We are delighted to announce that Alexis Wright has been awarded the 2018 Magarey Medal for Biography for her book, Tracker.
Tracker, which also won the Stella Prize earlier in the year, is a collective memoir of the charismatic Aboriginal leader, political thinker and entrepreneur Tracker Tilmouth.
The Magarey Medal is a biennial prize that is awarded to the female author who has published the work judged to be the best biographical writing on an Australian subject in the preceding two years. The prize is administered by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature and the Australian Historical Association. To learn more about the award, please visit the ASAL website.
Read the judges’ comments below.
The committee felt that in a strong field Alexis Wright’s Tracker represented a clear and worthy winner of the Magarey Medal. Tracker is a significant achievement, which provides a complex historical, social, and personal account of a remarkable Australian by innovatively supplementing the conventions of biography with Indigenous knowledge and perspective. Tracker is a bespoke biography which crafts its form to fit with its individual subject, whilst also respecting more collective responses which are important to the Indigenous life story. The author calls it ‘consensus storytelling’ and locates its conventions in the decision-making practices of Indigenous community.
Tracker Tilmouth is an extraordinary Australian who worked to improve the well-being of Indigenous Australians by tirelessly advocating, acting, and inspiring people and projects. He was an influential man who worked within complex networks of organisation, business, government, politics and wider society so as to aid and develop an enduring Indigenous contribution to Australian life. To tell such a story the form curates a range of different perspectives from a remarkably diverse set of people who were chosen by Tracker to contribute to his story. The book artfully organises these recollections along with interviews with Tracker himself. The overlapping, restorying, and the meshing together of different perspectives on Indigenous experiences and histories, and the irreverent humour that recurs throughout make a powerful statement about a life expressed as purpose, imagination, action, resilience, and connection. In this way Wright is able to provide insight into a variety of individual and collective views of a remarkable Arrente man.
Tracker provides a diverse and complex appreciation of the challenges, labours, achievements and capacities of Indigenous Australians. Wright is able to vacate that location of the biographer to create a more polyphonic narrative that makes a point about the importance of a sense of society to any understanding of a life. It is a book that might be read cover to cover or dipped into serendipitously for example. Tracker enables its subject to be understood in complex moments and key relationships in such a way as to preserve the rich and multifaceted details of a life of engagement from the generalising tendencies of more conventional biography. It is a book appropriate to its subject.