Screenwriters Steve McGregor and David Tranter win RAKA Prize

RAKA Award Winner
Left to right: Associate Professor Chris Healey, Steven McGregor and Doctor Kate Challis (granddaughter of Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith and Kate Challis Ruth Adeney) at the Australian Centre Literary Awards 2019. Credit: Jodie Hutchinson

Steven McGregor and David Tranter have been announced as winners of the 2019 Kate Challis RAKA Award for their script Sweet Country, a sweeping outback Western where justice is put on trial.

The Kate Challis Ruth Adeney Koori Award, or RAKA, which means 'five' in the Pintupi language, is worth $20,000 and is awarded to an Indigenous artist in one of five categories annually, including: creative prose, poetry, script writing, drama and visual arts.

The 2019 prize recognised the best script for film or television by an Indigenous writer screened in the past five years.

Set in a remote settlement in the Northern Territory in 1929, Sweet Country is an original feature film telling the story of Aboriginal stockman Sam Kelly on the run with his pregnant wife after killing a white station owner in self-defence.

The script was based on true stories told to Mr Tranter by his grandfather.

David Tranter, an Alyawarre man from the Northern Territory, said he was “honoured and thrilled” to receive the award.

“Thank you to the judges and the family of Kate Challis. Sweet Country was many years in the making and we're very happy with how the film was received,” he said.

Steve McGregor, from Darwin, said: “We want to thank the cast and crew and our families who came on the journey to tell this story. We have many more stories to tell.”

Speaking about working with Mr Tranter, Mr McGregor said: “We’ve worked together for 25 years, in David’s other role as sound recordist. This is a story David has always wanted to tell. Writing with David was deadly experience and it was amazing to be at the Venice Film Festival for the world premiere with an audience that were captivated by the film.”

RAKA Award judge and Director of the Australian Centre, Faculty of Arts Professor Denise Varney said: “The judging panel unanimously recommended Steven McGregor and David Tranter as winners of the 2019 RAKA Scriptwriting Award for Sweet Country. The script interweaves complex racial and historical strands to tell the true story of a proud Aboriginal man who was tried and acquitted for murder in the Northern Territory in 1929 only to be shot on his release. The writers apply the genre of the period Western expertly to this tragic Indigenous-Settler story. Yet the writers also offer exquisite moments of beauty amidst cruelty and prejudice. The film version directed by Warwick Thornton further enhances the crisp and evocative writing.”

The Kate Challis RAKA Award was first awarded in 1991 to help advance recognition of Aboriginal artistic achievements. It is one of the earliest prizes for Indigenous artists in Australia and established by Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith to honour the memory of his late wife, Kate Challis, who was known in her youth as Ruth Adeney. The prize is offered annually to encourage Indigenous creative artists to undertake literary works, paintings, sculptures, craftwork, plays and musical compositions, and to assist in advancing the recognition of Indigenous achievements in the arts.

Information on past winners can be found on the Australian Centre website.