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Leni Shilton

ALICE SPRINGS-BASED author Leni Shilton took out the Best Fiction Book for Walking with Camels – The Story of Bertha Strehlow at this year’s Chief Minister’s Book Awards. We caught up with her for a chat.

Congratulations on your amazing win. Tell us about your award-winning book!
Walking with Camels is a verse novel re-imagining the life of Bertha Strehlow, which centres on the years she spent with her husband, Ted Strehlow, in Central Australia in the 1930s. Through poetry, she recounts her adaptation to vast desert country, the miscarriage of her first child, and her transformation through these experiences.

What was the inspiration behind it?
A number of years ago while visiting the Strehlow Research Centre, I found some photographs of Bertha taken in 1936. I was intrigued because she was being carried on a stretcher on the side of a camel. I wanted to know more, and what I learnt resulted in a PhD and a published book!

What did winning the award mean to you?
It is such a thrill to have Bertha’s story recognised through this award because it means there will be more readers for Walking with Camels and more people reading poetry. I am honoured be recognised among such fabulous writers and grateful to the NT Writers’ Centre and to the judges of NT Chief Minister’s Awards.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I am currently working on a book of collected poems entitled Voices, which is a meditation on voice and silence. Through a series of cameos, the poems explore moments alone in nature, surrounded by birdsong, and what is revealed when we really listen.

If we were to take a look on your bookshelf, what kinds of books would we find there?
I read a wide range of genres including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. My bookshelf includes Apeirogon by Colm McCann, Where the Fruit Falls by Karen Wyld, Capriccio: A novel by Dina Davis, Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry and Arelhekenhe Angkentye Women’s Talk – Poems of Lyapintneme from Arrernte Women of Central Australia.

Any Territory writers you’re enjoying at the moment?
Earlier this year I had the enormous privilege of reading and launching Dani Powell’s stunning debut novel Return to Dust, which is an exploration of grief and the gift of healing.

I’ve also recently completed Peace Crimes – Pine Gap National Security and Dissent by Kieran Finnane, which is a gripping account of court proceedings of a group of peace pilgrims in Alice Springs who were defending terrorism charges.


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