- “Three Streams That Run Swiftest” by Carmel Lillis
- “Mr Takuma” by Coco Huang
- “The Choosing” by Kelsea Thomson
- “Snowy and Sophie” by Lilla Watt
- “A Farmer’s Yard” by Edith Speers
- “A Man Alone” by David Campbell
- “The Innocence of Birds” by Daniel Selvadurai
- “Survivors of the Land” by Matea Zhao
- “The Flowing River” by Molly Wallace
Three Streams That Run Swiftest
By Carmel Lillis
Colony of Victoria
3rd August, 1858
What joy. What unexpected, unbelievable, undeserved joy. You lived. Nellie Nunan is here, and she be telling me you and little Padraig survived the Great Hunger, and she has seen you with her own eyes.
Oh Mama, all day we have been so excited by the wonder of it, we have hardly been able to settle to our work, but have been slipping into dreams. Dreams of us. The four that remain, reunited.
Yes. Biddy, grown very pretty but still so quiet you’d hardly hear her behind a cup and saucer, came through it too, and is sitting here beside me, eyes glowing, as we tell Father Kelly what he is to write. For when we saw the dust of his horse returning from his bush calls, we ran straight down here, our legs wobbling like new born foals’.
Orphaned waifs no more.
Oh, the memories that flooded back today – memories we have dared not dredge for lest they sink us in a bogland of loss. And in the recall came the realisation – even the bad times can become precious memories.
How it would have pitied the sun to look at you, stooped beneath hunger and grief, with Padraig huddled beneath your thin cloak, stumbling into the fog. On that terrible day in the winter of ’48, when you left us in that godforsaken workhouse, after dear Papa starved, we thought that never would we see you again. Our sadness knew no bounds.
Do you remember the day before? How, after we’d scratched the icy ground for praities missed in prior scroungings, and saw our poor countrymen trundle by in the rain, evicted by a traitorous, lying landlord, we came into the cottage. You lit our last peat fire, and gazing into the dancing flames, you said, “The truest triad, my Molly, is this. Three things run swiftest – a stream of falsehood, a stream of water, and a stream of fire.”
Mama, do you still believe in the coming of things in threes?
I know you will be aching for news of myself and of Biddy. So I want to be telling you, we are both well. Hold, hold to that, dearest Mama, as you read.
When you take this letter to Father Mulligan, there will have been missives come before my letter. For I have heard that Nellie was in the district some time before she revealed herself to me. The family always had that streak of malice, and Nellie, too, carries a jaundiced heart.
The stream of her falsehoods, so swift, will have carried reports I am living in sin, and am abused – without love, without respect.
‘Tis a vile lie.
You will have heard I have taken up with an Oriental man and had a child by him and am cut off from redemption. Mama, I appeal now to your love so great that you gave us to the workhouse when they were shipping Irish orphan girls to New South Wales, that we might have some chance. Let that love open your mind to the truth, and let the truth set that poor mind at rest on this score – that I am committed to Ah Soo and he to me. That we took solemn vows as we stood, faces pointed north to China, and north-west to Ireland, finding our bearings from the constellation of the Southern Cross which watches over us. That we promised, in the names of each of our gods, and our families, to honour and love each other all our lives.
Later, we went to Father Kelly and he blessed our marriage.
If you could but understand, Mama, what a good man Ah Soo is. He may not wholly understand why the blessing of the church is important to me, but he does understand that this is the faith of my fathers and mothers. What we share is far greater than any difference.
Please Mama, hold your head high.
To be sure at last I understand you, too, about how swift a stream of water does run. But the road I have taken to that understanding has been watered with tears and sprinkled with blood.
For Mama, my baby is gone. A dear little mite tumbled into the falls. Oh, how quickly the stream carried him away, with Ah Soo and myself and so many gold fossickers trying to stop his little self with branches and with brawn.
For long after, I went about my work with a heart weighted with leaden grief. It was all I could do not to throw myself into the falls.
Would I had remained in ignorance of the swiftness of a stream of water.
