Calibre Prize Essay

Christine Piper is the winner of the 2014 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay, worth $5,000. In this powerful essay, she writes about Japanese biological weapons and wartime experiments on living human beings.

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Thirty years ago, I walked out of the railway station at Le Puy in the Auvergne region of the Massif Central of France, put most of my belongings in a locker at the station along with a note in schoolboy French explaining that I hoped to be back, and then walked over the horizon at sunset. I was embarked on my discovery of the Velay and the Gévaudan. < ...

Wandering through the Mawson collection at the South Australian Museum one winter afternoon, I stare through the glass at the reconstruction of my great-grandfather, Douglas Mawson’s room in the hut, the sound of a moaning blizzard in my ears. The eerie sound of the wind coming through the installation, so familiar to Mawson and his men, is strangely allurin ...

Find Me Before I Die a Lonely Death.com

– Title of an album by electronic band Minuit

A human body exposed to summer heat can be reduced to bones in nine days. First the flies and maggots feast on the body’s fluids. As the tissues decay, they feed on the whole body through orifices and wounds. N ...

Listen to this essay read by the author.


The morgue in Gunbalanya holds no more than half a doz ...

An imperfectly remembered life is a useless treachery.
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna

When my American mother-in-law died, the world financial markets went into a tail-spin. Melba was her name; her own mother, who migrated from Italy to New England in the late nineteenth century, was an oper ...

The most precious manuscript held by the Royal Irish Academy is RIA MS 12 R 33, a sixth-century book of psalms known as an Cathach (‘The Battler’), or the Psalter of St Columba. It is believed to be the oldest extant Irish psalter, the earliest example of Irish writing – and the world’s oldest pirate copy. According to tradition, St Columba secretly transcribed the manuscript from a psalter belonging to his teacher, St Finian. Finian discovered the subterfuge, demanded the copy, and brought the dispute before Diarmait, the last pagan king of Ireland. The king decreed that ‘to every cow belongs her calf’, and so the copy of a book belonged to the owner of the original. Columba appealed the decision on the battlefield, and defeated Finian in a bloody clash at Cúl Dreimhne. No trace remains of Finian’s original manuscript, if it ever existed. Only ‘The Battler’ survives.

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I am a doctor. Once I was a doctor of individuals, now I am a ‘doctor of populations’. Population health is about actions to improve the health of communities, nations, and the world. Challenges are many: the mobility and density of populations, contemporary desires and pressures, the safety of food in complex systems, poverty, the immense power of big businesse ...

In February 1878 in Marseilles, France, Józef Teodor Konrad Nałęcz Korzeniowski, a twenty-year-old Polish seafarer tormented by depression, lifted a revolver to his chest and pulled the trigger. The suicide attempt failed: the bullet, whether by chance or design, penetrated the young man’s body without disrupting any vital organ. Korzeniowski recovered quickly ...

Odd to start by quoting P.G. Wodehouse: ‘She was a girl with a wonderful profile, but steeped to the gills in serious purpose.’ Bertie Wooster is complaining, in ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’1, about Honoria Glossop, who has forced upon him ‘Types of Ethical Theory’. ‘Odd’ because anyone steeped to the gills i ...

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