2020 Long Way Home Short Story Competition winners








The 2019 bushfires were front of mind when Nymboida writer Tommy Welham wrote the winning story for The Long Way Home short story competition. The 37-year old distilled his bushfire experiences into his story, Watermark.

“It was something you’ll probably never see again, that fire,” Tommy Welham said. “I wanted to get it out of myself, but also to give it to others, to help.”

Tommy’s story will be published in Stories from the Clarence Valley 2020, along with 48 Clarence Valley stories selected from the competition’s largest field to date.

Two other outstanding writers to join Tommy as winners in the annual Clarence Valley writing competition are St Mary’s Year 6 student Lucinda Ryder and McAuley College Year 11 student Jacqueline Samms. Both stories also featured bushfire themes.

“The competition theme was land/marks,” Long Way Home co-founder Claire Aman said.

“We thought people might use the idea to talk about the fires which affected so many of us but we didn’t want to force it. As it turned out, we received many bushfire stories. The fires changed landscapes and lives in a terrible way. What could you do but write,” Claire said.

“The winning stories are all deeply moving. In Tommy’s magnificent story, ‘the rockfaces along the river’s edge bear the verses of seasons past – grey lines from floods, a crust of flotsam, and now a layer of charred leaves and bark, messages of death from kilometres away.’

“Jacqueline’s story is of running from a fire, returning to see what is left, a time that ‘will forever mark our hearts and history.’

“Lucinda’s story is a heartfelt lament for ‘burnt country, burnt land, burnt history.’”

Nina Bibby from Wooli Public School won second place in the primary school category with

Once Upon a Colourful Canvas, a beautiful, imaginative tale.

Third place was Poppy Ross’s Exploring Peters Ice Cream Factory, a clever story about a true Grafton landmark.

In the high school category, McAuley College’s Harmony Rose Swain-Davies earned second place for The Art of Eye Contact, a story of urban loneliness.

Third place went to The Fig, by Ryder Gorring of Grafton High School, for his tale of history and conservation starring a fig tree, a landmark to be respected.

“There were some imaginative connections with the land/marks idea,” Claire said.

“Writers wrote about the damaging marks left by humans on land, the historic landmark of Covid19, the sideline marks on a football field. There’s trauma, drama, humor, the mysterious and the fabulous, and more iconic fig trees.”

Co-founder Erin Brady said she was delighted at the quality of the 2020 competition entries. “Running though all these stories is a really strong sense of place,” Erin said.

“We are inspired by our rivers, coast, farms, bushland, skies. The Long Way Home Competition, now in its third year, just keeps on discovering more writing talent rising from our loved Clarence valley landscapes. We take our hats off to all the writers who took the time to write a story and send it to us.’

The book Stories from the Clarence Valley 2020 will be published in November. It will include stories by 49 Clarence Valley writers including adults, primary and high school students. A totally home-grown book, it will be available from Grafton Book Warehouse, South Grafton News and Gifts and The Nook Yamba.

The 2020 shortlist is below. All shortlisted stories will be published in Stories from the Clarence Valley 2020.

Open section

Gaye Sprenglewski – Chocolate Soldier

Kylie Fennell – Finding Home

Jo Parry – Letters to my Love

Corrie Hayes – Our Local Paper

Caitlin Annesley – The Chair

Stephanie Haines – Pinnacles

Cathy Callaghan – The Memory of Trees

John Coleman – The Obelisk

Norm Mjadwesch – Tough as Nails

Tommy Welham – Watermarks

High School Short List

Ryder Gorring, Grafton High, The Fig
Alizandra McPherson, McAuley, Distant Times
Savannah Cheney, McAuley, The Last Breath
Harmony Rose Swain-Davies, McAuley, The Art of Eye Contact
Jasmine Chellew, McAuley, Memories
Corey Newbold, McAuley, A 2020 Prison
Jacqueline Samms, McAuley, Mother Nature
Jordyn Keefe, Grafton High, The Accident That Changed my Life
Elisha Gavin, McAuley, Confined to What Was Left
Melissa Meier, McAuley, Flying
Lotte Pereira, Grafton High, The Women’s Land
Laura Hoade, McAuley, An Adventure at Mann River
Eva New, Maclean High, Destruction

