- “Abandonment” by Leonie Crowden
- “Ink” by Kodi Sawtell
- “The Underground” by Phoenix Pan
- “The Red Diamond of Rio” by Thomas Liddell
- “Shadowfall” by Jacqueline Trott
- “Pappinbarra Burning” by Tom McIlveen
- “Oppression” by Lucinda Jackson
- “The Life of Candles” by Nysha Gajjar
- “Total Immersion by Cedar Robinson
By Leonie Crowden
The day promises to be like any other. Monday, Thursday, Sunday. Any day, it doesn’t matter. They’re always the same; noisy, stressful and frantic. Peering up from the list of names on the computer screen, my eyes sweep across the familiar room, stopping to register the time on the clock ticking ominously on the far wall. The numbers glare back, mockingly; 7.58 am. I glance at the empty coffee cup by my elbow, sighing despondently as I peruse the motley group of strangers seated before me. Varying in age, gender, social status and disposition, they have little in common except for an urgent need to be here.
Most chairs are already taken; the occupants drawn from a wide cross section of society. The stance and body language of each one clearly portrays their physical condition but fails to conceal their temperament. Some fidget restlessly, their irritation obvious as they slouch uncomfortably in their seats, grumbling impatiently as they continuously check the time. Others appear preoccupied, ears glued to mobile phones, their inane conversations audible for anyone bothering to listen. A few flick aimlessly through magazines; irritation preventing them from absorbing any content. Breakfast television blares incessantly from a flat screen but few appear to be watching the sickeningly cheerful presenters laughing and chatting inanely through perfect teeth. Another day in the hospital clinic has begun.
With frustration burning in my chest, I grudgingly acknowledge that it’ll be some time before I savour my early morning caffeine fix. Sighing heavily, I clear my throat before calling the next patient.
There’s no response so I repeat the name again, a little louder. This time, an elderly gentleman looks up.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says, apologetically, “Did you say Mr Andrews? That’s me.”
The ravages of time have left him wrinkled and weary but his crumpled face breaks into a gentle smile that brims with kindness. Shakily, he pushes up from the chair and steadies himself.
“Good morning Mr Andrews. Please come this way,” I say, the cheerfulness in my voice disguising my depressed mood.
Instinctively I offer my arm, guiding him reassuringly across the room. He shuffles forward, head bent low and shoulders stooped as he carefully places one foot in front of the other. Ushering him into a consulting cubicle, I pull the curtain closed and indicate a chair.
“How are you Mr Andrews?” I ask, my tone gently moderating. There’s something very endearing about this elderly gentleman with his humble demeanour and genuine smile. He could’ve been my grandfather. I yearn to embrace him warmly but, bound by the constraints of professionalism, I resist.
“Not too bad for an old fella,” he replies.
Noticing his hearing aid, I speak a little louder.
“Now Mr Andrews, I see you’re here to have stitches removed from your thumb. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s right,” he nods.
“Excellent,” I reply, referring to the notes on my clipboard before continuing,
“Now, I just need to check your details. Could you tell me your full name, address and date of birth?”
The old man lifts the frayed cuff of his shirt and glances at his watch.
“Will this take long?” he asks. He appears a little distracted.
“Not at all,” I reply, “Now, your full name?”
“Mr Bruce David Andrews.”
“Your address, Mr Andrews?”
“154 Green St, Woodside.”
He tugs at his sleeve again, peering at his wrist.
“And your date of birth, Mr Andrews?”
“March 13th, 1927.”
I look at him more closely. His thinning hair and furrowed face reflect the experiences of a life well lived but he’s considerably older than I’d estimated.
“Do you live alone, Mr Andrews?”
“Yes,…I live alone,” he replies wistfully.
“Any family Mr Andrews?” The question is irrelevant to the impending procedure but I’m curious.
“I have no children,” he hesitates a moment, his eyes misting over before continuing, “But I do have a wife.”
Gently rolling up his sleeve to secure the blood pressure cuff, I notice his arm, the flesh atrophied and his pale translucent skin tinged with bruises.
“I’m just going to check your vitals signs, Mr Andrews.”
He remains silent as I pump the rubber bulb.
“Are you feeling ok?” I ask. He’s a little hypertensive.
He doesn’t answer immediately. Instead he glances again at his watch.
“I’m as well as can be expected,” he replies.
I reach forward and take hold of his hand. Gnarled fingers close around mine, squeezing tightly. His eyes well with tears before he releases his grip and turns away. A little embarrassed, I busy myself removing the dressing before inspecting his thumb. His hand is crisscrossed with a fine network of lines; the fingers large, the palm square but his skin, supple despite the passage of time, feels warm in mine. The wound has healed well.
