Shortlist year: 2010

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Allen & Unwin

The Colony is the story of the marvellously contrary, endlessly energetic early years of Sydney. It is an intimate account of the transformation of a campsite in a beautiful cove to the town that later became Australia's largest and best-known city.

From the sparkling beaches to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, Grace Karskens skilfully reveals how landscape shaped the lives of the original Aboriginal inhabitants and newcomers alike.

She traces the ways in which relationships between the colonial authorities and ordinary men and women broke with old patterns, and the ways that settler and Aboriginal histories became entwined.

She uncovers the ties between the burgeoning township and its rural hinterland expanding along the river systems of the Cumberland Plain.

About the author

Grace Karskens

Grace Karskens teaches Australian History at the University of New South Wales and is the author of The Rocks: Life in Early Sydney.

Judges’ comments

The Colony is a marvellous story grounded in the landscape—from pre-history to successive transformations of the colony from campsites to towns, from garden plots to huge land-holdings.

Tracing and exploring the sense of place is the backbone of Karskens' narrative. Always present in Karskens' story is the Indigenous population, a dynamic, pervasive presence, a presence with victories as well as defeats, of shapers as well as of the dispossessed.

Karskens' scholarship is rich in the exploration of what she lovingly calls ‘the city of words’ – the work of fellow historians, archaeologists, geologists, museologists, and art and architectural historians. Karskens' own voice is a confident one, balanced, perceptive and startling in its simplicity and directness as she challenges received wisdom.

The Colony deserved this year's award for its high literary quality and originality. As a fine history, it is a story which also informs the present and gives us signposts for the future. The narrative is enthralling in its detail and exciting in the picture it draws of the great, brave achievement that the colony was from its earliest days.