Primary School Short List 2020

Miller Greenaway, St James Yamba, Alone in a Fire
Lachlan Passmore, Grafton Public, An Ant’s Travelling
Ellie Grace White, St James Yamba, A Seashell Story
Libby and Liza Robinson, Baryulgil Public, Babun Balun
Levi McInerney, Glenreagh Public, Bob and the Eiffel Tower
Taya Murphy, St James Yamba, Breathe
Tayah Cole, St James Yamba, Bunyip Creek
Lucinda Ryder, St Marys Grafton, Burnt History
Alanah Pitt, St Marys Grafton, Bushfires
Finn Brossman, St James Yamba, Christmas Day
Elsie Stewart, Grafton Public, Colosseum
Lani Cole, St James Yamba, Drifting
Poppy Ross, Grafton Public, Exploring Peters Ice-cream Factory
Taylor Joyce, Grafton Public, Freedom
Millie Day, St James Yamba, Just Like That
Nina Bibby, Wooli Public, Once Upon a Colourful Canvas
Kane Patricks, St Marys Grafton, Pippi Beach
Jack Cheney, St Marys Grafton, Sandon River
Beau Edwards, St James Yamba, Sideline
Oliver Bolch, Nymboida Public, Sydney Opera House!
Ivy Hiatt, St Marys Grafton, The Beach
Miwanyo Afi Jongen Tsey, Nymboida Public, The Cave
Clementine Eaton, Grafton Public, The Jump
Annalese McKee, St Marys Grafton, The Lighthouse
Grace Finnegan, St James Yamba, The Monstrous Fire
Elly Day, St James Yamba, The Paperbark Tree
Ahlia Hartley, Nymboida Public, The Wild Brumby
Damien Preston, Tucabia Public, Wild Pigs,

We had a record number of entries of Clarence Valley schools and students. So many wonderful stories . . . too many to fit in the book. We want to acknowledge the challenging times Clarence Valley students have faced in 2020. Bushfires then COVID-19. These challenges were reflected in the stories we received – highlighting the powerful tool writing can be to help our children (and ourselves) process life.
Congratulations to the writers on the short list. What an achievement! There are plenty of new names on the list so welcome! To all of the writers who entered stories – we enjoyed reading every story and we hope you enter again next year.

The judges

The judges for the high school stories were Long Way Home co-founder Erin Brady with guest judge Roweena Shakespeare.

Roweena Shakespeare, guest judge

Here is Roweena’s message to everyone who wrote stories:

Hi, my name is Roweena Shakespeare. Before I tell you about myself, I wanted to say that being given this opportunity to read your short stories was so lovely. Your stories were deeply moving and unforgettable. In 2001 my daughter who was in year 10 bought home the most important book that I have ever read. It was 2001 Careers Book (I still have that book) My daughter and I both found our love jobs, mine has been working at Grafton Library since 2001. Every day is worthwhile, I help our community and visitors in a variety of ways, even during this cruel Pandemic our Regional Librarian negotiated with our Local Council, so that we could continue to provide a library service. Being part of an organization that is so important to so many, especially our most vulnerable is just priceless. Regards Roweena

The judges for the primary school stories were Long Way Home co-founder Claire Aman with guest judge Brad Chapman. Here’s Brad:

Brad Chapman – guest judge

I’m Brad Chapman and I’m a full-time student studying Secondary Education (Humanities) at the University of Newcastle. I have grown up on my family beef cattle property at Fine Flower in the Clarence Valley and I attended St Mary’s Primary School and graduated from McAuley Catholic College in 2019.  I believe we can all make a difference by being actively involved in our community. I was College Captain in my final year at McAuley Catholic College, 2019 Clarence Valley Australia Day Young Citizen of the Year and 2019 recipient of the National RSL Services Clubs Kokoda Spirit Award from my involvement in the Kokoda Youth Leadership Challenge that trekked the Kokoda Trail in 2018. I enjoy being involved in my community and encourage others to do the same. 

Long Way Home co-founders Erin Brady and Claire Aman

Erin has worked as a journalist in New Zealand and Australia in television, documentary, film and print. In recent years she’s dabbled in freelance communications for Clarence Valley Council, Clarence Regional Library, Sunshine Sugar and SCHOOLSOX.COM. She counts herself lucky to have forged a fluid career by telling stories. Erin’s home is in Yaegl Country, nestled in the Yuraygir National Park, beside Lake Wooloweyah. She lives there with her husband, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a rabbit. A few years ago Erin discovered fantasy fiction. Since then she’s only ever truly happy reading novels that sparkle with magic. Sometimes she writes.

Claire grew up in Melbourne and has lived in the Clarence Valley since 1988, first at Kangaroo Creek and now in Grafton with her husband. She’s worked as a forklift driver, barmaid, roadhouse cook and waitress before getting into environmental planning, but has always written on the side. Untrained in writing, she finds imaginative freedom and inspiration in the bird-fanciers, bridge-jumpers, uninvited guests, motorcyclists and sailors of the Clarence Valley and beyond. Her short story collection Bird Country was shortlisted for a Queensland Literary Award and the 2018 Colin Roderick Award.  It only took 20 years to write.

Terms and Conditions

 – The theme for all entries is ‘Land/marks’. Interpret it anyway you like, and use it however you want – as a title, words in the text, inspiration for the idea . . . the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Alot has happened in the past six months. Use it.

– Primary students in Year 1- 6 can enter stories of up to 150 words

 – High school students can enter stories of up to 500 words

 – Open section stories can be up to 2,500 words

  – The closing date for entries is 11pm July 6th, 2020. Late entries will not be accepted.

 – The shortlisted stories from each category will be collected in ‘Stories from the Clarence Valley 2020 – Land/marks.’ Due to the pandemic, we are not sure yet if we’ll be publishing online or producing a print book. We will try our hardest to send the stories into the world in the best way available to us.

