts and photographic murals.


Tracey Moffatt for the script for her first feature film beDevil (1993)

beDevil was screened at both the 1993 Melbourne Film Festival and the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. Moffatt wrote and directed the 90-minute trilogy of ghost stories that she heard as a child growing up in suburban Brisbane. The film draws upon the worlds of her Aboriginal and Irish family with whom she lived alternately. “If you are looking for a story, you can always open the family closet,” she has said. beDevil followed in the wake of her highly acclaimed short film Night Cries (1990) which was also screened at Cannes. Moffat is a graduate of the Queensland College of the Arts, where she studied film and video production. She is also an accomplished photographer, and her work is represented in major public and private collections including the Tate gallery in London, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Art Gallery of NSW. In 2007 the International Center of Photography, New York, presented Moffat with an Infinity Award for ‘outstanding achievements in photography’.


Lin Onus for his sculptural installation They Took the Children Away (1993)

Lin Onus was born in Melbourne in 1948 and worked as a self-taught painter and sculptor from 1974 until his premature death in 1996. Amongst the many prizes and commendations he received, he was the recipient of the National Aboriginal Art Award in Darwin in 1988. Onus had a long association with the Australia Council, having been the Victorian representative on the Aboriginal Arts Board, and Chairman of the Aboriginal Arts Committee. Speaking of the power of Onus’s work and his contribution to the indigenous community Margo Neale, curator at the Queensland Art Gallery, said: “The combination of imagery from traditional and contemporary Aboriginal sources and from western art reflected his broader mission of reconciling cultural differences. As a Koori person, he was also an activist, a teacher, a writer and a visual historian for his people” (from the catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition Urban Dingo).


Jack Davis for his play No Sugar (Currency Press, 1986)

Jack Davis worked on cattle stations in the far north-west of Western Australia as a young man. In 1967 he was appointed Manager of the Perth Aboriginal Centre and in 1970 he published his first book of poetry. For services to his people, he received the British Empire Medal in 1977 and became a member of the Order of Australia in 1985. Amongst his many achievements, he established a course for Aboriginal writers at Murdoch University. Davis’s play, No Sugar, received international acclaim when it represented Australia at the World Theatre Festival in Canada in 1986, and was co-winner that year of the Australian Writers’ Guild award for best stage play.


Bill Rosser for his book Up Rode the Troopers: The Black Police in Queensland (University of Queensland Press, 1990)

Bill Rosser, formerly a timber cutter and bullock driver, taught himself to read and write. He began his literary career in 1974 after he discovered the suppression and brutality directed at his people in an Aboriginal reserve on Palm Island, which was set up under Queensland’s Aboriginal Act. His first book This is Palm Island, published in 1978, was followed by Dreamtime Nightmares in 1985. Both books were politicised accounts of the oppression and exploitation of Aboriginal people under horrific colonial regimes. His third book, Up Rode the Troopers (1990), is an account of how the mounted Aboriginal native police in Queensland were cajoled by white police into killing their own kind in the 1800s. Rosser was awarded an Australian Human Rights Medal for his commitment to advancing indigenous affairs and furthering understanding of indigenous rights in Australia. Rosser passed away in 2002.