THE push to establish the Stella Prize, a new award to honour Australia's women writers, is gathering pace, but people tend to forget the existence of the Kibble and Dobbie awards, both of which do just that.
Yesterday Gail Jones won the $30,000 Kibble for her novel Five Bells, while Favel Parrett received the $5000 Dobbie for a debut book for Past the Shallows.
Jones' fiction was inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem of the same name and brings its characters to Sydney's Circular Quay on one Saturday. In carefully nuanced prose, Jones ensures her protagonists gain a new perspective on their lives as they dwell on personal history and the impact of time and memory. It also serves as a homage to Sydney.
Parrett's is a very different sort of novel about three brothers negotiating life with their brutal father after the mysterious death of their mother. Set on the coast of Tasmania, with the ocean almost ever present, Past the Shallows was also shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin award. Parrett, who divides her time between a writing studio in Melbourne and her home in Torquay, also won the newcomer of the year award at the Australian Book Industry Awards.
Professor Robert Dixon, chairman of the judging panel, said Jones' characterisation of Sydney was ''an elegant and essential part of the novel's emotional pull'' while Parrett's novel was ''superbly written, raw and realistic''.
The two prizes are open to any form of ''life writing'', including memoir and biography. Jones won over two short-listed novelists - Charlotte Wood for Animal People and Gillian Mears for Foal's Bread, which this week won the $80,000 Prime Minister's Literary Award for fiction. Parrett's novel pipped Amy T. Matthews' End of the Night Girl and Leah Swann's book of short stories, Bearings.