UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize 2023 announced

08 Dec 2023
A book lies open on a table in front of a wall of books.

Dr Charmaine O’Brien challenges preconceived ideas about Australian food history in her winning entry. 

Her proposed book, The Devil at Work? Australia’s First Celebrity Cooks, asks who Australia’s first cooks were and how their backgrounds, social standing and cultures affected commentary on the food they prepared and our accepted food history. The judges commended Dr O’Brien’s “original and highly innovative” treatment of her subject and her “captivating” storytelling abilities. 

The UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize, established in partnership with UNSW Press, develops relationships with UNSW’s talented academics from all backgrounds and disciplines. The prize, now in its second year, invites book proposals for general, scholarly and literary nonfiction. The winning entry receives manuscript development with the editorial team at UNSW Press and the publisher retains first option to publish the winning manuscript. 

A woman with blonde hair wearing a navy shirt“The Devil at Work? re-imagines Australian food history through taking the reader into the kitchens, dining rooms and public spaces – material and cerebral – created and/or occupied by 19th and early 20th century Australian food personalities,” says Dr O’Brien.  

“The personal stories of Australia’s largely forgotten and underappreciated culinary pioneers show how social, political and cultural circumstances influenced their work, and how their work in turn influenced the shape of a nation.”  

Dr O’Brien researches and writes about the social and cultural history of food and eating with a focus on Australian food history. She challenges the historiographical convention that colonial Australians were terrible cooks who ate an ‘abominable’ diet by examining the impact of class, gender and immigration on representations of food and eating habits. She is internationally recognised for her work on Indian food history and culture. 

Her published books include The Colonial Kitchen: Australia 1788-1901, The Devil at Work: the cook in Australian colonial literature, Eating the Present, Tasting the Future: exploring India through her changing food and The Penguin Food Guide to India. She holds a PhD in creative writing.  

The judging panel for the 2023 prize included Fiona Inglis, Managing Director of Curtis Brown Australia and member of the UNSW Press Board; Roanna Gonsalves, award-winning author and lecturer in Creative Writing at UNSW Sydney; Harriet McInerney, Publisher at UNSW Press; and Paul O’Beirne, Senior Project Editor at UNSW Press. 

Submissions for the 2024 UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize will be announced early next year.