‘Semut’ wins Les Carlyon Literary Prize  

Writer Christine Helliwell… “I needed to study to jot down for most of the people as a result of tutorial writing is so totally different”.

A BOOK printed by Penguin with the unlikely title of “Semut” (ant in Malay), has received Canberra author Christine Helliwell the Australian Conflict Memorial’s $10,000 Les Carlyon Literary Prize.

The profitable non-fiction guide, “Semut: The untold story of a secret Australian operation in WWII Borneo,” tells the story of a mission carried out by British and Australian operatives, who engaged the native Dayak folks to white-ant (therefore the title) Japanese navy operations in what’s now the Malaysian Sarawak.

First Runner Up in Britain’s most admired award for historic navy historical past writing, the Templer Medal, the guide was additionally shortlisted  for the NSW Premier’s Australian Historical past Prize, the ACT Notable E-book Awards, and the Reid Prize.

On listening to of her win, Helliwell stated: “What a thrill to win this award. Particularly when there have been three different nice books on the shortlist, any of which might simply have received it.

“Les Carlyon was a monumental determine in Australian writing: not solely an incredible historian however an exquisite, great wordsmith. It’s an enormous honour to win an award that bears his title.”

An anthropologist of 40 years standing and now an emeritus professor on the ANU who, since 2014 has been researching World Conflict II in Borneo, Helliwell spent a few years as a younger pupil residing in longhouses in Borneo falling in love with the Dayak folks.

The entrance cowl of Christine Helliwell’s guide.

Helliwell breathes life into her typically dramatic account of the operation, offered to the locals as a transfer to defeat the Japanese however in actuality designed to reinstate British rule in Borneo, one thing neither the Aussies nor the Dayaks knew.

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A formally educated tutorial, Helliwell was nicely conscious that books like this may find yourself on cabinets unread, so she intentionally sought to make it as thrilling as doable.

“I needed to study to jot down for most of the people as a result of tutorial writing is so totally different, so I took myself to a Dymocks for a day and sat there studying well-liked accounts of navy historical past,” she advised “CityNews”.

The outcomes have been palpable and on her Templar nomination,  Helliwell modestly described herself as “gobsmacked, in reality – I by no means imagined that ‘actual’ navy historians would a lot get pleasure from my little story about Dayaks throughout World Conflict II”.

Australian Conflict Memorial Director Matt Anderson stated  “Semut” was a really deserving winner, including: “Writer Christine Helliwell’s impeccable analysis and the readability of her writing will carry Australian navy historical past to a brand new viewers.”

The Les Carlyon Literary Prize, named after the late historian, journalist, newspaper editor who died in 2019, was set as much as help writers and to seek out and encourage good storytelling in Australia.


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Ian Meikle, editor