Dr Gordon Peake. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Dr Gordon Peake. Photo by Stuart Hay.

Peake top of the pile with ACT book of the year

6 March 2015

Stories of Timor-Leste by ANU College of Asia and the Pacific academic wins $10,000 prize.

Memoirs from a foreign aid posting to Timor-Leste has culminated in ANU College of Asia and the Pacific academic Dr Gordon Peake taking out the 2014 ACT Book of the Year prize.

In 2007, Peake, now based at the College’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program, moved to Dili, where he worked initially as a researcher and then as senior policy adviser to the Australian Federal Police’s mission in the country.

Beloved land: stories, struggles & secrets from Timor-Leste is an account of his four-year stint in the Southeast Asian country.

The ACT Book of the Year Award is open to books written by authors who reside in the ACT, or can specifically and strongly demonstrate an ACT-based arts practice.

Peake triumphed over 48 nominations to take home the $10,000 first prize, awarded by ACT Minister for the Arts Ms Joy Burch MLA in a ceremony at ANU today.

He is the third ANU author to win the award in the last three years – with Frank Bongiorno winning in 2013 for The sex lives of Australians and Bill Gammage winning in 2012 for The biggest estate on earth

“Congratulations to Dr Peake who has not only won the $10,000 Award but was also chosen as the winner of the inaugural People’s Choice Award,” Ms Burch said.

“The judging panel described Beloved land as ‘a compelling work merging the personal with the historical ... surprising, sometimes confronting and very poignant’, and the public obviously agreed, with Beloved Land attracting almost 40 per cent of the votes cast.

The book includes views on the shooting of Jose Ramos-Horta in 2008, along with an analysis of East Timor’s public “frenemy” number one, Indonesia, which occupied the country from December 1975 until October 1999. It also reflects of the realities of international development.

Peake says that Beloved land tells the story of Timor-Leste’s progress since it won its historic fight for freedom.

“Beloved land picks up the story where world attention left off. It is a blend of narrative history, travelogue and personal reminiscences based on my time in the country.

“It shows the daunting hurdles that the people of Timor-Leste must overcome to build a nation from scratch, and how much the international community has to learn if it is to help rather than hinder the process.”

Peake wrote the book when he was a Visiting Fellow at the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program (SSGM).

“I’d like to thank my colleagues for giving me the collegiality and solitude to help complete the project,” said Peake.

“The award is a lovely fillip for SSGM and hopefully will also shine a spotlight on the excellent work of my ANU colleagues over recent years on Timor-Leste.”

A review by The Sydney Morning Herald described Beloved land as not only a “political diagnosis” but “an absorbing piece of travel writing and full of well-turned character sketches”.

“The mixture of forthrightness and warmth, and knowledge, makes this book not simply informative but in a quiet way exemplary,” it reads.

Beloved land is available from Scribe

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