“This looks fine,” I say, reassuringly, attempting to break the awkward silence. Carefully, I begin removing the sutures and redressing the wound. It doesn’t take long but throughout the procedure he keeps checking his watch and gazing around the cubicle as if searching for something.
“Is there somewhere you have to be?” I ask.
He gazes directly at me, “There’s somewhere I need to be.”
The intensity of his expression prevents me from diverting my eyes. He seems keen to tell me something. Very gently, I take his hand again in mine and return his gaze.
“And where is that, Mr Andrews?”
“I need to be with my wife.”
He speaks each word with such deliberation and compassion that I find myself struggling to breathe. Unsure whether his need is a genuine possibility or just a heartfelt yearning, I remain silent, my lack of response granting him permission to continue.
“Jean and I have breakfast together every day. I never miss.”
“She’ll be waiting for you today then?” I ask.
“No, she won’t be waiting for me but she won’t start until I get there. She doesn’t know how to.”
My facial expression obviously indicates some confusion.
“Jean has Alzheimers,” he explains, “She’s been in a nursing home for several years. I visit every morning and feed her breakfast. We spend the day together.”
He stops, his eyes glistening with tears.
“She was my first and only love. We met in High School. We were together for sixty-seven years until…” he pauses, fumbling in his pocket for a handkerchief,
“She no longer recognises me.”
“You must love her very much,” I say, squeezing his hand.
“I do. I promised to love, honour and cherish her for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part. It broke my heart when she went into care.”
His words, so full of passion, are breaking mine. This is the depth of love I’ve longed for but having been unlucky in relationships, I’ve never experienced such devotion. Ignoring the clamour of sounds from beyond the flimsy curtain, I sit beside Mr Andrews and listen intently as he describes the beautiful young lady who stole his heart a lifetime ago; the successful career woman of whom he’s so proud; the supportive partner who offered love and encouragement; and the adoring wife who shared his hopes and dreams and gave him her heart.
When he stops, I begin tidying the medical equipment, a little too zealously, and writing unnecessarily detailed notes on his chart. Eventually, I can procrastinate no longer. I turn to him and say,
“She’s very lucky to have you.”
He gazes back at me and, through quivering lips, whispers,
“Not half as lucky as I am to have her.”
I can think of no adequate response.
“That’s all Mr Andrews. Hopefully we won’t need to see you again. Take care.”
Helping him out of the chair, I feel his frail frame trembling. He smiles gently.
“Thank you. You’ve been most kind.”
I place my hand tenderly on his shoulder.
“Can I ask you something, Mr Andrews?”
“Certainly,” he replies.
“You go to the nursing home every day?”
“I never miss,” his response is firm.
“Even though your wife no longer knows you?”
Slowly, he shuffles towards the door, leaving me holding back tears as the intensity of his passion washes over me, filling me with hope that one day I’ll experience such deep enduring love. With darkness threatening to overshadow the light quickly fading between them, Mr Andrews is desperately clinging to the last golden rays with every fibre of his being, refusing to abandon the woman he loves.
Suddenly, he pauses and turns towards me. His eyes, although dulled by age and wearied by his life’s journey, peer intensely into mine.
“Jean may no longer remember who I am,” he says, “But what matters is that I still remember my wife.”
Winner – Adult Prose
By Kodi Sawtell
The gate slammed shut, clipping me on my derriere before clapping on its frame with a shaky bang.
“Son of a-“ I growled rubbing my sore ass and walking away.
No one wanted me, I couldn’t even say ‘Hi my name is-‘ before my potential future employers shut me out. In this case push me out the front gate and slam it on my assets.
Three stinking hours I had been trudging along, my thin booklet of a resume clasped in my sweaty hands. My feet burning in my cardboard filled rubber soles and my legs struggling to continue supporting my weight.
I couldn’t take it anymore. Moving to a low-lying brick wall, I sat and brought my knees up to my chest. The sun was hanging low over the horizon of squat buildings reminding me of dirt mounds in a field.
The heat was still lingering in the last fading moments of sunlight, hitting my face at an angle to make my tattoos shine.
I absently stroked the intricate cravings in green ink that wrapped my cheek in a veil of vines down the left side of my face, having curled up from the depths of my shirt and finishing at my eyes. The best decision of my life or my worst?
They define who I am. Yet even as I pass by people in the street, they avert their eyes, and keep their heads downcast.
I didn’t give a stuff about people’s opinion, however when it came to the next stage up, employment, it’s blasphemy.
