WHEN Canberra historian Bill Gammage returns from his overseas holiday he'll find a pleasant reward for 12 years of scholarship - an $80,000 cheque from the Prime Minister.
The ANU professor was not at the National Library yesterday to receive the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Australian History for his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard made six awards, of $80,000 each, as part of Australia's most generous literary prizes. Novelist Gillian Mears' Foal's Bread won the Prime Minister's award for fiction and Mark McKenna's An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark the non-fiction award, while the inaugural poetry prize went to Luke Davies for Interferon Psalms, the young-adult fiction award to Robert Newton for When We Were Two and the children's fiction award to Frances Watts and Judy Watson for Goodnight, Mice!
In a moving acceptance speech, the wheelchair-bound Mears, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, spoke of the links between writing and horse jumping, a feature of her winning novel, which is set around the show high-jumping circuit.
''I first jumped a horse when I was about nine years old, a long-backed mare with a mouth of steel,'' she recalled. Winning the award, she said ''makes me feel as if I've just slipped over eight-feet with a pony not expected to go these heights''.
Davies spoke of the difficulties of earning a living as a poet and being ''catastrophically broke''. He joked that, checking out of his hotel yesterday morning and worrying his credit card might be rejected, he would have the chance to say, ''Listen, I'm just going up the road to get a cheque from the Prime Minister.''