The Erica Bell Foundation Literature Award
Adam Ouston – First place
The Party is a work of extraordinary breadth and ambition. It takes as its narrative scaffolding a single night in the lives of a group of privileged and intellectual white Australians and builds around it a story about what that privilege and intellectualism actually mean for these particular whites in a place so geographically distant from Europe, the centre of their culture. But the loftier ambitions are tamed somewhat and made more personal, by a focus on the intimate. The grand ideas that the manuscript is so concerned with are also the ideas that its characters obsess over. Thus, the macro is made micro. The story begins dramatically, with Vivian Parrish, the renowned novelist, announcing her intention to take her own life at a dinner party. She is ill. She no longer wants to suffer. This doesn’t sit well with Annabel, her lover, who believes she is giving up on life. Their history unfolds through memory and flashback. The simple facts become complicated. We watch as Annabel and Vivian fall in love, live life, and then lose it. It’s a beautiful story, poignant and full of truth. But where the manuscript really excels in its attention to the bigger picture. Vivian feels at odds with the nation that is her home: ‘one thing you can say about Australia is this: it is absurd. How is life even possible there, let alone art and culture, with its charcoal capital carved out of the silent and ever-burning bush?’ Through her writing, she has been questioning Australian identity and it is no coincidence that The Party does something similar. That it manages to examine these ideas, while still being true to its characters and emotional core, is proof of the skill with which it was written.
Anne Blyth-Cooper – First runner-up
The Shape of Water
A work of historical fiction in the truest sense is how The Shape of Water is described. It takes the brute facts of history and weaves them into a narrative thread that is no longer purely historical, but also not quite purely fictional. It focuses on the life of Sophia Degraves, wife to Peter Degraves, the founder of Cascade Brewery and one of Tasmania’s most prominent early entrepreneurs. Like many other historical wives living in the shadow of their husbands, Sophia has received little scholarly attention over the years. The Shape of Water sets about righting this injustice. The reader follows Sophia as she makes the long journey to Van Diemen’s Land, children in tow. She suffers, she learns, and eventually makes a home on the island. The manuscript is full of perfectly chosen details that never overwhelm or interfere. The Hobart town of 1824 feels fully realised. The modes of dress, of thought, and of speech are captured in ways that never fail to convince. Overall, the effect is of a historical verisimilitude that sweeps us along as if we were walking beside Sophia in the shadow of Mt Wellington. It is a thoroughly charming book that brings to life a woman and a period that are both fascinating.
Robbie Arnott – Second runner-up
The Marsupial Almanac
Zoe Smedts has a manic passion for marsupials. She’s a little off balance, a little different. After the untimely death of her brother, she heads off to make a new life for herself, always with the thoughts of marsupials burning in the background. The Marsupial Almanac is bursting with Zoe’s personality, a young woman who doesn’t know what she wants from life, but is nevertheless out to find it. Her story is told with a straightforward, well-meaning intention. The prose is simple and the narrative is sharply focused. But, writing that appears simple often hides a great emotional complexity beneath the surface, and that is certainly the case with The Marsupial Almanac. The reader comes to understand that Zoe is dealing with the great verities of adolescence – loneliness, the growing distance from family, the birth of the adult identity. It is a tale told with an eye for character detail and profound warmth of spirit.
The Erica Bell Foundation Medical Research Award
Maureen Davey – First place
Tasmanian Aborigines Step Up To Health: evaluation of a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and secondary prevention program
Published in BMC Health Services Research
Co-authors Wendy Moore (Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre) and Julia Walters (School of Medicine)
Background: Although the burden of cardiopulmonary diseases in the Aboriginal community is high, utilisation of rehabilitation services has been poor. We evaluated the uptake and effectiveness of a cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation program specifically designed and provided for the Aboriginal community by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, for people with diagnosed chronic heart or respiratory disease and those at high risk of developing such conditions.
