Dr Stephen Gapps wins inaugural Les Carlyon Literary Prize

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Dr Stephen Gapps has won the inaugural Les Carlyon Literary Prize for his work, The Sydney Wars – Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817.

Chosen from more than 60 entries, The Sydney Wars is an examination of conflict in the first years of the British settlement of New South Wales through the lens of military history.

Chaired by the Australian War Memorial’s Head of Military History, Dr Karl James, the judging panel included Mrs Denise Carlyon, historian Mr Ashley Ekins, and Memorial staff. 

The judges said The Sydney Wars was well-researched and had a strong narrative.

The Sydney Wars is a well-written history book – lucid, logical, and flowing nicely in chronological order,” the judges said.

It is a significant work that addresses important issues, discussing the nature of Aboriginal resistance to the British, and the pattern of conflict that developed and escalated during the first three decades of the British colony in New South Wales.

“Dr Gapps successfully pulled together a complex topic drawing heavily on archival sources.

“The topic is an excellent contribution to Australian history that evokes considerable empathy. It tells a little-known aspect in the early colonial history of Australia, neatly confined both temporally and geographically.”

When assessing entries for the prize, the judging panel considered literary merit and the contribution of the work to understanding the Australian experience of war and conflict. The works were also assessed for authenticity and credibility in storytelling, and for originality.

Memorial Director Matt Anderson congratulated Dr Gapps on winning the inaugural prize.

“I commend Dr Stephen Gapps on his excellent and very important book, The Sydney Wars, and on being awarded the inaugural Les Carlyon Literary Prize,” Mr Anderson said. 

“This book is in the finest traditions of Mr Carlyon’s writing: meticulously researched and powerfully argued. This story will challenge us to think about our social and cultural heritage in new and important ways. ”

Dr Gapps, currently a curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum, said he was honoured to be the first recipient of the Les Carlyon Literary Prize.

“It’s a humbling experience to receive this award,” he said.

The Sydney Wars was four years in the writing, and it was 20 years in the thinking.

“I hope this award inspires other historians in their work.

“The award will be a wonderful assistance in my next project on the conflict in the Bathurst region in 1822-24.”

The $10,000 Les Carlyon Literary Prize continues the legacy of eminent historian, author and journalist Mr Les Carlyon AC.

Mr Carlyon was a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial from May 2006 until his passing in March 2019. He wrote numerous books on Australian history, including the critically acclaimed Gallipoli (2001) and The Great War (2006). He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for “eminent service to literature through the promotion of the national identity as an author, editor and journalist, to the understanding and appreciation of Australia’s war history, and to the horseracing industry” in 2014.

Dr Gapps’ The Sydney Wars – Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817 was published by NewSouth in 2018.


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