My chest tightened with rejection, the pressure piercing at my heart. The tears were a scourge as I savagely wiped them away, my eyes burning with a mixture of salt and hurt.
I wrapped the edge of my shirtsleeve around my hand and rubbed harshly under my red rims. The tears were streaking down my tattoo making me despise everyone more.
I rose off the wall and clumped down the street towards the last place of potential employment on my list. The one I wanted least.
As my feet slapped the pavement I stared down at the name and hated myself for even writing down the words.
A fancy store that sold high priced boots and shoes for anyone abnormal enough to cough up for something more expensive than the price of a month’s rent. I rolled my eyes at myself. Positive thoughts, come on think positive thoughts.
The store would be closing within the hour, and I was still walking at a leisurely pace.
I grumbled at myself under my breath and made my aching feet shuffle along the path quicker.
People were always too quick to judge someone. Nobody knew or even cared that I was top of my class in high school, nobody cared if I was really friendly or good with customers, because no one could get past the thing that gave me my identity.
As I rounded the last corner to the store I froze, my chafed feet anchored to the pavement. Boutique Boots was lit up like a Christmas tree with sleek glamorous people laughing and chatting, in and out of the store.
This was the store for stuck up customers and nosy rich people. I didn’t belong here.
I almost turned around and headed back to my drab shrimp sized apartment. Maybe I could entice some cats out of the back alley to keep me company. At least they didn’t judge what someone looked like.
Shakily, I picked up one foot and placed it in front of the other and so forth, so as not to stumble and embarrass myself. I slowly made my way to the store.
Placing my hands on the delicate glass doors, I pushed them open.
The first thing that hit me was the smell. The aroma of gorgeous leather and crisp air fell like a drape over me. I looked around, fugitively but no one seemed to pay me any attention as they all dug through the conglomeration of shoes.
The only staff member I could see was behind the counter a few steps away from the door busily writing something down in a ledger.
I took an uneven breath and held my head high as I walked towards the man. He looked up as I approached and did the last thing that I was expecting.
“Hi, welcome to the Bou’s Boots. How can I help?” He said, his eyes didn’t even seem to register the ink decorating my face.
It took me a moment to get my thoughts together. “Hi. I was just wondering if I could give in my resume?”
He grinned wider and gestured to a door across the room with Staff written boldly on it. “Don is just through there, he’s the boss.”
“Uh, thanks.” I turned away and let my polite smile fall into a frown. He didn’t say anything about my tattoos, or even sneer at them. No one even looked at me funny as I crossed the room either.
What is wrong with this place?
As I reached the door, I hesitantly knocked.
A grumble came from behind the door and it took all my false bravo to push them open widely.
A big man stood before me, with wide eyes and a head of thick bronze hair, but it wasn’t his hair that I was staring at. It was the facial tattoos.
A dragon appeared to be eating his mouth, curling down from behind his ear, its wings up over his cheek. It was spectacular.
Don looked from the resume clasped in my hands to my tattoo, to my eyes.
And grinned back. .
Winner – Young Adult Prose
By Phoenix Pan
Knox Grammar Preparatory School,
Boom! The sound of whirring jets filled the air and the gunshots cracked like thunder. People cried for help as they tried to shield themselves from the destruction. Men fired guns as dusty clouds filled the sky. Poor Josh was terrified, trapped in a hidden underground basement. The memory of the Wednesday night was still clear in his mind. He remembered the phone call his father had picked up and the panic in his dad’s voice as he was sent to pack his favourite books. Josh remembered climbing into the basement, watching his father throw what seemed like an endless food supply into the dark room and his mother whispering in his ear while she shivered with fear, “Stay here and be quiet. We will come back as soon as we can,” they advised, before locking him in the dark basement.
He didn’t know how many days had elapsed but it felt like it had been a decade already. Josh silently sobbed as tears streamed down his face. He started wondering, “Are my parents ever coming back as promised? Are they still alive?” A few moments later he heard footsteps above him. Was it his parents? He wanted to call out for help but he knew if these people were not his parents his life would be in grave danger. At that moment he overheard the conversation. “If we capture this boy, we could get George to reveal the location of the secret weapon,” one of them said. Josh turned pale, realising they were looking for him and talking about his father, George. He wondered what secret weapon were they talking about. What could it do? More importantly he thought, ‘Where were his parents’?
After the noises faded into the distance, Josh began to think his father might have predicted this day and built this secret basement for him. He must have worked out some way to tell him how to get out. He began to search through the basement. He soon found a familiar looking chest. He opened it to find a key, a torch and a note which had been written by his Dad.
