Competitions 2018-2022


The 2022 theme this year was ‘let go,’ prompting writers of all ages to come up with a fabulous bunch of stories – poignant, hopeful, quirky and desperate.

Maggie McDade won the open section for her story Neighbour. Maggie says the past few years she’s walked her neighbourhood a lot with her two girls, and has become quietly fascinated with the comings and goings of people exercising, familiar faces, action, extraordinary and ordinary events. The idea for Neighbour came from this place. Using beautifully crafted images of domestic life, Maggie brings us quietly to a powerful moment.

Grafton High School’s Nadia Smith won the high school section with Facing the Forest, a transcendent story of ancient books, a son’s deep love, and a moment at the end of a life.

Aidan Menzies, also from Grafton High, was highly commended for Paddlin’ the Zambezi. This story seems simple at first but leaves you with your heart in your mouth.

Jacquiline Diaz, who is home schooled, was also highly commended for Let Go, a story that impressed the judges for its insight and honesty.

The winner of the primary school section was Evie Rae from Gulmarrad Public School. Evie’s The Tale of a Dandelion is beautiful, whimsical and embodies our theme of letting go. Reading it, you’ll imagine yourself as a seed floating through the landscape.

Highly commended for his story First Day of School was Oscar Woods from Grafton Public. Oscar conveys all the terror and confusion of the first day of school.

Alyssa Dixon from Tucabia Public was highly commended for The Spider, another magical, delightful piece from a very young writer.  

Locklen Baker from Harwood Public has written a story that made the judges laugh our heads off. It’s called Bob and the Megalodon Tooth, and we had to highly commend it.

Congratulations to everyone who transported us to other places, spaces and realms. Credit to all who entered their joyful and heartfelt stories.’


‘Look Up’ was the theme for our 2021 competition. We picked Look Up because it felt uplifting – and that seemed necessary after our collective experience of fires, floods and the ever-present pandemic. These stories answered the call with heart. We love it that primary school students, high school students and adults are all part of this book, each holding their own, each with a high standard. Each year, more stories, more talent. This year raised the bar again.

It’s always difficult to choose winners. We swam through a wonderful sea of stories. But here are the finest entries from the 2021 Long Way Home competition. Congratulations!

The Open section winner was Kathryn Goldie, for ‘North’. In Kathryn’s story, a woman flees an abusive relationship, heading north. Kathryn uses skilful, subtle writing to imbue this story with a powerful emotional urgency. The images, the escalating tension, the teetering moments when everything might collapse – all work together to make us care deeply about this character. Read it over again.

The High School section winner was Kiera Banfield, Grafton High School, for ‘Look Up’. Kiera has imagined the terror and sadness of the refugee experience. A young Syrian girl, alone without her mother, joins an exodus of people trying to reach Turkey. ‘Morning till dusk we walk, driven by feelings of fear, resignation and hope while anxiously looking up at the sky in fear of these planes from hell.’ This well-crafted story moved us, highlighting the plight of millions of refugees, often children.

The Primary School section winner was Lucy Smith, Gulmarrad Public School, for ‘Look Up’. This story is lit with optimism and a sense of human goodness. ‘This, I thought, this is who I want to be.’  It’s uplifting. This is how the world should be. Listen to the waves, feel the sand.

The Primary School section highly commended stories were:

Theo Symons, Grafton Public School, for ‘Figtree Avenue’. Grafton’s beloved Figtree Avenue now has its own story. Theo beautifully expresses the mystery of trees. And, as you do in year 3, he philosophises on past, present and future.

Cedriarna Daley, Baryulgil Public School, for ‘Look Up’. Cedriarna’s story made us laugh, and that felt good. This story has a great sense of fun. Great free-flowing imagination from a year 2 student.

Grace Jeffery, Yamba Public School, for ‘Look Up, Little Magpie’. We liked Grace’s poem because it expresses the Clarence Valley’s beauty and mystery through a little magpie. We liked the poem’s rhythm, too.

Thanks for these fabulous stories, everyone!

Judges were Erin Brady and Claire Aman (Open); Ange Bolger and Erin Brady (High School); Jess Wood, Kathryn Goldie, Ilana Kaplin and Claire Aman (Primary School). We were grateful in 2021 for the generous assistance of South Grafton Community Bank, Big River Timbers and Grafton Book Warehouse.


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.

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. 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?

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.

The judges for the open category were Erin Brady and Claire Aman. Judges for the high school stories were Erin Brady and Roweena Shakespeare.

Roweena Shakespeare, guest judge

The judges for the primary school stories were Claire Aman with guest judge Brad Chapman. Here’s Brad.

Brad Chapman – guest judge


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

Judges were Janelle Brown, Ann Reeve, Claire Aman and Erin Brady.


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.

Judges were Erin Brady and Claire Aman.