Winners of the 2013 Margaret Medcalf Award announced

In 2013 two winners were awarded the prestigious Margaret Medcalf Award.

Ruth Morgan, a Lecturer at Monash University, and Ann Hunter of Maylands and a sites assessment officer at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, won the Award which recognises authors of works displaying excellence in research and referencing of WA’s State Archives.

The Award was presented at a special ceremony on 19 June 2013 by the WA Auditor General Mr Colin Murphy PSM, in his role as Chairperson of the State Records Commission.

The judges commented that Ann Hunter’s book, A different kind of ‘subject’: colonial law in Aboriginal – European relations in 19th century Western Australia 1829-61, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, is an insightful and absorbing work of historical scholarship, providing new insights into the way British and colonial policies relating to Aboriginal/Settler relations in early nineteenth century WA were translated into law. Charting the attempts made to establish humane and equitable principles of jurisprudence, Hunter analyses government policies as well as the debates among settlers as they grappled with the difficulties of establishing a system that would apply to both Aboriginal and European peoples and keep order over a scattered and isolated population.  Ultimately the economic and political ambitions of the Europeans prevailed, with Aboriginal people being treated as ‘a different kind of subject’.

In the citation for Ruth Morgan’s PhD thesis Running out? An environmental history of climate and water in the southwest of Western Australia, 1829 to 2006, for The University of Western Australia, the judges commented that it is a ground-breaking and engrossing work for our times. Based on extensive research, Morgan analyses the ways in which Europeans have attempted to come to terms with the climate and water resources of the South West since colonisation. Her research makes it clear that the vulnerability to running out of water came from attitudes and policies based on a western European model of regular, reliable seasons and water supplies, while the Nyoongar people, in contrast, developed a way of life that was most resilient to the environmental realities of the South West. Revealing approaches to water resources in the region up to the present day, from a focus on health and sanitation, to the development of a profligate water culture, and to an outlook influenced by conservation principles, she shows how climate variability, technical networks, economic rationalism and western scientific expertise have shaped these approaches.

In addition to the winners, Lenore Layman and Criena Fitzgerald editors of the book 110º in the Waterbag: a history of life, work and leisure in Leonora, Gwalia and the Northern Goldfields, published by the Western Australian Museum, received a Special Commendation.

6 nominations for the award were received in 2013. As well as the winning and commended works they nominations included 2 episodes of Series 4 of Who Do You Think You Are? - featuring Shaun Micallef and Melissa George - and a biography of Richard Tilden Smith by Caroline J. Ansell.

The judges for the 2013 Margaret Medcalf Award were Winthrop Professor Jenny Gregory AM, Head of Humanities at the University of Western Australia; Ms Justine McDermott, Associate Director, Archives and Records Management Services at the University of Western Australia and a State Records Commissioner; and Ms Cathrin Cassarchis, State Archivist and Executive Director State Records.