A book about the history of mental health during the gold rush in Victoria has been awarded top prize at the 2018 Victorian Community History Awards.

Melbourne clinical psychologist and writer Jill Giese was awarded the Victorian Premier’s History Award for her book The maddest place on Earth in a ceremony at the Arts Centre Melbourne on the 8th of October.

Jill Giese

Jill Giese accepting the Victorian Premier’s History Award

In the 19th century, Victoria had the highest rate of what was then referred to as insanity in Australia. Jill Giese’s book reveals amid rich historical detail the local explanations for the record number of people being held in the state’s asylums, using a brilliant fusion of serious scholarship and imaginative writing.

Jill accessed texts, manuscripts and photographs from the State Library’s collection to research and write her winning book.

“The State Library Victoria collection played a central role in my book’s journey. Indeed an 1877 volume from the collection was one of the early resources that inspired me to write the book, while an engraving held by the Library captures the scattered village appearance of Melbourne’s first asylum at Yarra Bend and graces my book’s cover,” she said.

Other winning entries included A secondary education for all? by John Andrews and Deborah Towns, and Jennifer Bantow and Ros Lewis for their self-published book Barro-abil providing the fascinating history of Barrabool sandstone.

Among the commendations were histories about Alfred Deakin, Ballarat begonias and Pentridge Prison with local area histories including Kilmore, Linton, Yarra Valley, Warrnambool, Ballarat, Lancefield, Castlemaine and Torquay just to name a few.

All Victorian Community History Award winners

All Victorian Community History Award winners with Don Garden, President of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria

The winning and commended books are available through the catalogue links below.

About the Awards

The Victorian Community History Awards are presented by Public Record Office Victoria in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. A major event of History Week, the annual awards recognise the work of individuals and groups committed to telling stories of local history. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the awards program.

Director and Keeper of Public Records, Justine Heazlewood, said that these award-winning stories help us to better understand our past.

“Congratulations to all the winners, including the many volunteers who give up their time and creative energy freely to tell and share stories they are passionate about. We share that passion for history with them and are thrilled to be able to award them for their efforts, in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.”

Victorian Premier’s History Award 

Judges’ Special Prize 

History Article (Peer Reviewed) Award

  • WINNER ‘The happiest time of my life’: emotive visitor books and early mission tourism to Victoria’s Aboriginal reserves by Nikita Vanderbyl, published in Aboriginal History

Collaborative Community Award winner and commendations

Local History Project Award winner and commendations

History Publication Award winner and commendations

Local History – Small Publication Award winner and commendations

Cultural Diversity Award winner and commendations

Multimedia Award winner and commendations

Historical Interpretation Award winner and commendations

  • WINNER Wangaratta stories, a collaborative exhibition by the Wangaratta Historical Society, Wangaratta Art Gallery and Museums Australia (Victoria) Roving Curator Program
  • Castlemaine Cemetery: a walk with glimpses of the past by Ian Hockley
  • Stanley women of the 19th Century: hearts of gold – minds of mettle by the Friends of Stanley Athenaeum
  • Torquay history app by Cheryl Baulch and Chris Barr, Torquay Museum Without Walls available to download via external website
  • Walks in Port Phillip by Meyer Eidelson and others

Centenary of World War One Award winner and commendations

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