Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA), in partnership with Australia’s leading essential building and infrastructure services provider ARA Group, is excited to announce the winners of the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize.

The winner of the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Adult Category is The Burning Island, by Jock Serong (Text Publishing)

The winner of the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Children and Young Adult (CYA) Category is We are Wolves, by Katrina Nannestad (HarperCollins Australia).

For further details, visit:


About The Burning Island

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard. Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

About Jock Serong

Jock Serong’s novels have received the Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction, the Colin Roderick Award and the inaugural Staunch Prize (UK). He lives with his family on Victoria’s far west coast. For further information, visit:

Comments from Jock Serong

“I’m very grateful to the HNSA, the judging panel and the prize sponsors ARA Group for this wonderful recognition. For a private organisation to put its money behind historical novel writing is a great gesture of belief in the importance of literature: we’re all enriched when we invest in storytelling.”

“Writers of fiction and non-fiction in this country do an amazing job of framing and keeping – and testing – our national memory. Australians are constantly reaching for new versions of ourselves: some are clear-eyed and hopeful, and some are self-delusion. Recent years for me have involved a deep dive into the inspiring and diverse historical writing this country produces, and to be given a place among these writers I admire so much is the best thing I could wish for in my career.”

“I hope this prize will incline readers to look into the history behind not just my book, but all of the short- and longlisted entries.”

Comments from Nicole Alexander, Chair of the Adult Judging Panel 

The Burning Island is based on the true story of the 1839 disappearance of the Britomart, a ship that departed Melbourne for Hobart, that never arrived. This richly imagined epic draws us into the colony of NSW in its infancy. Eliza Grayling reluctantly accompanies her blind, alcoholic father, on a sea voyage across the Bass Strait to find a missing ship and the man responsible for her loss.”

“The reader is transported to the very fringes of civilisation, where sealers operate across the Furneaux Islands, concealing their Indigenous wives from those tasked with locating them and placing them in internment camps. Serong’s nuanced exploration of relations between European men and their Tyereelore wives reflects a depth of research that sits effortlessly within a beautifully executed narrative.”

“The skilful evoking of time and place, captures a striking picture of ship and island life, as well as a vivid depiction of Tasmania’s frontier wars. With unforgettable characters and themes of love, loyalty, survival and greed we are presented with a compelling portrait of human relationships, of the place of all women in society and the wickedness of the human soul.”

The Burning Island is an extraordinarily written story of adventure, mystery and revenge, with a brilliant denouement. The judge’s decision was unanimous. Congratulations Jock Serong.”


About We Are Wolves

Sometimes it’s good to be wild. Sometimes you have to be wild.

When the Russian Army marches into East Prussia at the end of the war, the Wolf family must flee. Liesl, Otto and their baby sister Mia find themselves lost and alone, in a blizzard, in the middle of a war zone. Liesl has promised Mama that she will keep her brother and sister safe.

But sometimes, to survive, you have to do bad things. Dangerous things. Wild things.

Sometimes to survive, you must become a wolf.

About Katrina Nannestad

Katrina Nannestad is an award-winning Australian author. Her books include We Are WolvesThe Girl Who Brought Mischief, the Travelling Bookshop series, the Girl, the Dog and the Writer series, the Olive of Groves series, the Red Dirt Diaries series, the Lottie Perkins series, and the forthcoming novel Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief.  We Are Wolves has been shortlisted in the 2021 CBCA Awards, the 2021 Book Links Awards, and the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, as well as being longlisted in the 2021 ABIA Awards and winning best designed children’s fiction book at the 2021 ABDA Awards. For further information:

Comments from Katrina Nannestad

“I am honoured and incredibly excited to have won the ARA Group Historical Novel Prize in the CYA category. The prize is a great encouragement to me as I continue to write historical fiction – a process that is both challenging and rewarding.”

“Stories with lovable characters have the power to bring history alive in a way that is meaningful and accessible to young readers. We want our children to explore the events and the big issues that have shaped our world, but we want them to be safe while doing it. We also want them to love literature! Historical fiction is a perfect medium for achieving all this.”

“I am so very grateful to the ARA Group that sponsors this prize and to the judges who have deemed my book worthy of winning. This is a generous award that makes a real difference in a writer’s life.”

Comments from Paul Macdonald, Chair of the CYA Judging Panel

“This year I was privileged to join fellow Judges Thuy On and Catherine Mayo to act as a judge of the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize. As judges, we were impressed by both the quality and certainly the diversity of entries for this year’s inaugural Children’s and Young Adult Novel Award Category. Selecting the winner was a source of much discussion, which is a direct consequence of the high quality of the entries. In these challenging times of COVID, we relished the opportunity to escape the present and engage in many adventures set across time and place.”

“The winner of this year’s Children’s and Young Adult Novel Award Category is We are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad. This outstanding novel demonstrates great writing, extensive research and great appeal for young- and not so young- readers. The novel transports us to East Prussia towards the end of World War 2. As readers, we were asked to join the Wolf family as they flee their home to escape the Russian army. We are Wolves is simple, poetic and deeply moving. It’s a brilliant novel raising issues about identity, family, trust and survival. Ultimately it is a tale of hope. Congratulations Katrina Nannestad.”

About the ARA Group

The ARA Historical Novel Prize has been made possible through the generous patronage of ARA Group. ARA Group provides a comprehensive range of building services and products to major customers throughout Australia and New Zealand. Through its workplace giving program—The ARA Endowment Fund—the company plays a proud and positive role in the community.

The ARA Endowment Fund currently donates 100 per cent of the interest earned annually to The Go Foundation, The Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and The David Lynch Foundation. ARA Group has also sponsored the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s biennial conferences since 2017, is Principal Partner of Sydney Writers Festival, the Monkey Baa Theatre and the National Institute of Dramatic Art, a Key Partner of The Story Factory, and Presidential Partner of Taronga Zoo. For further information, visit: https://aragroup.com.au/


The Historical Novel Society Australasia is the third arm of the international Historical Novel Society, and is recognised as the home of the historical fiction genre in Australasia. The Society promotes the writing, reading and publication of historical fiction, especially in Australia and New Zealand, through its biennial conferences held since 2015. Our events showcase the best literary talent and enable readers, writers and publishing professionals to celebrate the genre.

The inauguration of the ARA Historical Novel Prize is the crown jewel in HNSA’s suite of literary contests.  HNSA also runs the ARA HNSA Short Story Contest, the TCW HNSA First Pages Pitch Contest, the Colleen McCullough Residency held on Norfolk Island and the Elizabeth Jane Corbett Mentorship for Young Adult historical novelists.  

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