The 2017 winner is Before Rupert: Keith Murdoch and the birth of a dynasty by Tom D. C. Roberts (UQP).*
The annual National Biography Award of $25,000 for a published work of biographical or autobiographical writing aims to promote public interest in these genres. The award is administered and presented by the State Library of NSW on behalf of the award’s benefactor Mr Michael Crouch AO.
The total prize value is $31,000 – $25,000 for the winner and $1,000 each for shortlisted authors – making it the richest national prize dedicated to Australian biographical writing and memoir.
The shortlisted works for 2017 were:
- The Unknown Judith Wright (Georgina Arnott, UWA Publishing)
- Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow (Suzanne Falkiner, UWA Publishing)
- Position Doubtful: Mapping Landscapes and Memories (Kim Mahood, Scribe)
- Evatt: A Life (John Murphy, NewSouth Publishing)
- The Long Goodbye (P J Parker, Hardie Grant Books).
I wrote about the shortlist here. I confess that I haven’t read the winner and I was barracking for Mahood (Position Doubtful is excellent).
The information below is sourced entirely from the State Library of New South Wales.
Tom D. C. Roberts’ biography of Keith Murdoch reveals how a critical engagement with a life that has been much written about, and richly mythologised, can yield new perspectives and insights, thus liberating the reader from the realm of myth. Before Rupert is deeply scholarly yet utterly accessible and enticing. The author draws on a remarkable range of sources, many for the first time, to show how the founding father succeeded in his boundless ambition. Before Rupert gives readers a new understanding of Keith Murdoch and the genesis of the family dynasty. The subject is thoroughly yet fairly interrogated, or perhaps we should say unmasked. The life is richly contextualised, particularly with reference to war, high politics, modernism and modernity, and notably the advances that Murdoch was quick to add to his newsprint business — radio, newsreels and air travel. With the title as a clue, the full meaning of this legacy builds slowly as the masterly narrative reveals the template for corporate ambition that was handed to Rupert. Roberts has successfully isolated what may well be called the ‘Murdoch gene’.
Roberts has crafted a masterful biography, full of remarkable insights into a celebrated figure in Australian business and political history. This is a full biography in the best sense – from Keith Murdoch’s uncertain beginnings to his spectacular ascendancy in the First World War and on to his corporate and political crusades in the decades thereafter. The coverage of Murdoch’s race fanaticism, his genius for tabloid sensation, his innovations in newspaper enterprise and his interventions in national politics are stand-out features. Before Rupert is distinguished by deep research, an eye for vivid quotation and the wonderful narrative skills of the author.
About the author
Tom Roberts is passionate about uncovering and reanimating tales lying hidden in the archives. His doctoral research at Macquarie University, and membership of its Centre for Media History, laid the groundwork for his writing of Before Rupert. Following its publication, Tom acted as the historical consultant and featured in the BBC’s landmark documentary investigating Keith Murdoch’s actions at Gallipoli. Tom’s work as a researcher has seen him collaborate with some of Britain’s foremost journalists, contributing to the success of numerous nonfiction titles. His latest book, co-authored with Peter Oborne, is How Trump Thinks: His Tweets and the Birth of a New Political Language.
*Apologies for the delay in posting this – the winner was announced weeks ago!