Dr Matthew Colloff’s prize-winning book on Australia began the day he arrived in Sydney. 

“Getting off the long-haul flight at Kingsford Smith airport on an autumn evening in 1994, I smelled that extraordinary and distinctive perfume of eucalyptus oil carried down from the Blue Mountains. It hooked me immediately, before I even knew what it was,” Colloff says. 

“For Australians it is the unmistakable aroma of home. For migrants it is part of the aura of their new country. I hoped early on I would one day write about this land — in part for my own sense-making and understanding of Australia, but also as part of the process of belonging.” 

From the tarmac to bookshelves Colloff’s book, part environmental history, part memoir, Landscapes of Our Hearts, has arrived – scooping up the 2021 NSW Premier’s History Award in the NSW Community and Regional History category. The prize is worth $15,000. 

The book explores our relationship with Country from the Great Barrier Reef to the Central Desert, the High Country to Canberra’s Limestone Plains. 

“It’s an enormous honour to be given this prize. But the award also recognises everyone who inspired me during the writing of the book and who share a deep love of this land, a curiosity about its past, present and future and a desire for all Australians to come together and work for a better future,” Colloff says. 

In 2014 the author and Honorary Senior Lecturer at The Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society wrote his first book about the Australian environment, a history of the river gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. 

“Research for the river gum book took me around the floodplains and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin and to the dry creek beds of Central Australia,” he says. 

“Landscapes of Our Hearts emerged from the themes that did not make it fully into the river gum book – the triangle of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and the land; how we make meaning from our environment; and how landscapes are altered by us and we, in turn, are changed by place.” 

Reviewers say the book goes beyond nature writing and have described it as a love of place that explores new ways of thinking about Australia. 

“The central message is that the Australian Landscape and its history reflect both our psyche and self-portrait,” Colloff says. 

In the book Colloff argues that if we look afresh at our history through the land we live on, perhaps Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians will find a path to a shared future. 

“The relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians continues in how we negotiate and reframe our relationships with Country,” he says. 

“How we shape it is fundamental to our future. It is time to bring landscape and Country back to the heart of deliberations about our future.’ 

Landscapes of Our Hearts is published by Thames and Hudson Australia.

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