The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered annually for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”.

Barbara Jefferis was a feminist, a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors, its first female President and, in the words of Thomas Keneally, “a rare being amongst authors, being both a fine writer but also organisationally gifted. She was a professional and internationally published writer long before most of us dreamed of such things”.

The Award is paid from the Barbara Jefferis Literary Fund, which was established by a bequest from Barbara Jefferis’s husband, ABC film critic John Hide, who died in 2006. The Australian Society of Authors is Trustee of the Fund. In its first year, 2008, the Award is valued at $35,000.

2011 Winner & Shortlist

Winner 2011 Barbara Jefferis Award is G.L.Osborne, with her book Come Inside (Clouds of Magellan).


The Good Daughter by Honey Brown (Penguin Books/Viking)
Like Being A Wife by Catherine Harris (Random House/Vintage)
Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo (UWA Publishing/UWAP)
Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor (Scribe)
Come Inside by G.L. Osbourne (Clouds of Magellan)

Winner of the Barbara Jefferis Award 2010 is Kristina Olsson, for her book The China Garden (UQP).

"Without feeling the need to resolve every absence or mystery, Olsson gently suggests that it is always possible to make new things out of the past, however fractured or painful.” ~ from the judges' reading report. Download the full report here.

2010 Shortlist

Steven Carroll
The Lost Life (HarperCollins)

Enza Gandolfo Swimming (Vanark Press)

Cate Kennedy The World Beneath (Scribe)

Kristina Olsson: The China Garden (University of Queensland Press)

Susan Varga Headlong (UWA Publishing)

Highly Commended

Judith Lanigan
A True History of the Hula Hoop (Picador)

Lili Wilkinson Pink (Allen & Unwin)

Download the full judges' reading report here.


2009 Barbara Jefferis Winner

The Spare Room | The Spare Room by Helen Garner, Text

"The Spare Room" offers a powerful, witty, and taut story about a complex friendship between two women--one dying, the other called to care for her--from an internationally acclaimed and award-winning author.

"The Spare Room is a story of tough love and friendship and amazement at the bravado and resourcefulness of human beings in the face of death, written in a prose that has surgical precision. This reviewer knows at least one old man who does read novels: himself. Read this novel. It is truer than nonfiction." Geoffrey Lehmann in The Australian

Book Description:

An extraordinary work of fiction from one of Australia's best-selling and most admired writers.

First, in my spare room, I swivelled the bed on to a north-south axis. Isn't that supposed to align the sleeper with the planet's positive energy flow, or something? She would think so. I made it up nicely with a fresh fitted sheet, the pale pink one, since she had a famous feel for colour, and pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish.

Helen prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola, who is flying down from Sydney for a three-week visit. But this is no ordinary visit - Nicola has advanced cancer. She is coming to Melbourne to receive treatment she believes will cure her. From the moment Nicola steps off the plane, Helen becomes her nurse, her protector, her guardian angel and her stony judge. The Spare Room tells a story of compassion and rage as the two women - one sceptical, one stubbornly serene - negotiate their way through Nicola's gruelling treatments. Garner's dialogue is pitch perfect, her sense of pacing flawless as this novel draws to its terrible and transcendent finale.

Other 2009 Shortlisted

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Fourth Estate
The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane, UQP
Addition by Toni Jordan, Text
The Good Parents by Joan London, Vintage
The Last Sky by Alice Nelson, Fremantle Press

People of the Book |The Lifeboat | Addition |The Good Parents | The Last Sky

'Edgy and Dangerous Portraiture' Wins Inaugural Barbara Jefferis Prize for Literature 2008

mcmaster_rhyllRhyll McMaster's (left) Feather Man, an "edgy and dangerous work of portraiture", has been awarded the inaugural$35,000 Barbara Jefferis prize for literature. "Her control of her subject matter, through language, is remarkable," said the novelist Rosie Scott, one of the judges. "Her prose is poetic, it is quite extraordinary; this is an extraordinary poetic sensitivity at work. She takes great risks with language to create such a wild, tricky, fabulous character. She gives us a woman using all that grief to remake herself. Here is a story of a woman making it through."

The prize was set up in 2007 from a $1 million bequest by the late ABC film critic John Hinde in memory of his wife, the late novelist Barbara Jefferis, making it one of the richest prizes in the literary calendar.

Judge's Report on Feather Man
'This is a powerful, original novel, wonderfully well written. As an account of a young woman’s survival of a dysfunctional childhood in Brisbane, the coming of age theme avoids all the usual cliches. The story of Sooky’s gradually emerging independence is told in prose that is rich, lyrical and assured, and the portrayals of the characters in all their fabulous monstrosity ring absolutely true. Sooky - flawed, self-doubting, difficult, sensitive, painfully honest and supremely talented is struggling to make sense of her life and establish her identity as a painter. In so accurately analysing the way Sooky uses her intelligence, wit and unconventional view of the world to fight herself outfeatherman_cover of the dark hole of her childhood, McMaster has created a fresh and original woman character who is at the heart of this brilliant, witty and disturbing novel.'

Set in Brisbane during the stultifying 1950s, and moving to grubby London in the 1970s, Feather Man is about Sooky who, ignored and misunderstood by her parents, is encouraged to make herself scarce and visit Lionel, their elderly next door neighbour. After initially befriending Sooky, Lionel moves towards violation.

The early pages of Feather Man are full of beguiling though disturbing, shocking images of suburban life in Brisbane in the 1950s. Sooky is surrounded by objects and social rituals that have become, for some people, powerfully nostalgic emblems. The Thor washing machine thunders away. A kookaburra is perched on the oven door. Sooky's mother is often chained to the treadmill of her sewing machine.

