The 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize

The inaugural 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize was awarded to Brisbane-based Mirandi Riwoe for her novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain published by University of Queensland Press.

The ARA Historical Novel Prize is the most significant genre-based prize in Australasia. It is designed to give historical novelists the opportunity to be recognised in a class of their own — for the first time ever as part of an Australian and New Zealand literary award.

The Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA), in partnership with ARA Group, presented the $60,000 prize via live broadcast from the official award ceremony held at the State Library of New South Wales on 10 November 2020. Riwoe was awarded $50,000 as the overall prize winner, with $5,000 awarded to each of the shortlisted authors: Sienna Brown for Master of My Fate (Penguin Books Australia) and Catherine Jinks for Shepherd (Text Publishing).

Selected from more than 185 entries, Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain recreates the experiences of Chinese siblings, Ying and Lai Yue, struggling to survive on Northern Queensland’s goldfields in 1877. The richly imagined novel explores themes of identity, racism, colonialism and gender—all of which are relevant today.

Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

About Mirandi Riwoe
Mirandi Riwoe is a Brisbane-based writer. Her novella The Fish Girl won Seizure’s Viva la Novella prize and her debut novel, She be Damned, was released in 2017. She has been shortlisted for Overland’s Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Prize, the Luke Bitmead Bursary and the Stella Prize; and longlisted for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and the CWA (UK) Dagger Awards. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Review of Australian Fiction, Rex, Peril and Shibboleth and Other Stories, and she has received fellowships from the Queensland Literary Awards and Griffith Review. Mirandi has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies.

About Stone Sky Gold Mountain
Family circumstances force siblings Ying and Lai Yue to flee their home in China to seek their fortunes in Australia. Life on the gold fields is hard, and they soon abandon the diggings and head to nearby Maytown. Once there, Lai Yue gets a job as a carrier on an overland expedition, while Ying finds work in a local store and strikes up a friendship with Meriem, a young white woman with her own troubled past. When a serious crime is committed, suspicion falls on all those who are considered outsiders. Evoking the rich, unfolding tapestry of Australian life in the late nineteenth century, Stone Sky Gold Mountain is a heartbreaking and universal story about the exiled and displaced, about those who encounter discrimination yet yearn for acceptance.

Judges’ Comments

Stone Sky Gold Mountain is a layered novel that transports us into the heat and chaos of the Palmer River goldfields of far north Queensland in the 1870s. Its three central characters, the Chinese siblings Ying and Lai Yue, and Meriem, the daughter of English settlers, are depicted with sensitivity and clear-eyed empathy.

The harshness of the goldfields is vividly recreated, contrasting the hopes and dreams of those like Ying and Lai Yue, who seek to restore their family’s fortunes in China, with the realities of violence and hunger.

The novel sheds light on a fascinating corner of history rarely illuminated in Australian literature. The historical detail is deftly woven into the narrative through the perspectives of the three characters, showing a depth of understanding of the period and its attitudes.

It is both intimate in its exploration of character and epic in its depiction of the enormous social and economic movement of people and resources into far north Queensland during the gold rush. Stone Sky Gold Mountain encompasses racism, snobbery, and sexual violence alongside moments of tenderness and connection in prose that is immediate, vivid and poignant.

Mirandi Riwoe’s skill at presenting diverse viewpoints in intricate detail has made her novel stand out in a very strong field.

For more information:

ABOUT THE JUDGES

Our panel consists of our Chair, Linda Funnell, co-editor of the Newtown Review of Books, freelance editor and publishing consultant;  Paula Morris, historical novelist, academic and founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature; Kirsty Murray,  historical novelist, Creative Fellow of the State Library of Victoria and Asialink Literature Resident in India; and Colin Falconer, author of over two dozen novels of historical fiction translated across 23 languages.

2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize Shortlist

The 2020 shortlisted books were:

Read the interviews with each of the shortlisted authors:

Read more about each of the shortlisted authors and their novels.

2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize Longlist

The 2020 longlisted books were:

  • Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown (Penguin Books Australia)
  • Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone (Hachette Australia)
  • Shepherd by Catherine Jinks (Text Publishing)
  • Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press)
  • The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith (Allen & Unwin Australia)
  • Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin Australia)
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press)
  • The Yield by Tara June Winch (Penguin Books Australia)

Watch the interviews and hear a reading from their novel by each of the longlisted authors:

Read more about each of the longlisted authors and their novels.

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