State Significance: what's next for 2022 winner Quentin Beresford?

Taking out the top prize at the 2022 Queensland Literary Awards was Brisbane writer Quentin Beresford, who won the prestigious Queensland Premier's Award for a Work of State Significance.

Now, with some time after the awards ceremony, Quentin joined us to reflect on the tough journey to complete his prize-winning book, Wounded Country – there were times he feared he might not finish it. Quentin talks to us about trusting his instincts and his hopes for how a book like Wounded Country can make change for the better. 

Quentin accepts his award onstage the Queensland Literary Awards. (Photograph: Farley Ward)

How has winning the 2022 Award for a Work of State Significance impacted on your writing life?  
Winning this award affirmed an important lesson: the value of taking risks with ideas and backing your instincts. I set out in Wounded Country to tell a big story about Australia’s conflicted relationship with the environment. But to pull it off, I had to find a narrative arc through 200 years of Australian history which didn’t always seem like a workable idea. Arranging the structure of the story and bringing to it a diversity of voices presented challenges that sometimes left me wondering if I’d taken on more than I could chew. To have the book acknowledged with a prestigious award reinforced the old adage of backing your instincts and imagination.  

In Wounded Country, you address the exploitation of the Murray–Darling Basin that has led to soil erosion, dust storms, algal blooms, drought, and threatened flora and fauna. What impact do you hope your book will have on the future of this region?    
The best non-fiction writers can hope for is to provoke conversation and invite new ways of thinking about an issue. As the title suggests, at the heart of Wounded Country, is my argument that for much of Australia’s history, we’ve been gripped by a development-at-all costs approach which has produced devastating impacts on the environment. In trying to reconstruct these, I want readers to confront what I call the culture of extinction; the wholesale wiping out of native birds and animals because they were perceived as an economic threat to the development of Australia’s food bowl. I hope that grappling with this historical legacy will help energise debates about the urgent need to redress Australia’s shameful record of environmental and species decline.  And, we need a Murray-Darling Basin plan that works! 

Quentin at the 2022 Queensland Literary Awards with his award-winning book, Wounded Country.  (Photograph: Farley Ward)

What's on your own reading stack right now?   
I’ve usually got a couple of books on the go. For a bit of escapism, I’m reading Sarah Vaughn’s Reputation, because I really enjoyed her Anatomy of a Scandal. She knows how to devise and tell a good story which is always helpful for narrative non-fiction writers.

And, being an American history buff, I’m wading through David S. Reynolds’ monumental new biography of Abraham Lincoln, Abe. I wondered what more could be said about the president who saved America from disunion but Reynolds’ delivers compelling insights into the complexity of one of the country’s greatest presidents and how he managed to steer the country out of the civil war. And it’s a timely story given that the dangers of disunity have returned to America.

What is in the pipeline for you? What are you working on next?  
For the past two years I’ve been writing a book on rogue corporations in Australia. It examines some of the worst business scandals since the 1980s and the devastating impacts these have had on the community. I probe the forces that produced these scandals. My interest in this topic was sparked several years ago when I wrote The Rise and Fall of Gunns Limited, the story of Australia’s largest timber company that spiralled into bankruptcy even though it wielded enormous political power. On a broader canvas, the story of corporations that go rogue is a darkly fascinating tale of greed, incompetence and grandiose ambition.   

Wounded Country joined a very strong shortlist of authors vying for the $25,000 award.  (Photograph: Zenobia Frost)

 

Quentin Beresford has had a diverse career in academia, the public service and journalism. For many years he was Professor of Politics at Edith Cowan University in Perth. He is the author of numerous books on Australian politics and history, and has won several literary awards for his work. His most recent books are The Rise and Fall of Gunns Ltd, which won the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prize, Adani and the War Over Coal, and Wounded Country. All are published by NewSouth. He is currently adjunct Professor of Politics at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

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