Why, Mr Newman, why?

17 April 2012

Written by: Cass Savellis

The first ever word I wrote, and what began my passion for writing, was ‘look’.

I remember how the light hit the white paper. I remember the crooked ‘L’ and the nearly indistinguishable ‘K’. I remember saying, in a somewhat metatextual way, ‘look, mummy, look’. Writing is what made me get out of bed from that day forth.

So let’s have a look at the facts, shall we?

The outcry that came about from the scrapping of the Queensland Premier Literary Awards was phenomenal. A lot of people have that one novel they have been working on the past ten years. The sentiments are no different in Queensland. It is no wonder why so many donations have flooded in support of the award as ABC News online has written. Note it has been renamed to simply the ‘Queensland Literary Awards.’

For those south of the border that may not hear much of the award scrapping, Daniel Hurst’s Brisbane Times article aptly describes the outcry aptly as a ‘chorus of criticism’. ABC Radio National’s beautifully produced segment with author Matthew Condon and former premier Peter Beattie also discusses the implications of the government’s decision. Indeed, 220 people (and counting) are endeavouring to save the award and get state government support for the arts on Facebook.

Although I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments my aim here is not to add to these grievances. I feel I have already done this in writing to both Campbell Newman and to my local representative John McVeigh, member of Toowoomba South. The question put to them both was simple: why?

In more elaborate words, given I am indeed a writer of prose, the scrapping of the top literary prize in Queensland is like firing someone from their job. I can tell you from my professional experience that it is essentially the job of an emerging (and even established) writer to network and get published. These awards offered both that on a prestigious level, not to mention the generous $244, 000 in prize money. It is a career path that is rewarding when you are finally recognised by your peers. There is nothing to justify why a politician such as Mr Newman would want to take that away from someone.

Is it really to recuperate state fiscal losses of less than 0.003 per cent?

When I first began my English course at university, Australian literature was deemed ‘boring’ by those in my class. Admittedly, myself and my peers were only familiar with our high school teachers drilling Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson down our throats. At the end of the four years of the Bachelor’s degree many of my classmates had fallen for the beautiful and authentic prose of Patrick White, Tim Winton, Les Murray, Peter Carey, Helen Garner and Judith Beveridge, to name a few from the top of my head. These fabulous authors and journalists are all past winners of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award. They are people who inspire, shape our perception of Australia and Queensland, and are builders of contemporary culture.

It was David Malouf, a Brisbane born author, who inspired me to keep my writing practice in Queensland. His cryptic novel Remembering Babylon is one of my favourite books. It is not set in Shangri-La or a mystical land but in colonial Moreton Bay. It is a story with grand themes about being exiled, an exploration of humanity and civilization, about growing up and the pervasiveness of memory. You can read Suzanne Berne’s excellent summary of Malouf’s novel in the New York Times. It is fitting to mention that David Malouf is too a past winner of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award.

If you are that way inclined, perhaps I should also mention that established authors like David Malouf keep many people employed in the publishing industry. Should we not be assisting more authors, both Queensland born and living in the state, to get published? We should be putting more employees at the printing press, in libraries, schools and in community groups. Queensland arts and writing is booming. Why does the premier choose to ignore this by withdrawing funding for an important award?

If we let our minds wander a little bit, can you imagine the kind of arts tourism that could be created in Queensland with some extra funding? Tourism is the second most profitable industry in Queensland so why not add to it? These days it is not farfetched to think of Brisbane as the new Melbourne with all the creative energy you see walking down the streets of the city, West End and the Fortitude Valley. You could also walk down the main street of regional centres like Toowoomba and Warwick to experience much the same thing. Indeed, this is where I base my freelance writing business.

The Queensland Premier Literary Awards were dumped by Campbell Newman for the sake of saving money. Yet, as every good economist or business owner knows investment is what is going to make this state great and financially secure. I urge politicians in Queensland to invest in the arts and writers. Everyone will be sure to reap the benefits.

Kiara O’Gorman is a freelance writer who lives in Toowoomba, Queensland. She is a recent triple major graduate and holds a Diploma of Arts in Journalism. You can follow her on Twitter, @KlassyWithAKay and read more of her work on her website TheSchriftsteller.