University of Newcastle author wins major literary award

Friday, 18 December 2020

Professor Sarah Wright, a human geographer from the University of Newcastle is part of a collective of women who were joint winners of the Prime Minister’s literary awards non-fiction category.

The Gay’wu Group of Women
The Gay’wu Group of Women, including Professor Sarah Wright (standing second from the left), are this year’s joint winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards non-fiction category

The Prime Minister's Literary Awards encourage a national appreciation of Australian literature and support increased understanding of Australian history.

The book ‘Songspirals’ by the Gay’wu Group of Women was honoured at this year’s awards which were livestreamed from the National Library of Australia.  Gay’wu means dillybag, and the authors see the book as a place to keep important stories and memories, a container of cherished knowledge. The book is divided into five major songspirals or stories. There’s Wuymirri the Whale; Wukun, the gathering of the clouds; Guwak the messenger bird; Wiritj, settling of the serpent; and Gong-gurtha, keeper of the fire. It ends with the wind.

The Gay’wu Group winning the non-fiction category for Songspirals was part of a record showing for Indigenous writers and writers of colour at the PM’s literary awards. Of the 40 shortlisted authors, nine were of Indigenous heritage. The Gay’wu group of women (also known as the Bawaka Collective) have a long history collaborating together. Theirs is a 14-year research collaboration made up of three non-Indigenous academics, including Professor Wright, five female Yolŋu researchers from Northeast Arnhemland and Bawaka Country. The collective has collaborated on many academic articles together as well as two other books.

The Collective’s work is recognised as making significant contributions to academia, and widely cited as an   exemplar of successful engagement. Ensuring equity in research relationships underlies the Collective’s approach, including the negotiation of mutual benefits.  The Collective’s books provide tangible benefits to Bawaka, financially and through building self-esteem. Professor Wright has worked with community groups and NGOs for over 25 years in Australia, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Cuba and the Philippines.

Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country through Songlines
by Gay’Wu Group of Women, Allen & Unwin, 2019


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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.