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Sydney Writers Festival


Winners of the 2021 NSW Premier’s History Awards reveal their inspirations & the impact they hope their work will have.

Winners of the 2021 NSW Premier’s History Awards, Laurence Billiet, Matthew Colloff and Luke Keogh gather in person to reveal how they make history, their inspirations, and the impact they hope their work will have.

Despite distinct subjects, mediums and methods, this year’s winners are united in their forceful concern for the way Australia has been shaped by its ongoing history of colonisation. Following their presentations, there will be an opportunity for the audience to pose questions.

Hosted by Dr Matthew Allen, HCNSW Councillor. Opportunity for short Q&A.

When | 18 May 2022 at 1 pm to 2:30 pm

Where | Dixson Room, State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie St, Sydney, NSW, 2000

Our Panelists:


Dr Matthew Allen – Session Chair

Dr Matthew Allen is a Senior Lecturer in Historical Criminology at the University of New England. His diverse research is focused on understanding the unique and extraordinary transition of New South Wales from penal colony to responsible democracy, and the way that this process was shaped by the conflict between liberal ideals and authoritarian controls within the British world.



Session Chair | Dr Matthew Allen




Luke Keogh

Luke Keogh is a curator and historian. In most of his work, there are plants, environments and old things sprouting in some sort of wild garden. His book The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved Plants and Changed the World won the NSW Premier’s General History Award and was Garden Media Guild’s Book of the Year.



The Wardian Case

In this engaging history, Luke Keogh delves into the curious history of the Wardian case. These miniature greenhouses were central to the successful movement of plants around the world in the 19th century — shipping precious species across hemispheres, seasons, and latitudes when journeys were long and unpredictable.

The invention by Nathaniel Ward of this simple-looking but ingenious contraption changed the transportation of plants by keeping them alive.



Matthew Colloff

Matthew Colloff is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. 

Matt’s current research and writing are on how people change the ways they think and act about adaptation to climate change; water reform in the Murray–Darling Basin and the relationships between people and nature.




Landscapes of Our Hearts: Reconciling People and Environment

This book takes a bold, inventive approach to the writing of history. There’s a questing voice at the heart of this text. Landscapes of Our Hearts digs deep to ask big, important questions—and resist simplistic answers. 




Laurence Billiet

Laurence has extensive experience in digital media – having launched one of the first video sharing sites in 2007 ( followed by the pioneering Milan-based online video platform Babelgum.

In 2020 Laurence wrote, produced and directed FREEMAN for ABC TV which was the most-watched documentary of the year on Australian TV. She received the Betty Roland Award for Scriptwriting at the 2021 NSW Premier Literary Awards and the award for Best Direction in a TV documentary one-hour from the Australian Directors Guild.



Credit: General Strike, 2020.



A documentary of immense beauty and abiding inspiration, FREEMAN revisits the history of one of Indigenous Australia’s greatest moments.

It provides fresh insight into Cathy Freeman’s famous 400-metre run at the Sydney Olympics because it includes the mature voice of Freeman herself, innovative re-enactment from the Bangarra Dance group and well-produced archival footage from Freeman’s Indigenous heritage — dating back to the early 20th century. 

This session is presented by the History Council of New South Wales as part of the 2022 Sydney Writers’ Festival.