“The doors with red dots will guide you to light” he read. Scurrying around the room, searching for the door, his eyes lit up as he found a small frame with little dots scattered over it. “That must be it,” he muttered. His bony fingers slid the rusty key into the hole. With all his might he pushed open the door. Pulling out the torch his father had left him, he made his way down the stairs, making sure to shut the door behind him.
Josh’s determination to get out and search for the key helped him to venture further into the dark tunnel. He began to smell fresh air once again. Finally he could see the bright blue sky and fluffy clouds. Josh clambered out of the small hole. He felt the wind blowing on his face. The search was on Josh was determined to find his parents.
Winner – Junior Prose
The Red Diamond of Rio
Knox Grammar Preparatory School,
Wiping away a tear from his grubby, sunburnt face, an aging farmer crouched back quietly on the riverbank, stunned to see that the stone he had sifted from the muddy waters, and now nestled in his palm, was a brilliant, red rock diamond. The old man decided to keep it in case trouble ever fell on his family. On the day he peacefully died and he bequeathed the diamond to his elder son, Mateus, who was a responsible, trustworthy man. Despite his love of adventure, Mateus seemed content to run a jewellery store in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro.
Mateus had a younger brother, a cruel genius called Madras. Ever since his childhood, Madras had been a menace. As far as he was concerned, their parents had always favoured Mateus. Now, smoke fuming from his nostrils and ears, Madras was in a rage, furious that his father had not given the diamond to him and subsequently left him with nothing. He had built a subaquatic lair off the coast in the South Atlantic Ocean and had lived there alone since shortly after Mateus had inherited the diamond. Every day since, Madras perfected his plan to steal the diamond and finally get revenge on his perfect brother.
Madras had a history of misbehaviour and had been secretly studying explosives while in weekly detention ever since Kindergarten when he was only five years old. For years now, he had been using gelignite, which he stole while in the Brazilian Army, to gradually make underwater tunnels from his lair, which emerged right below the vault in Mateus’ shop. The hour had come to deliver the guided missile to the store, to raze everything so the diamond could be his.
Wearing an amphibious jetpack, he tore through the salty, indigo waves like a torpedo. Just as he broke the surface, he pressed the button to release the missile. When he saw the massive cloud of gold and black, he begged that Mateus had been in it. He darted to the raging flames in his fire proof suit and seized the gleaming diamond from the smouldering ruins. With the gem safely in his hand, Madras sprinted back to the shore. Never doubting his success, he laughed maniacally as he propelled back through the deep ocean.
What Madras did not know, was that Mateus was not in the shop that day. Mateus and his spy crew had been keeping a sharp eye on Madras for years. Mateus was the admiral of the spy submarine fleet and using echolocation, he had locked onto his fugitive brother. The trap was triggered and Madras became encircled by titanium plated submarines. Suddenly, a net shot out from the biggest vessel. Ensnared, Madras was reeled in like a fish. The first thing he saw was Mateus’ scornful stare. The spies searched Madras, but they could not find the red diamond anywhere and he began to cackle as he imagined it falling to the ocean floor where, unnoticed, it would wait patiently for his return.
Winner – Junior Primary Prose
By Jacqueline Trott
She walks a-quiet in the evening soft
After the bony jangle of days
Skeleton- dance in the last of the light
Poking fingers into twilight’s husk-haze
These are the moments when roars of sun
Are quenched by her indigo tune
And the plinking twang of banjo frogs
Pulse the path of a rising moon
The thrum and drum of bees now yields
To the lament of a dusk lark
And her cults of hidden crickets chant
Voodoo love-spells in the dark
She magnets the mountains to shadowfall
Drawing them across the valley-cracked crust
And opens the black skylake above our heads
Leaking constellations of silver-thick dust
Sleepwalking clouds are her moonlit giants
That tuck in each hushed-star
Her lanterns of fleece shuffle above our heads
Murmuring bedtime stories from afar
She carries an opium that heavies our limbs
We are stained by the ink of her skin
And gently she waxes each eye to eyelid
Tracing the secrets of our lips within
She weaves the hours where mouths open-sleep
Spilling our truths that have no words
She spider-tangles young minds in dreams
Cradled in the lullaby of the night birds
When the horizon’s bright needles pierce our face
Night howls a savage cry
She flaps and flies into dark vapour trails
As dawn scatters her body to the sky
Winner – Adult Poetry
By Tom McIlveen
Port Macquarie, NSW
On the road to Pappibarra, there’s a tree of sacred jarrah
in the valley where the tallest timbers grow –
and according to tradition and a local superstition…
it was planted many thousand years ago.
‘Twas Baieme and Eingana, Rainbow Serpent and Goanna
who’d supplied the seed when Dreamtime had begun.