I feel so wrong for burdening you who have buried a husband and five children. Yet your saying haunts me: that Irish children are born to die.
For what was my Jimmy but the child of an Irish mother driven from her birthplace by the cruel oppression of an invading power?
Yes, the old Irish sayings and triads are true even here, where the sun beats down mercilessly and I find myself sometimes longing for what I never thought I would miss – the ice wind blowing off the Atlantic, and the fog groping his way across the fields.
But never do I yearn for the poor blight-ridden praities.
If things will visit us in threes, three things have saved me too, from following my little man to the grave.
The first? The faith you gave me that I will not be given any suffering but that I will be granted the grace to endure it.
The second? That something good will come if I can but hold. Indeed it has. For I already have another growing beneath my heart.
And the third? That you will find kindness in the most unexpected places. And so I have. In a husband who has been my anchor through it all.
I wish you could see how Ah Soo is, even now, pressing onto me the little gold we have. He is wanting me to send your fares. He too knew famine and loss in his homeland. It was the same suffering which drove us to this new land, and the burning passion to relieve our loved ones is another thing which unites us.
We have given up the gold seeking a while since. The stream we worked beside will always hold the ghost of little Jimmy.
On the land we bought – yes, Mama, bought, not leased from a landlord who might drive us off when the debt and the greed had him by the throat – on that land, we have planted rows of all the vegetables you dream of. In our own little cart, Ah Soo takes into town crops of tomatoes and lettuces, an abundance of potatoes without blight, onions to season, and carrots and pumpkins. I do not deny there can be cruelty as he moves about selling, with urchins sometimes trailing behind, imitating his accent. “Turn-ee-up. Lett-us- see!” they mock.
Nothing is perfect, but in one crop, there is more food than we saw in my whole childhood. Never does the hunger gnaw our stomachs.
For Mama, I think your situation must be very hard still, as so many people arrive in the colony from the old country every month to seek their fortune – cast down at the loss of the loved and familiar, yet glad to leave the suffering and seize a new chance.
And so to the third of the triads. The swiftness of a stream of fire.
When we leave the presbytery after we have signed our letter, Ah Soo and Biddy and I will go into the little church here and light candles to our God to bring you safe across the seas to us.
On our walk home, we will stop at the Chinese burning towers in the cemetery and we will place there the paper prayers that Father will be writing for us. These notes will ask for peace and comfort for our lost baby, and for Papa and for our dear brothers and sisters. We will put flowers on our baby’s grave, and offerings of pork in the towers, and we will light the paper prayers. Over the flames of our candle and the fire of our burning notes, we will wish and pray and hope for you to come to us.
For it is the speed of the stream of fire in our hearts that will carry this to you, and will wing you both across the water to this new life. Such a flame of hope is sure to defeat the malice of a stream of falsehood, and the stream of treachery that water can become.
God speed Mama and little Padraig, now ten years old, and grown so big we will not know him when we see him.
Your ever loving daughters,
Molly and Biddy
Winner – Adult Prose
By Coco Huang
Ron stepped out of the rain and dropped the food-laden rucksack with a thump. “Just heard the news, Mr Takuma,” he said, flicking a wet strand from his nose and searching his pockets for a cigarette. “The war’s over.”
“What?” I jolted upright so violently that my elbow dislodged the pile of twigs, sending some of them tumbling into the fire. The renewed heat warmed my cheeks. Forgotten seeds of memory, trapped in the creases of my mind, began to sprout; the light and crisp scent of tatami mats, the breathless thrill of forbidden books, and the long-fingered caress of a woman reminded me dearly of home. An urge swelled within me, an irresistible one, filling my body with an emotion with such potency, such indescribable beauty, that I had not felt for years.