Results: Of the 92 participants (39% with an established disease diagnosis), 72 provided follow-up data. Participants lost weight and waist circumference decreased (mean −3.6 cm, 95% confidence interval (CI)-2.5 to −4.7). There were clinically significant improvements in six-minute walk distance (mean 55.7 m, 95% CI 37.8 to 73.7) and incremental shuttle walk (mean 106.2 m, 95% CI 79.1 to 133.2). There were clinically significant improvements in generic quality of life domains, dyspnoea and fatigue. Generally, the improvements in participants with established cardiac or respiratory diseases did not differ from that in people with risk factors. Analysis of qualitative data identified three factors that facilitated participation: support from peers and health workers, provision of transport and the program structure. Participants’ awareness of improvements in their health contributed to ongoing participation and positive health outcomes, and participants would recommend the program to family and friends.
Conclusion: A cardiopulmonary program, which included exercise and education and met national guidelines, was designed and delivered specifically for the Aboriginal community. It increased participation in rehabilitation by Aborigines with, or at high risk of, established disease and led to positive changes in health behaviours, functional exercise capacity and health related quality of life.
Emma Nicholson – First runner-up
Interaction of noradrenaline and cortisol predicts negative intrusive memories in post-traumatic stress disorder
Published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Co-authors Richard Bryant (University of NSW) and Kim Felmingham (Psychology UTAS)
Recent evidence suggests that an interaction of noradrenaline (NE) and cortisol (CORT) during encoding leads to greater consolidation of emotional memories. Convergent models of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suggest the release of CORT and NE lead to greater intrusive memories in PTSD. This study examined the effect of NE and CORT during encoding on recall and intrusive memories in PTSD. 58 participants (18 participants with PTSD, 20 trauma-exposed controls, and 20 non-trauma exposed controls) provided saliva samples of NE (indexed by salivary alpha amylase; sAA) and CORT at (a) baseline and (b) after viewing negative emotional stimuli. Delayed memory recall and number of intrusive memories of negative, neutral and positive stimuli were recorded two days after this initial testing session. The PTSD group had greater NE levels to negative stimuli and reported greater numbers of intrusive memories of negative stimuli than controls. Regression analyses revealed that the interaction of CORT and NE significantly predicted negative intrusive memories in the PTSD group. The trauma-exposed group reported significantly greater recall of negative images compared to controls, but did not differ significantly from the PTSD group. The PTSD group reported greater levels of suppression of negative images during encoding compared to the other groups. Our results confirm that the interaction of NE and CORT significantly predicts greater negative intrusive memories, but this occurs specifically in the PTSD group. This suggests that a level of heightened arousal is required for the relationship between stress hormones and emotional memory to manifest in PTSD.
David Ward – Second runner-up
APOE and BDNF Val66Met polymorphisms combine to influence episodic memory function in older adults
Published in Behavioural Brain Research
Co-authors Mathew Summers (Medicine/Wicking) Nichole Saunders (Wicking), Pierce Jansen (Wicking), Kimberley Stuart (Medicine/Wicking) James Vickers (Medicine/Wicking)
Genetic polymorphisms of apolipoprotein E (APOE) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have shown inconsistent associations with healthy adult cognitive functions. Recent investigations have suggested that APOE polymorphisms do not contribute to non-pathological cognitive function and that any effect is likely due to prodromal Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Similarly, although BDNF Val66Met polymorphisms affect hippocampal morphology and function, associations with learning and/or memory have not always been found. This study sought to determine whether APOE and BDNF polymorphisms were associated, either independently or in combination, with adult cognition. Comprehensive neuropsychological assessments were conducted on 433 older adults, aged 50–79 years (M = 62.16, SD = 6.81), which yielded measures of episodic memory, working memory, executive function, and language processing.
Participants underwent comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to ensure that only cognitively intact individuals comprised the sample. APOE and BDNF polymorphic data were used as predictors in general linear models that assessed composite cognitive domain variables, while covarying for education and age. Although no main effects for APOE or BDNF were found, the analysis identified a significant APOE × BDNF interaction that predicted episodic memory performance (p = .02, _2 = .02). Post-hoc analyses demonstrated that in BDNF Val homozygotes, the cognitive consequences of APOE polymorphisms were minimal. However, in BDNF Met carriers, the hypothesized beneficial/detrimental effects of APOE polymorphisms were found. Our data shows that concurrent consideration of both APOE and BDNF polymorphisms are required in order to witness a cognitive effect in healthy older adults.