A book about the Sunshine State’s relationship with rugby league has taken out the biggest prize at the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards.
- Heartland: How Rugby League Explains Queensland wins the $25,000 Premier’s Award for a work of state significance
- Gorman interviewed legends of the game and die-hard fans to explore how the sport has shaped Queensland’s identity
- Award winners across 11 categories were recognised at an online ceremony on Friday night
Journalist Joe Gorman’s non-fiction book Heartland: How Rugby League Explains Queensland has won the $25,000 Premier’s award for a work of state significance.
The winners across 11 categories were announced in an online ceremony on Friday night.
“It’s probably not that often you see a book about sport, and particularly a book about rugby league, winning such an award. So that makes me really happy and really proud,” Gorman said.
“What I’m trying to do with this book is to say it’s more than just a sport, it’s more than just a game, it speaks to Queensland society and culture as well.”
Heartland charts the history of rugby league in the state and explores how the game is entwined with Queensland’s identity as an underdog and outsider.
“I think rugby league is probably one of the best ways in which Queensland gets its own back,” he said.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why State of Origin has had such an enduring appeal — both because Queenslanders can beat their southern rivals but also because it’s a statement of affirmation about being a Queenslander.”
State first, club second
Gorman said the historic all-Queensland 2015 NRL grand final between the Cowboys and Broncos was one of the key moments that inspired him to write the book.
“It was north versus south, little brother versus big brother, but there was a really genuine respect and friendliness between the two sides which I think speaks to what is different about rugby league in Queensland,” he said.
Gorman combed through 40 years’ worth of Rugby League Week magazines and criss-crossed the state for 18 months while researching and writing the book.
“It was an incredible privilege to be able to speak to guys like Wally Lewis, Chris Close, Kerry Boustead, Laurie Spina. These are real legends of Queensland and of rugby league,” he said.
He penned a “fair chunk” of the book in the Cairns Library and eventually moved to the city after it was published.
‘The cockroach of sports’
Gorman said it was a bit ironic the book was receiving an award while the state’s three NRL teams were floundering in the bottom four.
“This year has been the worst year for Queensland rugby league in living memory,” he said.
But he did not believe that undermined the importance of the game to Queenslanders.
He thought faltering junior participation numbers posed a bigger threat to the sport than the coronavirus pandemic.
“There were real fears at the very beginning of when the pandemic hit about the future of the game, but I think rugby league’s emerged pretty strong from that,” he said.
“People have been predicting the death of rugby league for a long time and it tends to be the cockroach of sports which is impossible to kill, so I don’t have too many fears about the professional game at all.”
2020 Qld Literary Award winners
Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance:
- Heartland: How Rugby League Explains Queensland by Joe Gorman (UQP)
Queensland Writers Fellowships:
- Sara El Sayed, ‘The Blind Pussy Cat’
- Anna Jacobson, ‘Anxious in a Sweet Store’
- Amanda Niehaus, ‘Relativity’
Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards:
- Zenobia Frost
- Yen-Rong Wong
The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award:
- Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (UQP)
The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award:
- Olive Cotton: A Life in Photography by Helen Ennis (HarperCollins)
Griffith University Children’s Book Award:
- As Fast As I Can by Penny Tangey (UQP)
Griffith University Young Adult Book Award:
- Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller (UQP)
University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection:
- Lucky Ticket by Joey Bui (Text Publishing)
Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection:
- Heide by Pi.O (Giramondo Publishing)
David Unaipon Award for an Emerging Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Writer:
- The Space Between the Paperbark by Jazz Money (poetry, NSW)
Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer:
- If You’re Happy by Fiona Robertson
The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award:
- A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird