On the same day they finally indentified Ned Kelly’s decapitated skeleton I wound up in Melbourne with his head. Well not Kelly's still missing skull exactly but a miniature version of the outlaws famous iron helmet. It’s what they give you when you win a Ned Kelly award. When I first saw the long list for the 2011 Neds the last thing on my mind was going to Melbourne. The list always has some heavy hitters, including previous winners, but this year there were more than a few. Getting shortlisted was a thrill but there were still those day and evening teaching commitments around the awards night date.
Then a couple weeks back I was told The Diggers Rest Hotel had won the Ned for Best Fiction but was sworn to secrecy, which is a bastard. Jason Steger from The Age rang me at Sydney airport for an interview while we were waiting for our plane and I had a moment of real confusion as to whether or not I should actually be speaking to him. Penguin were flying me down from Sydney for the night and providing a hotel room which was nice because Melbourne can sometimes be a cold, cold town and no place for sleeping rough. I should know because I grew up there.
No lack of warmth though upstairs at Toff In Town in Curtin House where the Crime Writers Association of Australia was holding its 2011 bunfight. It’s an odd building, dating from the early 1900’s with the nondescript entrance currently sandwiched between an Asian noodle shop and a 24-hour convenience store. The place has been at times both a gentleman club and the headquarters of the Australian Communist Party and I’m guessing there wasn’t much of a crossover. It reminded me a bit of Sebastian’s, a 1960’s disco on the corner of Spring and Flinders streets. That’s showing my age and even more so when I had to Google 60’s Melbourne Discos to track down the name.
It was a new venue and new format for the Neds but as it was my first time I had no frame of reference. I met Ben Ball my publisher in the bar across the hall, caught up with some old friends and was then crash-tackled by author/publisher Lindy Cameron in the main room. When Lindy hugs a bloke you know you’ve been hugged – that goes for women too. Besides all the hugging I knew I was in the right place by the general air of confusion and occasional chronic male dishevellelment on display – crimewriterland in all its glory. But like I said, warm and also gently comforting, like the barrel of a just fired Smith & Wesson .38 police special …. Oops, sorry.
Jane Clifton kicked off the evening and Andrew Rule of Underbelly fame gave the inaugural Ned Kelly Oration on the subject of ‘Sex, Death and Betrayal’. At this point I got a bit nervous about the upcoming speech in my part of the proceeding so most of what he said went over my head. That usually doesn’t happen when SEX is in the title of anything.
With only four awards to give out they split that part of the event in two. Best First Fiction went to Alan Carter for Prime Cut and the S.D. Harvey Short Story Award to A.S. Patric for Hemisphere Travel Guides: Las Vegas For Vegans. I actually entered the S.D. Harvey’s this year but I guess I really can’t complain about not getting a run.
There was a musical interlude by a group called Acts of Violence who changed their name as they walked on stage, and then invited the crowd to talk amongst themselves during their performance. They got their wish in spades. Lindy Cameron came back and pinched some bloke’s seat so she could bend my ear about her new publishing venture Clan Destine Press which is apparently going gangbusters. She took a photograph of Wilma and myself and since I had been crook for a week with some odd lurgi I had a fair idea it would look pretty grim. Wilma always looks great in photos. I know some people will look at the snap and say they only gave me the Ned because I wasn’t long for this world.
Back to business and the True Crime Ned went to Geesche Jacobson for Abandoned - The Sad Death of Dianne Brimble. This was a truly awful case and after Geesche’s somewhat somber acceptance speech Kirsten leaned across Wilma and whispered, ‘Let’s see you be funny after that.’ It’s great to have friends who kick you when you’re up.
The Best Fiction Ned was announced by Justice Betty King, also of Underbelly fame who said some rather nice things about The Diggers Rest Hotel and its hero Charlie Berlin I went up on stage and apparently made a speech. Wilma said there was loud cheering from behind her that turned out to be a gang of editors from Penguin – it’s very Melbourne to have a cheer squad.
Afterwards I got to meet a lot of rather nice people. Angela Savage and Chris Womersley who were the other short listees said some lovely things and I’m pretty sure they meant them. Angela has a ripper of a smile. I signed a lot of books and bits and pieces, got hugged by Lindy again and then we buggered off to the other bar. The cheer squad of Penguin editors was/were propping up the bar drinking longnecks and correcting grammar so we joined them. Wilma steered the conversation away from the vocative comma because there was real potential for things to get ugly.
Things did get ugly at 5am when we had to get up for the 7.10 flight back to Sydney. I had a Ned, a sore head and the sudden realization that my name was now amongst that long list of heavy hitters. The second Charlie Berlin book is about to start the editing process so no pressure there.