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King Island shipwreck the focus for Hedberg Writer-in-Residence

Research | Newsroom

Crafting a new novel about a King Island shipwreck survivor will be the focus when award-winning author Michelle Cahill arrives as The Hedberg Writer-in-Residence later this year.

Cahill has been awarded the $30,000 residency, which consists of a three-month stint in Hobart from August, writing, working with students and taking part in community conversations.

She will use the time to progress work on her novel, the story of an Indian sailor - or ‘lascar’ - who survives the wreck of the Brahmin off the King Island coast in 1854.

Nineteen lascars spent five months on the island helped by two Tasmanian Aboriginal women before a stroke of luck resulted in their rescue. Cahill is reconstructing the story through the young eyes of fictional character Joao Gomez.

Michelle Cahill's Letter to Pessoa
Michelle Cahill’s Letter to Pessoa won the 2017 NSW Premier's Literary Award for New Writing. Photo: Nicola Bailey.

Cahill, who is based in Sydney and of Indian heritage, has already spent time on King Island as part of her research for the novel. She said the Hedberg residency will allow her further access to important archives and cultural consultation with the local community.

“I feel very honoured to be The Hedberg Writer-in-Residence in 2023,” she said. “It's challenging weaving the threads of a rich, complex story from the footnotes of maritime history. There has been so much trauma in Tasmania's past, and this story requires much respect and sensitivity.

“I hope my novel will shed light on the humanity of lascars, and the barriers to minorities entering the official historical and cultural narrative of the ‘nation state’. This will also be a novel about King Island, its natural beauty, and survival.”

Cahill’s short story collection Letter to Pessoa won the 2017 NSW Premier's Literary Award for New Writing, was shortlisted for the Steele Rudd Award and longlisted for the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. Her works have also been shortlisted for the Elizabeth Jolley Prize and the Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Cahill is currently editor of online literary magazine Mascara.

The Hedberg Writer-in-Residence program, now in its third year, is offered by the College of Arts, Law and Education and the School of Humanities, with support from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. It is open to established fiction or non-fiction writers, in all genres, who are resident in Australia.

Previous recipients include Tasmanian author Robbie Arnott, who used the residency to work on his novel Limberlost, winner of the Age Book of the Year for fiction and now longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Eminent literary fiction writer Gail Jones was the most recent Hedberg resident, in 2022.

Is reading or writing your passion? More information on our English and Writing program is available here.