I raised my head and laughed, the sound amplified by the dank walls. “I can go home, Ron.” I combed my fingers through my overgrown hair, barely noticing his half-hearted smile. “My wife – Misaki – and my daughters – oh, yes, my daughters! Did you know, Ron, the· last thing she whispered in my ear, just before the train left, at the very last minute, was that I would be a father’ I swear, during those hard times, it was the only thing that kept me alive’
“I’m happy for you,” Ron replied, but he didn’t meet my eyes. His breath shuddered as he exhaled, the motion pulsing through his hunched frame. A curling wisp of smoke obscured his trembling mouth.
I understood his unsaid words. “You don’t have to go home,” I told him with great-sincerity. “You could come with me. Misaki and I will care for you, to repay your favour.” Already I noticed how childishly hopeful my words sounded.
He shook his head. “How could I? I can’t speak your language; I’d be killed the second I set foot there. No, I’d be better off back in America, working my ass off for Pa, marrying some average girl who cooks and cleans and doesn’t give a fuck about what I think or· know.” His sudden cynicism shocked me, a clear reminder that although he was ten years younger than I was, he’d seen plenty more.
“It cannot be worse than you think,” I tried to reassure him, but he was oblivious to my reply.
“They’ll Just think I’m another screwed-up bastard who was there, but did nothing. Come to think of it, won’t they think that about you as well?”
A quiet shame burned my throat like bile. “No,” I lied. “I will be a hero.”
Perhaps I would have been one, if I’d done the right thing. By some miracle, I’d survived the night my countrymen fell, the soft undergrowth concealing their bodies as the dense jungle air hummed with spits of bullets and rattles. Somehow, amidst all the frenzied screams and confusion, I’d found the moss-rimmed cave, tucked beside a burbling spring. It was there that I’d drawn my knife, knowing that our defeat on this island would be inevitable, and I was determined to finish my task the way I’d been taught –seppuku, a quick slice across the abdomen. An honourable death.
But then an image I’d treasured materialised in my mind. We were standing together, Misaki and I, her hair meticulously arranged to complement her white kimono whilst mine blended with my dark haori. While we waited for the photographer to set up, I couldn’t resist whispering the lines of poetry I’d translated with my professor in secret:
“I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”
I cried out those words as I made the first cut. The cold steel went in and out numbly but a minute later the pain followed, darkness overtaking me as swiftly as death itself. I couldn’t do it, I knew. Because it would kill her as well.
“No, I won’t be a hero,” I admitted to Ron, “because I am as much their enemy as you are. After all, I studied your language for years when it was forbidden to do so. Even the war couldn’t keep me away from what I loved. But I suppose it did in the end, when they found out.”
It would be even worse now, 1f I went home. The whispers and the pointed fingers I could stand, but the eyes that stared with open hostility I couldn’t. Traitor, a man had spat, the saliva rolling down my boots as they’d forced me onto the train.
What would happen to Misaki if I returned?
Ron shrugged. “At least I didn’t kill you.’’
Fortunately he didn’t. I remembered waking to find a rifle in my face, held by trembling hands. I’d begged him not to shoot, in English, which startled him greatly. He was as curious towards me: as I was towards him; over time and healing wounds, our tentative conversations became fluid and natural, like the spring we drank from and dipped reed-woven nets in to catch fish. When the American liberation finally settled down, Ron re-joined his troops, but he returned with food whenever he could.
Seeing him in his present state of mind forced a lump in my throat. “Ron,” I said gently. “l need to go.” My words stretched taut across the rift that had already opened between us.
“I understand, Mr Takuma. I get it.” His disheartened voice resonated dully in my ears. I fetched him the letters to post, and handed them to him with a sense of finality. He squinted at my handwriting then stiffened.
“Mr Takuma?” He asked, almost inaudibly. “Where does Misaki live?”
“Well, we used to live in an apartment in Tokyo, but since it was bombed frequently, she moved to her mother’s place in Hiroshima.”
He was silent.
“Ron?” Fear sliced open my stomach like a knife.
“I’m so sorry, Mr Takuma,” Ron said. “They’re gone.”
Winner – Young Adult Prose
By Kelsea Thomson
I knew this day would come. It always came, eventually. There was no way a person would be able to stop it, or even postpone it. It was inevitable. Many feared the day, while others would roar with excitement. Some would be sentimental, while the majority of people chose to be optimistic.
