LONDON (AP) _ Australian novelist Peter Carey was awarded the coveted Booker Prize for fiction Tuesday night for his love story, ''Oscar and Lucinda.''

A panel of five judges unanimously announced the award of the $26,250 prize after an 80-minute deliberation during a banquet at London's ancient Guildhall.

The judges made their selection from 102 books published in Britain in the past 12 months and which they read in their homes.

Carey, who lives in Sydney with his wife and son, said in a brief speech that like the other five finalists he had been asked to attend with a short speech in his pocket in case he won.

''If I'd known I was going to win I think I would have taken a bit more trouble with my handwriting,'' he said as he stared down at his notes.

He was unsuccessful in the prize competition in 1985 when his novel, ''Illywhacker,'' was among the final six.

Carey called the award a ''great honor'' and he thanked the prize sponsors for ''provoking so much passionate discussion about literature - perhaps there will be more tomorrow.''

''Everyone who loves good books benefits from this, surely,'' he added.

The winning novel is a fitting choice for Australia's bicentennial year.

It tells of a romance between an English gambler and an Australian heiress who meet on a steamship's maiden voyage to Australia in the mid-19th century. The story weaves in Australian history from its founding in 1788 by British immigrants.

Panel chairman Michael Foot, a writer and former leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the judges agreed that entries this year had been ''exceptionally strong'' and that choosing the last six novels was extremely difficult.

''We hope there will be no criticisms but if there are, then people should start reading the books for themselves,'' Foot said.

Carey was the only non-Briton in the final six. The son of an auto dealer, he was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, and attended Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Melbourne, where the Prince of Wales was also a pupil as an 18-year-old in 1966.

Carey was an advertising copywriter before turning to writing books in 1965.

The first Booker Prize was awarded in 1969. It is administered by Book Trust, an educational charity promoting books, and is sponsored by Booker, an international food and farming business.