27 November 2023

Yass Valley author Sam Vincent wins PM's literary prize for his family farming memoir

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Smiling man with crossed arms

Sam Vincent’s book My Father and Other Animals is a humorous and thoughtful reflection on 21st-century farming. Photo: Supplied.

Yass Valley writer Sam Vincent has won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non-fiction for his book My Father and Other Animals: How I Took on the Family Farm.

Vincent’s first book, Blood and Guts, was longlisted for a Walkley Book Award, and in 2019 he won the Walkley Award for long-form feature writing.

The book is initially a light-hearted memoir about the challenges of family farming succession as Vincent, then a 20-something millennial journalist, returns to Gollion to help his accident-prone father with the block of land his parents have loved and nurtured for decades.

There’s plenty of entertainment in the novel – much of it familiar to anyone who has wrestled with issues of succession, generational transition and the unpredictability of turning from city hours to natural rhythms where anything and everything can go wrong at any time and there are no guaranteed holidays.

Sam’s relationship with his sometimes eccentric father is the book’s connecting thread and provides much of the gentle humour – the story begins with a surprisingly resigned call from his mother asking him to come home because his father has stuck his hand in a woodchipper.

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But Vincent, who grew up on the farm and loves it passionately, also wonders about its future and how to nurture the land sustainably in a rapidly changing world.

The farm has been a great passion project for his parents, and his own memories are of a magical childhood climbing trees, roaming freely across the property and swimming in dams.

As an adult, he must relearn how to run a farming business, manage livestock and grazing, and make seasonal and bigger decisions about produce, pastures and crops.

book cover

Sam Vincent’s My Father and Other Animals is an engaging local memoir. Image: Supplied.

But contemporary farming faces multiple challenges as climate change makes its impact on southeastern Australia. Gollion is not a large property and much of the book explores the challenge of how to respect and nurture the place while also making it viable.

That quest leads Vincent to many of the thinkers and practitioners who are challenging traditional farming methods, including Zimbabwean holistic management guru Alan Savory; Peter Andrews, whose sometimes controversial natural-sequence farming has been practised at the nearby Mullion for years; and Charles Massy, from Cooma.

In fact, Massy’s lengthy and powerful book Call of the Reed Warbler was sparked in part by hearing the bird call on Gollion’s leaky weir, a bird not seen or heard in the area for more than 130 years.

My Father and Other Animals is personal and political at the same time, incorporating plenty of Australian settler and agricultural history with the emerging regenerative farming movement and a consciousness of the traditional owners’ enduring connection with Country.

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The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were established in 2008 to recognise individual excellence and the contribution Australian authors make to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

This year’s awards were managed for the first time by Creative Australia following the release of the Australian Government’s 2023 National Cultural Policy launch. A total of 643 entries were received across six literary categories: fiction, non-fiction, young adult literature, children’s literature, poetry, and Australian history.

The awards are Australia’s richest literary prize, with a tax-free prize pool of $600,000 in recognition of the outstanding literary talents of established and emerging Australian writers, illustrators, poets, and historians. Winners are chosen by an independent panel of judges.

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Capital Retro11:20 am 25 Nov 23

I’ll bet the PM hasn’t even read the book, just like he admitted he hadn’t read the Uluru statement from the heart.

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