For it was the one day that your whole life would become mapped out for you. Today is an irreversible change in my life event. You could hide it, or embrace it.
We were directed to stand in a long line, from youngest to oldest, ranging from eight year olds to sixteen year olds. This day wouldn’t come any later than sixteen.
The first, a young boy, dressed obviously in his finest hunting gear stepped forward, slowly, walking to the ball.
All eyes were on him, he lifted both hands to the ball then closed his eyes. Muttering the words we had been taught to say, the white light began to emit around him.
“Vas vatos anomici.” The light suddenly disappeared. Gone was his soft, chocolate brown hair, and his wide, deer-like brown eyes.
In his place was a boy with striking blue hair, and inhumanly light blue eyes.
The crowd erupted in loud cheers and hollers, and the boy’s family was jumping up and down in excitement. Another water spirit.
As the noise died down, a young blonde girl who looked absolutely terrified shuffled forward and repeated the same process the boy did.
The light appeared and disappeared in a matter of seconds, it was an obvious choice for the ball.
Her hair was now a blazing orange, her eyes the same shade, and a wide smile found her way onto her lips. A sun spirit.
I was next. With a deep breath, I stumbled forward towards the glowing ball, which I could tell was oddly excited. I hastily scanned the crowd and nodded to my brother, (an earth spirit) with a reassuring smile.
Nodding to myself, I stepped forward and placed my hands on the ball, feeling my dark blonde hair begin to rise up. I felt myself rising into the air, a white light made it impossible to see.
But as the light slowly disappeared, and my body was lowered, a sickening feeling erupted through me. I didn’t dare look at my hair, only at the crowd that had begun gaping at me in shock.
My brother mouthed, “Your hair!”, while pointing to his own head.
I grasped a lock of my hair gasping at the colour.
It was black, not a shiny black, like the night sky, it was a black that radiated death.
I hastily ran over to a puddle, slipping over in front of it, light rain began to fall. My eyes were completely black.
“No, no, no, no!” I screeched, tugging at my hair and rubbing my eyes, wishing it would all go away.
But it didn’t. It wasn’t a dream.
I was now a killing spirit.
Winner – Junior Prose
Snowy and Sophie
Sophie’s biggest talent was begging her parents to get her things. And she never failed. Last month she got an iPad along with a Venus fly trap (now dead), lots of plush toys (up on a shelf), a forgotten marble collection (so boring) and last, but not least, a massive choc-chip cookie that she’d NEEDED. It was now stale and gross!
Today’s mission was a new bike. It was a MUST HAVE. Her parents had given in (as usual). On the way home from the bike shop, with the bike and its new accessories (wheel beads, new helmet, handle bar decorations and more) filling the boot, they’d stopped at a set of traffic lights outside the pound. And there, looking through the bars of a cage, was a white puppy with pointy ears, big eyes and a small moist nose. Sophie looked at the puppy, it looked back at her. The dog tilted its head to one side. Sophie tilted her head to the other side and then the dog tilted its head again. Sophie giggled.
As her parents drove away she watched the puppy disappear into the distance. Sophie felt a hot spiking feeling at the back of her eyes. She pressed her hands into her eyes and tried to think about her bike.
But the next day, and the day after that, she was still thinking of the dog.
Every morning she looked at the pound’s website to see if the puppy was there. And each day a photo of Snowy (she’d named the dog already) looked back at her.
Google had some good ideas about getting parents to give you a puppy. She made a list and decorated it with paw prints.
- write them a letter
- tell them a puppy makes you kinder and happier
- don’t ask over and over
She suggested, just once, that a dog was the perfect way to celebrate being eight and more responsible but her parents kept saying that she should think of something else.
But there was nothing else she wanted.
The day before her birthday she woke up and looked on her iPad. To her horror, over the top of Snowy’s cute face, in red writing, was the word “SOLD!” The same prickling hot feeling began behind her eyes. She closed her iPad. It wasn’t fair.
