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Sydney Writers Festival


Winners of the 2020 NSW Premier’s History Awards reveal their inspirations & the impact they hope their work will have.

Winners of the 2020 NSW Premier’s History Awards, Noëlle Janaczewska, Dr James Dunk, Professor Kate Fullagar, Callum Clayton-Dixon and Pierre-Jacques Ober gather in-person to reveal their inspirations, the impact they hope their work will have, and the role that margins and mayhem play in their writing.

Using different mediums and methods, each study reminds us that the margins are places where not only mayhem but also deeper meanings can be made.

Hosted by Dr Kiera Lindsey. Opportunity for short Q&A.

When | 27 April 2021 at 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm

Where | Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie St, Sydney, NSW, 2000

Our Panelists:



Dr Kiera Lindsey – Session Chair

Kiera Lindsey is an award-winning historian based at UTS where she is a Senior Research Fellow conducting an ARC DECRA on speculative biography and historical craft.

Session Chair | Dr Kiera Lindsey



Dr James Dunk

James Dunk lives and writes in Wangal country in Sydney’s inner west.

He works as a historian at the University of Sydney, where he lectures in Australian history and the history of medicine, and he is a conjoint fellow at the University of Newcastle.

His research has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rethinking History, History Australia, and Health and History and his literary reviews and essays have appeared in various magazines and journals.



Credit: Lisa Grant Photography.


Bedlam at Botany

His first book, Bedlam at Botany Bay, won the Australian History Prize at the New South Wales Premier’s History Awards 2020 and was also shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award, Ernest Scott Prize and the Kay Daniels Award.

Stories of madness are woven together into a narrative about freedom and possibilities, unravelling and collapse. Bedlam at Botany Bay looks at people who found themselves not only at the edge of the world but at the edge of sanity. It shows their worlds colliding.



Noëlle Janaczewska

Noëlle Janaczewska is a playwright, poet, essayist and the author of The Book of Thistles (UWA Publishing)—part environmental history, part poetry, part unconventional memoir. She is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships and residencies, including the 2020 NSW Premier’s Digital History Prize, a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, the Griffin Award, ten AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild Industry Excellence) Awards and a Windham-Campbell Prize from Yale University for her body of work as a dramatist.



Credit: Kathryn Millard


Experience St

Have you ever wondered what life in early Sydney was really like? Writer Noëlle Janaczewska visits Experiment Street in the harbour suburb of Pyrmont where she delves into the Sydney City Archives.

Albeit there numerous mentions of ‘Experience St’, Noëlle introduces you to seamstress Lizzie Absalom, a fictional resident of Experiment Street in the early 1900s, where she adds her colourful recollections to the ‘official’ records.


Credit: State Library NSW. Listen to ‘Experience Street – the true history of a city lane’ on ABC Radio National. 



Professor Kate Fullagar

Kate Fullagar is a Professor of History at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University.

She is also an honorary professor of history at Macquarie University and currently co-editor of the Australian Historical Association’s journal, History Australia. Kate specializes in the history of the eighteenth-century world, particularly the British Empire and the many indigenous societies it encountered.



Credit: Ellen Dahl


The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist

Three interconnected eighteenth-century lives offer a fresh account of the British empire and its intrusion into Indigenous societies. This engaging history brings together the stories of Joshua Reynolds and two Indigenous men, the Cherokee Ostenaco and the Ra‘iatean Mai.

She delves into the story of Mai, examining his confrontation with conquest and displacement, his voyage to London on Cook’s imperial expedition, and his return home with a burning ambition to right past wrongs. 



Callum Clayton Dixon

Callum Clayton-Dixon is an Aboriginal linguist and historian whose people come from the southern end of the New England Tableland, New South Wales, around Walcha, Woolbrook, and the Ingleba Aboriginal Reserve—Ambēyang country.




Surviving New England

A History of Aboriginal Resistance and Resilience Through the First Forty Years of the Colonial Apocalypse.

Surviving New England tells the history of how the first people had thrived on the so-called New England Tableland since the first sunrise.

It is their story which this book sets out to reclaim, co-opting the colonial archive and subverting the colonial narrative, deconstructing their story in order to uncover our own.

Courtesy of Boo Books.



Pierre-Jacques Ober

Born in a French military family, Pierre-Jacques Ober broke with family traditions by preferring philosophy to war. In the last 25 years, he has thrown himself into numerous adventures as an independent filmmaker. Working in partnership with photographer Jules Ober, he now focuses on the creation of books using a unique story-telling device – photographs of figurines in miniature sets.




The Good Son

A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature.

A young WWI soldier’s unauthorized visit home has dire consequences in a haunting story reimagined in miniature tableaux.

Illustrated by Felicity Coonan and Jules Ober.


This session is presented by the History Council of New South Wales as part of the 2021 Sydney Writers’ Festival.