This is, nevertheless, a dark world. The novel follows Sooky through four relationships with men, and her entry into the art world, but the truth is, she is never able to survive unless a relationship is providing the context, however bad it may be. This dark social comedy of manners reveals the fictions of the heart in an edgy and dangerous work of portraiture.

Rhyll McMaster, born 1947, started writing poetry whilst a child. Washing the Money won the Victorian Premier’s Prize and the Grace Leven Prize. Her poems have been broadcast on national radio and television, in Australia, but Feather Man is her first novel.

'Feather Man is at once both unflinching and poetic. McMaster's unique perspective illuminates the hidden corners of the lives she portrays.' Catherine O'Flynn

'Rhyll McMaster's debut novel is simultaneously a portrait of an artist, an examination of the emotional alchemy from which art is born and a coming-of-age tale... The juxtaposition of mystery and harsh grit lends the book a compelling friction.' Helen Oyeyemi, New Statesman>>

Some reviews of Feather man
Australian Women's Book Review>>
Brisbane Times>>
The New Statesman>>
Radio National>>

2008 Other Shortlisted

lost_dogMichelle de Kretser (below), The Lost Dog (Allen & Unwin)

dekrester_michelleBook Description

Tom Loxley is holed up in a remote bush shack trying to finish his book on Henry James when his beloved dog goes missing. What follows is a triumph of storytelling, as The Lost Dog loops back and forth in time to take the reader on a spellbinding journey into worlds far removed from the present tragedy.

Set in present-day Australia and mid-twentieth century India, here is a haunting, layered work that brilliantly counterpoints new cityscapes and their inhabitants with the untamed, ancient continent beyond. With its atmosphere of menace and an acute sense of the unexplained in any story, it illuminates the collision of the wild and the civilised, modernity and the past, home and exile.

The Lost Dog is a mystery and a love story, an exploration of art and nature, a meditation on ageing and the passage of time. It is a book of wonders: a gripping contemporary novel which examines the weight of history as well as different ways of understanding the world.

Karen Foxlee (right), The Anatomy of Wings ( link to University of Queensland Press as not available through our suppliers)

the_anatomy_of_wingsTen-year-old Jennifer Day lives in a small mining town full of secrets. Trying to make sense of the sudden death of her teenage sister Beth, she looks to the adult world around her for answers.

As she recounts the final months of Beth's life, Jennifer sifts through the lies and the truth, but what she finds are mysteries, miracles and more questions.Was Beth's death an accident? Why couldn't Jennifer ' or anyone else ' save her?

Through Jennifer's eyes,we see one girl's failure to cross the threshold into adulthood and her family slowly falling apart. Her eccentric nanna is banned from visiting and her parents blame Beth's friends and each other.

Karen Foxlee captures perfectly the essence of growing up in a small town and the complexities and absurdities of family life.

Winner 2006 Queensland Premier's Literary Award - Best Emerging Author

'The real achievement of The Anatomy of Wings is its ability to be moving and funny in equal measures.'
Judges' commentsooller_geraldine

Geraldine Woolle (right), The Seamstress (University of Western Australia Press)

Jo narrates the story of her strong, passionate mother, Willa, whose gradual slide into dementia shifts them into a new and difficult relationship. Willa’s life since arriving in Australia from Scotland as a young woman is re-created in vignettes: her spectacularly wrong choice in husband, the eccentricities of her family, the community of friends that sustain her, and her enduring capacity for joy. And in the telling, Jo also confronts her own life choices as a woman addicted to ‘being perpetually worried about something or other. And certainly addicted to love.’

The Seamstress is a memorable tale of friendship and love between women, infused with abundant warmth and wry humour.

2008 Highly Commended

Mireille Juchau (left), Burning In (Giramondo) (not available through our suppliers- try publisher)

Giramondo Publishing
ISBN 978 1 920882 27 3
Novel, Paperback, x + 310pp
Publication September 2007burning_in

In her late twenties, Martine Hartmann moves from Sydney to New York to pursue her career as a photographer, leaving behind her mother Lotte, a holocaust survivor. Nine years later, Martine's daughter Ruby goes missing in Central Park. Ruby's disappearance throws Martine into an emotional struggle which threatens to overwhelm her, but which also, in time, brings her to understand Lotte's anxieties and inhibitions, and to discover the act of abandonment at their heart.

Burning In is a closely observed psychological novel with an extraordinary eye for detail, and an unerring instinct for the suppressed rhythms of thought and feeling. Structured around two mysteries and three generations of Jewish women, it is an extended meditation on loss and guilt, exploring the long shadows cast by the past on the present, and the relationship between parental love and the imperatives of survival.

Mireille Juchau's first novel Machines for Feeling was shortlisted for the 1999 Vogel/Australian Literary Award. In 2002 her play, White Gifts, won the Perishable Theatre International Women's Play writing Competition and was performed and published in the US. Known also for her arts essays and reviews, Juchau has received grants from the Ian Potter Foundation, Arts NSW and the Australia Council, and is a recipient of a Marten Bequest Traveling Scholarship.

gods_and_crocodilesElizabeth Stead, The Gospel of Gods and Crocodiles link (University of Queensland Press as unavailable through our suppliers)

Missionary Amen Morley arrives on a tropical island to find a community largely untouched by the modern world. A magnet for eccentric characters, the island paradise soon becomes a hotspot of conflicting cultures.