The next morning, she woke up early. Instead of feeling her usual excitement about lots of presents, she was sad and weary. She checked her iPad again, just to see Snowy’s face one last time, but it was gone.
She dragged herself downstairs.
She was close to sitting down when she heard a high-pitched yap. There sitting on her chair, was Snowy curled up on a rug. Her Mum and Dad came into the room.
“Happy Birthday, Sophie” they said.
“It is because you didn’t beg us,” said Dad.
“I will always look after Snowy,” Sophie said.
“We know you will,” said Mum.
And she did. And she never (well hardly ever) begged again.
Winner – Junior Prose
a farmer’s yard
By Edith Speers
bits and pieces, bits and bobs,
odds and ends, odds and sods –
nothing is so useless
that it can’t be used again.
bent and rusted nails and roofing,
broken bricks and tumbled tiles,
torn tarpaulins, busted tools,
twisted tangled lengths of wire,
knotted string and empty bags
are all the better when they’re daggy.
all these tatty dregs and scraps,
all this clutter tucked in corners
of the yard or of the sheds,
all this chaos and disorder
amongst the garden beds
or hung around the fence posts
or strung on nails knocked into noggins
or slung into a gap
between some other piles of crap,
all the plastic baling twine
from all the hay that has been fed,
all the axe and hammer heads,
and assorted scythes and sickles,
every lump or length of wood,
rough-sawn or smoothly dressed,
or totally mysterious in origin or shape,
every bit of it is good and some of it is great,
like the salt-encrusted hempen rope
scavenged from the beach,
like the hand-forged chain of iron links,
odd ovals, varied thicknesses,
each one of them unique.
all this garbage has its beauty
and one day will do its duty.
every splintered stick or piece of paver,
all of it is well worth saving,
every polygon of three-ply board
and every tin of nuts and bolts,
so don’t begrudge a bit of space
or complain about the mess around the place.
when in doubt – don’t throw it out.
let the sump oil drums just pile up
and when tempted to disposal
think again and let it stay.
don’t enquire when or why
its existence will be justified,
just have faith in what is damaged
or what is old and rough –
one day this stuff will all be good
or good enough.
Winner – Adult Poetry
A Man Alone
By David Campbell
Aireys Inlet Vic
I found him late one winter’s day, a rifle by his side,
and people said he’d “gone away”, a victim of his pride.
They’d nod and sigh “It’s just so sad, we’re sorry for your loss,
but maybe things had got so bad he’d one last bridge to cross.”
They all mean well, for they have seen it happen here before —
when Mother Nature vents her spleen it’s hard to take much more,
and sometimes, when you’re very low, consumed by fear and doubt,
there only seems one way to go, one final pathway out.
They’d watched us struggle to survive as drought destroyed our land,
had seen us resolutely strive to meet the bank’s demand,
but time won’t wait for nature’s whims, it simply marches on,
while we are left to sing some hymns, and mourn for those who’ve gone.
Out here that tale is hardly new, it’s far too often told
as bitter winds of change blow through, and debt exerts its hold,
but in our case it’s just a part of all that might be said,
for though death stilled a beating heart, there’s much that’s far from dead.
My mother stands so straight and tall, composed in her distress,
and when the neighbours come to call there isn’t one who’d guess
that she is fully on her guard, for, underneath her grief,
well masked behind that calm façade, is genuine relief.
They cannot see the years of pain, the bruises that she hid,
the days that she would weep in vain, enduring what he did
when drunk and raging at our plight, at all the damage done,
the wrongs that he could not put right, the race that he had run.
There’s so much more than meets the eye concealed behind closed doors —
that desperate, despondent cry the outside world ignores
as stress hits hard and takes its toll, so disappointment reigns
and strips a man of heart and soul, till only rage remains.
It tore our family in two until there came a day
when I knew what I had to do, the price I had to pay.
Though just a boy, a mere fifteen, I had to make a stand,
to challenge him and intervene, to take our fate in hand.
