They meet in secret, they are in charge of vast sums of money, and the fate of a national culture rests in their hands. Yes it’s the Literature Board of the Australia Council in their dreams, who have just announced their list of half-yearly grants – the first under new chair, postmodern lit academic turned News Ltd neocon heavy Imre Saluzshinsky.

There’s few surprises in the list of small and medium grants, nor would you suspect any – the awards are made by a board of half-dozen with another eight or so people acting as advisors to chip in opinions.

The real surprise is in the fellowships – the $90,000 jackpots which give a senior author a couple of years or, if you’re Bob Ellis, about ten and a half days – where conventional choice, poet Laurie Duggan, is joined by crime fiction novelist Peter Temple.

Temple is a great writer, with a swag of Ned Kelly awards, and one of the few Oz crime writers with definitely literary qualities – so does he really need the award? Ads for his books are all over the London Tube at the moment, and he’s being positioned as the next Ian Rankin. Surely, there must be film rights etc in the offing? Isn’t that the point of writing crime fiction?

The award is doubly weird under Saluzshinsky, since he has previously come out against “cultural protectionism” as a product of local “ayatollahs” and “Hansonites”. Strange then to give money to the one literary sector that can pay its own way. Does the fellowship function as a sort of industry incentive, encouraging unmarketable haiku-ists to start giving us dead blondes in alleyways?

Strange to have him doling out taxpayers money in any case. He’s undoubtably qualified in the field.

But so was John Bolton.

Peter Fray

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