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.’
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 2020 judges
The judges for the open category were Erin Brady and Claire Aman. Judges for the high school stories were Erin Brady with guest judge Roweena Shakespeare.
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 Claire Aman with guest judge Brad Chapman. Here’s Brad:
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.
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.