His fist was raised, his voice was slurred, he moved to strike the blow —
my mother only said one word, a sharp, despairing “No!”
before I ran and took her place, then grabbed him by the arm
and shouted “Coward!” to his face. “You’d do a woman harm?”
He stopped, perplexed to see me there, then took a quick step back.
I followed him, and held his stare, as if I might attack,
and in my face perhaps he saw a mirror of his own,
the white-hot fury, rough and raw, that showed a man alone.
His shoulders sagged, he seemed to shrink before our very eyes —
we saw a man who’d reached the brink and failed to recognise
how inner torment can destroy the love of those held dear,
and rob their lives of any joy, replacing it with fear.
He turned away and shook his head, then slowly left the room.
A short time later he was dead, and so we must assume
that, in a way, I struck him down, and though I plead my youth,
a tiny, close-knit country town might struggle with the truth.
So he’s the victim that they see, just one more who has lost
the fight to beat a bank’s decree, and paid a tragic cost,
while we are left to battle through the problems that remain,
and wonder what we have to do to feel secure again.
But there is yet one other thing that I can’t leave behind,
a thought that lingers and can bring those nightmare years to mind.
What if the face my father saw my future wife might see?
What if the cycle turns once more and she’s afraid of me?
Winner – Bush Poetry
The Innocence of Birds
By Daniel Selvadurai
The birds were always watching us
From high in the loose limbs
Of the grey-green gum trees
Small yellow orbs peering
Through secret tunnels of leaves
Twisting their heads, this way, that way
Waiting for a scattering of seeds
Then swooping in a single parabola
They winged down to our deck
A tangled, squabble of colour
One evening three magpies walked
Into our garden, stiffly diffident
So used to scanning the skies
We hardly noticed their arrival
But then we saw one was smaller
Louder than the others, flightless
A family of three, devoted parents
Endlessly fussed, retrieved scraps
I never saw those parents fly
It seemed no sacrifice
On a dewy cold morning I walked
Into the garden and found under a tree
A limp bundle of wet, inky feathers
Alone, separated from that triangle of love
The morning air hung heavy with mystery
Conspiracies and unanswered questions
The birds came to eat that evening
The magpie parents were there too
But they flew down to the deck
And left separately
Winner – Young Adult Poetry
Survivors of the Land
By Matea Zhao
9 yr. old
Kangaroos hopping over the plain
Hoping to see a sign of rain.
They finally stop in a lush forest clearing
In the darkening sky, stars start appearing.
Sharing their secrets, unknown to human kind
The roos leave at dawn, not a trail left behind.
Kangaroos leaping back to their place
Suddenly they stop, as still as space.
An ear-splitting snarl pierces the air
A low growl is heard, but it’s not a bear.
A dingo emerges, followed by his pack
But the kangaroos are silent, prepared to attack.
They stretch their legs and ready their caws
The dingoes start with great loud roars.
Quickly, the kangaroos whirl around
Long tail whipping dingoes onto the ground.
Fast as they can, the dingoes turn tail
But pain makes their top speed as fast as a snail.
Kangaroos hopping back on their path
They stop by a lake for a nice cold bath.
Around the grasslands, the kangaroos roam
Bounding towards the place they call home.
They skip far and wide, in a small band
Kangaroos are the survivors of the land.
Winner – Junior Poetry
The Flowing River
By Molly Wallace
8 yr. old
The river flows where the mountains grow,
The sky is the colour of rippling oceans,
My feet move the clear, flowing water,
I make magical whirlpools with my toes.
I want to dive in and swim to the crocodile log,
I love how the leaves hang over the stream,
Sparkling with a rainbow of colours,
Birds are cheeping and an eagle swoops above.
The whooshing water flows over the rocks,
Making bubbles that are lilipads for fairies,
I climb a ladder of tree roots and curl up,
Snuggled in golden branches and leaves.
The sun sparkles yellow, orange and pink,
And now it’s time for me to leave,
The fairies will come when the moon is up,
To dance, sing and play in my magical river.
Winner – Junior Primary Poetry