Australian history prize delights Dunedin academic

University of Otago history academic Angela Wanhalla was ''just overwhelmed'' when she recently learned she had won Australia's leading prize for history writing, the Ernest Scott Prize.

Dr Wanhalla's book Matters of the Heart: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand won the prize.

This is given annually to the book judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation.

Dr Wanhalla is only the second Dunedin resident to have gained the prize, and also becomes a member of an elite group of about half a dozen New Zealanders, including historian Anne Salmond, to have received it.

Philip Temple, the novelist, historian and former Otago University Burns Fellow, became the first Dunedin resident to win the prize with A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields in 2003.

Otago history and art history department head Tony Ballantyne was short-listed for the award last year, with his book Webs of Empire.

Dr Wanhalla was recently awarded the prize at the Australian Historical Association conference in Brisbane for what the judges termed a ''ground-breaking study of interracial relationships'' in New Zealand.

The prize is worth about $13,000.

Dr Wanhalla, who joined the Otago department in 2005, felt ''extremely honoured'' to gain the prize and to join such an illustrious list of past winners.

She thanked the many people who had supported her research, particularly her Otago departmental colleagues, and the Royal Society of New Zealand, which had funded he work.

She also praised Auckland University Press for ''producing such a beautiful book''.

And she paid tribute to her parents, the late Stan Wanhalla, who was of Ngai Tahu ancestry, and her mother, Coralie Wanhalla (nee Noonan), who had been ''the inspiration'' for her book.