– Primary school students: Each story must include: the author’s name, the title of the story, word count, year at school, name of school, teacher’s name, and the category (Primary). If home schooled, please include home school contact details.

– High school students: Each story must include a cover page with: the author’s name, the title of the story, word count, year at school, name of school, teacher’s name, and the category (High School). If home schooled, please include home school contact details. Write the title on each page of the story. Your name only goes on the cover page.

 – Open category: Each story must include a cover page with: the author’s name, the title of the story, word count, the category (Open), and email address or postal address. Write the title on each page of the story. Your name only goes on the cover page.

– The winner of the open category will receive a $100 cash prize. High school and primary school students placing first, second and third will be awarded book vouchers.

 – The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Work will not be returned.

 – The author owns the story, but in entering the competition, the author gives permission to The Long Way Home to publish the shortlisted stories once, in the annual anthology, under the author’s name.

 – Stories can be emailed to Or you can post us a flash drive with your story to the Long Way Home at PO Box 604, Yamba, 2464 . Or post us a hard copy. We prefer digital copies.

Frequently asked questions

Am I eligible to enter?

If you live in the Clarence Valley, or you have lived here in the past, you can enter. Students need to attend a school in the Clarence Valley, or be of school age and have an address in the Clarence Valley.

What are the judges looking for?

We are looking for well crafted, powerful, original stories that move us. We look for authentic voices – with a touchstone of your own culture, your own experience, enlivened by your own imagination. Everyone has a story – leave it for Aboriginal people to tell their own stories.

Can I enter more than one story?

Yes. But make sure any story you send is the best it can be. Read it at least ten times, keep improving it, make every sentence work. Then send it.

Do I have to pay to enter?

No. Entry is free.

How will I find out if my story will be published?

We’ll contact you. The results will also be posted on this website, and on Facebook. We expect judging to be complete by August.

How should I format my entry?

Use a plain, 12 pt typeface such as Arial or Times New Roman. Use double spaces between the lines. If hand-written, it must be legible. Please number the pages, and include the title on each page.

Previous results


Cathy Callaghan won the 2019 open section with her story One Last Dream. Set on an island in the Clarence River, Cathy’s story paints the final strokes of a beautiful picture of friendship between an odd four – Mira, Tom, a pelican and a big old cat.  Gaye Sprenglewski won second prize for Under the Sun, unravelling the mystery behind a teenager’s teacher-crush and the repercussions felt decades later. Third prize went to Gra Murdoch’s Bec, a story set in a future where sea level rise has drowned the floodplains of the Clarence Valley.  Bruce ‘Fed’ McPherson’s highly commended The Big Green Wave is Fed’s firsthand account of a tragic trawler accident on Yamba Bar in 1979 that changed his life forever.

The winner of the high school category was Kaia Mercy, Year 8, from Maclean High School. Her story To The Island tells of Kaia’s yearning and connection to Ulgundahi Island, an island in the Clarence River where her grandfather grew up. Shaan Singh from Grafton High School came second with To the Island, a story following the fate of a refugee family coming to Australia and Stella van Leest from McAuley Catholic College was third with her story, Aunty Island.

Tayla Willis from Grafton Public School took out the primary school category with My Island, a beautiful descriptive tale about travelling home from Susan Island, only to find she’d left something behind. Second place went Tayah Cole from St James Yamba for The Macca Mystery. Annabel Dungey from St Mary’s Grafton was third with To the Island, and Alice Gunn of Yamba Public was highly commended with To the Island


The judges’ unanimous choice was It’s Not Me, It’s Her, by Kelly Harrison. Told from three different points of view, it builds a picture of the complicated relationships that can envelop mothers, daughters and sisters.  It’s a perfectly formed story that resolves itself into a strangely satisfying ending. Coming second was Bethany McAlpine‘s Broken Glass. The judges were all moved by this story’s emotional depth. Using second person, Bethany takes us closely into a grand-daughter’s careless relationship with her ageing grandmother. . Third on the shortlist was A Picture of Home, by Gaye Sprenglewski, a sensitively told story of a friendship between an ill woman and her carer.

Seremi Gorogo-Rawson, a year six student from Copmanhurst Public School, won the primary school category with her story, Until Now. This gently haunting story has a unique reflective voice which tells us volumes about the narrator’s inner life in just a few words, using lovely imagery. In second place was Lani Cole of St James Primary School Yamba, with She Runs Deep, a story which carried a powerful environmental message while being presented in an original, quite mystical way. Highly Commended prizes were awarded to Brooke Chapman from St Mary’s Primary School Grafton for Surprise, Declan McKone of St James Primary School Yamba for The Ocean and the Seas, Ruby Donnelly of Baryulgil Public School for The Old Aboriginal Woman and Sharlee Cook of St Joseph’s Primary School South Grafton for Resurrection.

The winning story of the secondary school’s category was The Long Way Home, written by Nadia Smith of Grafton High School. The judges described this story as emotionally intense, building up to an inevitable but devastating ending. Runner up in the secondary school’s category was Eden Annesley from Clarence Valley Anglican School, with the fabulously imaginative story, Hiraeth.