Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman and award winning actor, Leah Purcell has claimed the Victorian prize for literature for her acclaimed play ‘The Drover’s Wife.’
Laura Morelli

1 Feb 2017 - 2:02 PM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2017 - 3:24 PM

At the Victorian premier’s literary awards on Tuesday, the 46-year-old playwright and director was awarded with Australia’s richest single literary award worth $100, 000. But that wasn’t the only prize Purcell scored… For her adulated reinterpretation of Henry Lawson’s story, she was also awarded an extra $25,000 for a drama prize.

The Drover’s Wife premiered as part of the 2016 season for Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney and is based on Henry Lawson's bleak tale about a woman left alone in the outback. With her Indigenous cultural roots, Purcell was enabled to incorporate her first hand take on her own culture and heritage and bring that perspective to the stage and theatre.

The film, theatre and television star took to social media to express her mixed emotions after a grand victory.

“It’s surreal peeps... wat just happened. Bck on plane 2 NZ ... I'll tweet 2morrow when I got my thoughts 2gether... feeling blessed... wow.”

In another online post, Purcell announced that she was feeling pretty proud to be nominated for the award and also revealed that she was a former 'c' average student from back in the days. 

Celebrities and fans also took to social media to convey their feelings, good wishes of praise and support.

Amongst the many were film, television and theatre actor, Wayne Blair, who directed the successful feature film, The Sapphires as well as hip-hop artist Kaylah Truth who recently featured in a world first protest song using modern technology with a 360 virtual reality music video clip.

In fact, Kaylah is a graduate of the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA), where she studied under the direction of Leah Purcell, describing her as an ‘extremely hard working-woman’ and a ‘positive role model’.

The acclaimed artist has featured in several films such as Jindabyne, Lantana, Somersault, and The Proposition.

Some of her work has seen her tour the world, with her semi-autobiographical one-woman show ‘Box the Pony’ being so successful across Australia that it was taken to London, Edinburgh and Broadway.

The Ambassador for Reconciliation has been an advocate for Indigenous affairs though other productions such as ‘Black Chicks Talking’, which collaborates the stories of nine different Aboriginal women making their mark across Australia. The play, which Purcell wrote, became an award-winning documentary and has also been composed into a book.

Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, was among a shortlist of 21 works selected by a panel to honour literary achievement by Australian writers.

Victoria’s minister for creative industries, Martin Foley, presented the awards at the event which was administered by the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, with all category prizes worth a grand $25,000.

The Victorian premier’s literary awards shortlist


• WINNER: Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain
• The Healing Party by Micheline Lee
• Wood Green by Sean Rabin
• Waiting by Philip Salom
• The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
• The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett


• WINNER: Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson
• Songs of a War Boy by Deng Adut with Ben Mckelvey
• The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
• The Killing Season Uncut by Sarah Ferguson with Patricia Drum
• Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood
• The Fighter by Arnold Zable


• WINNER: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell
• Girl Shut Your Mouth by Gita Bezard
• Trigger Warning by Zoë Coombs Marr


• WINNER: Carrying the World by Maxine Beneba Clarke
• Painting Red Orchids by Eileen Chong
• Bull Days by Tina Giannoukos

Writing for young adults

• WINNER: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
• The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
• The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale

Highly commended


• An Isolated Incident by Emily McGuire
• Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
• After the Carnage by Tara June Winch

Writing for Young Adults

• Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
• Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

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