[Retrieved from 17 May 2004]
Penny’s gone to Queensland for most of this week. I have a busy social and work life lined up to fill the void. Tonight I went to the Premier’s Literary Awards dinner.
My table was fun. These are my dinner companions whose Web presences I found at a click: Chris Cheng, Judith Fox, Judith Ridge, Cassandra Golds, Joanne Horniman. The other two were Chris’s wife Bini and my friend Moira. Two of our number were judges this year; four of us have worked in the same office, though not all at the same time; five of us shared a table at last year’s dinner and in part we were able to take up conversations where we’d left off.
The winners aren’t up on the Awards site as I’m typing this, but probably will be by the time you read it. I expect that Geraldine Brooks’s sharp and charming speech will be posted there too. I will note here what I expect won’t appear there, that among the distinguished guests she named at the start of her talk were two living treasures whom she called simply ‘Gough and Margaret’ – no need for a family name.
Brian Castro, from whom I quoted here a couple of days ago, won the Book of the Year award for Shanghai Dancing. The winners of all the other awards are given advance notice, to make sure they turn up. This one is always given to someone who has already won something, so there is no need for forewarning. As a result, when Brian Castro accepted this second award, he had to adlib, and he didn’t do a bad job of it. ‘I think it was Heraclitus who said that you can’t step into the same river twice, or it’s very difficult to. It’s difficult to come up to this podium twice.’ This was deftly done: Heraclitus was talking about impossibility rather than difficulty, but the twisting of the quote worked, as we had just watched our speaker wend his way through the crowded tables, and perhaps stumble a little on the step up to the microphone after negotiating the necessary handshake with Premier Bob Carr. Then he added another elegant twist. Having spoken earlier of the complexity and size of his book, he now said, ‘I want to thank the judges once again for honouring the difficult.’
Bob Carr seized on the Heraclitus quote and, referring obliquely to Brian Castro’s ethnicity and his own profession (he’s a politician), told us of a Chines proverb: ‘Sit on the bank of a river and wait: Your enemy’s corpse will soon float by.’ (Actually, according to the Googles, it’s an Indian proverb, but that’s just being picky.) Then, as if unable to restrain himself, he quoted Tacitus (or was it Napoleon?): ‘The corpse of an enemy smells sweet.’ I mention this because one of the regular pleasures of the evening is seeing Bob Carr enjoying himself in literary company. Inga Clendinnen, accepting her award for Dancing with Strangers, turned to address him directly and said that she was glad to be receiving an award from him because she knew that for him this evening was personal rather than political.
There were other pleasures. The acceptance speeches were uniformly brief and mostly both moving and witty. I had a number of good conversations. The food was good. The Strangers’ Dining Room looks out onto the Domain and the lights of Woolloomooloo.
Oh, and I was corralled into introducing myself to Bob Carr. He looked slightly bemused, but his handshake was friendly.