The Keain Medal is awarded to a non-fiction publication on South Australian history that is deemed by the Council to be the most significant in the previous calendar year. Nominations for the 2023 medal are due at the end of March 2024. The current nomination form can be downloaded here.

For 2022, once again a decision couldn’t be made between two books, so the medals were awarded to:

Three-Ring Circus: The dramatic, mysterious and tragic life of Mabel Worley, A Destitute Asylum girl, by Corinne Ball

The Defiant Anti-Conscriptionist: Ephraim Henry Coombe,  by Helen Hennessy and Patricia Booth

Previous winners were:

The 2021 joint winners of the Keain Medal were Philip Payton and Geoffrey Bishop,

Philip Payton for Vice-regal: A history of the governors of South Australia (Wakefield Press, 2021)

‘The Crown’s representatives were a fascinating set of individuals. From John Hindmarsh to Hieu van
Le, Payton’s enticing chapters enliven the governors within the context of SA’s developing history – Foundation, Responsible Government, Depression, up to a new Millenium. The images are
of excellent quality, and like a good horse, the book handles well. We could start a book club to read the references Payton gives in his discussion.

Geoffrey Bishop for Uraidla: ‘Hope you haven’t forgotten the township?’ (East Torrens Historical Society, 2021)

A project of the East Torrens Historical Society and the Lion’s Club, and the prolific skills of its author. The book identifies new research questions, is able to answer many and it presents many before and after (and between) images of the land. Uraidla entices us to again visit Piccadilly Valley, in all seasons, having gained closer familiarity through this local history.

The 2020 joint winners of the Keain Medal were Patricia Sumerling and Anne Black

Anne Black for Pendragon: The Life of George Isaacs, colonial wordsmith (Wakefield Press, 2020)

When the colonial writer George Isaacs died in Adelaide on Valentine’s Day 1876, he was quickly dispatched to the West Terrace Cemetery and buried without pomp. His grave was unmarked by a stone, his memory damned for posterity by the obituary soon published in the South Australian Register labelling him ‘a thorough Bohemian’. Such was the end of the overlooked author of the first novel published in South Australia.

Patricia Sumerling for Bert Edwards: King of the West End (Wakefield Press, 2019)

Albert Augustine Edwards, usually referred to as ‘Bert’, was one of Adelaide’s most flamboyant characters. Reputedly the illegitimate son of Charles Cameron Kingston, premier of South Australia, he was born in obscurity in the slums of Adelaide’s West End in 1888. A self-made man, Bert was a hotel publican, city councillor, Labor parliamentarian, and philanthropist, a friend of the poor and scourge of the establishment. He had connections and influence everywhere – in the markets, pubs, sporting clubs, churches and prisons – and he became known as ‘King of the West End’. Flash in dress and loud in manner, he brooked no opposition. Bert’s future looked rosy until 1924, when the Labor Party took office and his enemies began to stack up. His career came crashing down in 1931 in a sex scandal engineered against him. He was jailed for gross indecency with an underage male. Bert ended his days as (again) a troublesome city councillor and revered philanthropist. Patricia Sumerling’s biography is the first lengthy treatment of Bert Edwards’ colourful and controversial life.

2019: Paul Sendziuk and Robert Foster for A History of South Australia (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

A History of South Australia investigates South Australia’s history from before the arrival of the first European maritime explorers to the present day, and examines its distinctive origins as a ‘free’ settlement. In this compelling and nuanced history, Paul Sendziuk and Robert Foster consider the imprint of people on the land – and vice versa – and offer fresh insights into relations between Indigenous people and the European colonisers. They chart South Australia’s economic, political and social development, including the advance and retreat of an interventionist government, the establishment of the state’s distinctive socio-political formations, and its relationship to the rest of Australia and the world. A History of South Australia is the first comprehensive, single-volume history of the state to be published in over fifty years.

2018: Bruce Munday for his book, Those Wild Rabbits: How they shaped Australia (Wakefield Press, 2017)

A century ago Australia was home to 10 billion rabbits, thriving in their adopted home. Storyteller Bruce Munday finds the rabbit saga irresistible − the naive hopes of the early settlers, the frustration, environmental damage, cost to agriculture, dreams shattered, and the lessons learned and ignored. Those wild rabbits highlights not only the damage done but also Australia’s missed opportunities for real rabbit control. It recognises the bush’s paradoxical love affair with an animal that was at one time a significant rural industry, still recalled with nostalgia. More importantly, it offers hope for a brighter future, making the case for continued research to drive the next rabbit-control miracle, because rabbit plagues of the past will become the future unless we capture the history and embrace the lessons.

2017 joint winners:

Patricia Sumerling, Elephants and Egotists. In search of Samorn of the Adelaide Zoo (Wakefield Press, 2016)

Samorn, the Adelaide Zoo’s last elephant, was adored by generations of zoo visitors. A gift from the Thai government in 1956, she was transferred thirty-five years later to Monarto Zoo to live out her days. When she died there in 1994 there was an outpouring of sadness from all who knew or grew up with her. Elephants and Egotists is a tribute to Samorn, but also tells of other elephants sent to South Australia and the colourful characters who decided their fate. Elephants, particularly those in Southeast Asia, are now a critically endangered species needing our concern and immediate action. As Sir David Attenborough asks: ‘The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?’

Alison Mackinnon, A New Kid on the Block. The University of South Australia in the Unified National System (Melbourne University Press Academic, 2016)

The reconstruction of higher education in Australia at the end of the 1980s radically reshaped many existing universities. However, in South Australia, Dawkins’s educational changes brought into existence an entirely new university, the University of South Australia, formed by the merging of two former institutions from the advanced education sector, the South Australian Institute of Technology and the South Australian College of Advanced Education.

This volume first traces the unsuccessful path taken by those institutions to form partnerships with the two existing universities in South Australia. Having been rejected by Flinders and the University of Adelaide respectively the two former colleges joined forces and began life as a new university in a new system of higher education. Lacking research funding and access to higher degree students in its previous life, the new university nevertheless had considerable strengths which suited the new system, particularly in equity and links with business and the community.

The story of the University of South Australia is one of the most successful of the Dawkins changes. After a shaky start its rapid rise to prominence in South Australia and beyond allows it to be truly seen as ‘a new kid on the block’ in Australian higher education.

2016: Denis Molyneux. Time for Play, Recreation and moral issues in colonial South Australia (Wakefield Press, 2015)

The Eight Hour movement, established in the middle of the 1800s, began the transition for workers from an industrial revolution work ethic to a more balanced approach to the working week. The young colony of South Australia was at the forefront of these changes. The last four decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a significant growth of leisure hours for South Australians, especially working class males. It was accompanied by an upsurge in both formal and informal recreation activity. This owed much to major advances in communication during the period – in personal transport by road, rail, steamship and, later, the ubiquitous bicycle; to the network of telegraph stations, and to the growth of newspapers and specialist journals. These developments stimulated a demand for recreation activities. However, not all sections of the South Australian community looked favourably on these developments. Religious and political forces combined to target the new leisure, particularly when it touched on the ‘social evils’ of intemperance, gambling and improper behaviour on Sundays. A further constraint was contemporary attitudes to matters of dress and conduct: these were particularly severe on women. Time for Play examines these developments in the colony, and shows how they improved the lot first of the working class and, eventually, society as a whole.