Since coming to Melbourne in the year 2000, the Ned Kelly Awards have been associated with the Melbourne Writers Festival. While not receiving any support financially, as part of the program they found a ‘home’, and became a fixture on the literary calendar. For the first few years this arrangement saw the Neds as an ‘umbrella’ event. As such we were not seen in the main venues, but found our own ‘venue’, at The Night Cat, a magnificent nightclub established by Henry Maas, in Fitzroy.
This cavernous space provided an ambience that matched the convivial atmosphere of the awards. This was achieved in part through the introduction of a ‘debate’, prior to the awards presentation. The topic on that first debate was along the lines of ‘fact is better than fiction’. The renouned Dave Graney worked the room as host, and the panel included Shane Maloney, Liz Gaynor, Barry Dickens, John Smallwood, and John Silvester. ABC Radio National recorded it, and would later broadcast this, leaving some of the more colorful segments behind.
Over the next few years The Night Cat became home. Things changed when Rosemary Cameron was appointed MWF director. She immediately brought the awards into the mainstream, giving the Neds a new venue at The Malthouse and making them part of the mainstream festival.
The format for the awards night had been established back in 2000, probably by accident, but happily proving soomething of a success. The debate gets the evening going and the awards presentation follows.
Over the years various panelists rose to the occasion, indeed there were some memorable situations, including the dueling stories of Rys Muldoon and Greg Fleet, the ‘striptease’ performed by Leigh Redhead, the ‘impromptu’ rant on figures in Melbourne’s underworld by John Silvester, and the theatrics of PD Martin and Liz Porter.
Importantly the awards have brought recognition, and drawn national and International attention to Australian crime writers.