It had sprouted forth and flourished, to be sanctified and nourished
by the Mother Earth and Goddess Of The Sun.
The Koori tribes revered it and had burnt the bush and cleared it
to appease their Gods’ perpetual demands.
It had thrived and propagated till the forest was created
from volcanic rock and barren desert sands.
I was rousted from my dreaming by the shrill persistent screaming
of a cockatoo who’d lost his way in flight.
We arose that Sunday morning to the sounds of creatures warning
us that something in the forest wasn’t right.
In the rafters just above us, was a pair of spotted plovers
who were screeching loud enough to wake the dead.
They had seemingly been frightened by a cloud of smoke that whitened
as it billowed ever upward overhead.
Then a wallaby had bounded through the clearing now surrounded
by an eerie shadow cast from smoking wood.
He had smelt the fire approaching, long before it was encroaching
on his grazing patch just west of where we stood.
In the chaos and confusion, I remembered our seclusion,
with the nearest neighbour half a mile away.
I could feel an inward tremor as we faced the real dilemma –
of escaping now or buckling down to stay?
But before it was decided, an inferno had divided
us from any access coming in or out.
With a hot nor’wester blowing, we had little way of knowing
how the bush would fare from eighteen months of drought.
If the fire had found us driving, then our chances of surviving
would be smaller than a snowball’s chance in hell.
There were walls of flame appearing in what should have been a clearing,
but was now ablaze as far as we could tell.
Since the Greens had been elected, many trees were now protected
from the loggers and the lumber mills in turn.
But if nature had intended for her trees to be defended,
she would never have allowed those trees to burn.
With a sense of hopeless yearning, we had watched our cottage burning
as the flames had roasted everything in sight.
They had scorched the eaves and gutters and engulfed the open shutters,
and then set the doors and window frames alight.
In amongst the ash and sorrow, broken dreams and no tomorrow,
we had wondered if the forest would prevail.
Would it be regenerated or completely decimated
till the bush returns to desert, rock and shale?
When I’m dreaming of Eingana, Rainbow Serpent and Goanna,
I can see again that underlying theme.
Was it simply intuition or some type of premonition
from a superstitious, visionary dream?
On the road to Pappinbarra, there’s a tree of sacred jarrah
in the ashes where the strongest timbers stand…
and in spite of Blackened Sunday, we will build again there one day –
in the very heart of sacred jarrah land.
Winner – Bush Poetry
By Lucinda Jackson
Tweed Heads West, NSW
Impact on my chest
Wallowing in the sea
Where no-one will confess
To ever hurting me
When I see it clearly
In their eyes.
The jagged shards of broken glass
The coldly dark metal
As It drives a hole
In my heart
In my chest
The very best
Part of me
You’ll ever see.
Spilling the welling blood
My thoughts open for
The world to see
And execute me.
It is ever so hard to see
When you lock me
In the dark
And kill me
With your words
Again, again, and again.
Am I not a person too?
What is less in me than you
That you so plainly see?
I do not know.
What have I ever known?
I know nothing
Isn’t that what you told me?
Winner – Young Adult Poetry
The Life of Candles
By Nysha Gajjar
11 yr. old
North Sydney NSW
A row of candles dancing in sync.
The flickering flame, sliding in and out of focus,
Rising, raging, roaring on,The dance of the candles has begun.
The fiery sparks licked thin air,
Struggling to try and escape their end.
Slowly melting, trying to use their remaining life wisely.The sweet aroma fills the room,
Sharing the love from within.
Crisp fire, heat rising,
The mesmerizing flowers of light.An explosion of fireworks inside the candles’ hearts,
Celebrating this festival of light,
But dreading the time when they must go.
A lonely candle looks out to its friends,
Half the lot have reached their ends.
Sadness fills the candle’s heart,
But now it is time to leave this world of dark,
To finish playing its part to make it light.
Winner – Junior Poetry
By Cedar Robinson
8 yr. old
Knox Grammar Preparatory School,
She came up gracefully from the deep dark blue
The baby and the mother too
As she glided toward me, I got a scare
But she seemed so friendly, I thought, ‘Why not dare’?
I approached her slowly with a grin
Closer and closer she came right in
When we were eye to eye, looking at one another
I realised we were mirror images of each other
I was observing her and she was observing me
Both intrigued by what we could see
And then with a powerful kick she came so near
I felt a rush just by my ear
As quickly as they had appeared
They turned around and disappeared
Exhilarated I shouted and laughed
Excited by my encounter with mother and calf
An experience I will always remember
Is swimming with whales last September
Winner – Junior Primary Poetry