‘Cloncurry Prize ~ The Spirit of the Outback’


MEDIA RELEASE: Cloncurry celebrates the Spirit of the Outback


The next bard of the Australian Outback has been discovered! Cloncurry Shire Council congratulates, Mr David Campbell, winner of the very first Cloncurry Prize ~ Spirit of the Outbackpoetry competition. All prize-winners were announced at an official event at Chinaman Creek Dam on Monday evening.

The National competition, launched in December 2020, has a first prize of $10,000. The call was met with over 220 poems from writers all over Australia.  Mr Campbells, The Heart and Soul of Australia, impressed the judges by capturing the essence of the Outback.  The deserving winner travelled to Cloncurry from the South Coast of Victoria for the official announcement.

Mr Campbell said he was delighted to take out the prestigious prize in its first year. He said, This competition is a wonderful initiative by the Cloncurry Shire Council. In providing one of the richest poetry prizes in Australia, the Council is encouraging poets to use their skills to continue the great poetic traditions established a century ago by such well-known names as Dame Mary Gilmore, who is buried alongside her husband in the Cloncurry cemetery, Henry Lawson, ‘Banjo’ Paterson and CJ Dennis. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be involved and congratulate those instrumental in creating the award…may it provide inspiration to poets in all styles of poetry for many years to come!”

Mayor Greg Campbell said, The competition was launched to draw attention to the Outback and promote it to the rest of Australia. The concept of the prize was to highlight our wonderful country and ignite our sense of national pride during the COVID-19 lockdown. Davids poem represents the spirit of the outback and pays tribute to services in the bush, which included a reference to the Royal Flying Doctor. The Cloncurry Prizeis an open competition, and all styles of poetry are encouraged. This years winners included a ballad and contemporary poetry”.

Other prize-winners were announced on the evening, which included runner up, Broken Down, by Jennifer Harison and meritorious mention, A portrait in the Theatre of Desire, by Brian Obiri-Asare.

Copies of the poems and future information on the competition is available on the Cloncurry Shire Council website. Start writing for the 2022 Cloncurry Prize ~ Spirit of the Outbackfor your chance to pocket $10,000. 


The Heart and Soul of Australia - by David Campbell


There’s a spirit in the outback that’s a challenge to define
when a poet tries to find the words he needs,
and tradition prompts the pattern of a metred, rhyming line
as a modern critic, disappointed, pleads:
“Oh no, please, not Henry Lawson, CJ Dennis and the rest,
like ‘The Banjo’ and that Snowy River ride,
with those endless golden sunsets in the deserts way out west,
and explorers who so tragically died.”
But this seems a situation where that challenge should be met,
for that history of verse can’t be ignored
as it’s given us those stories that we never should forget,
and I reckon that it still can strike a chord,
so let’s take a journey inland, well away from Queensland’s coast,
to ‘The Curry’ in the land of Burke and Wills,
where a township built on copper is now very proud to boast
of the need that one amenity fulfils.
If you want to find a symbol of Australia’s heart and soul,
it’s the flying doctor service that supplies
so much aid to far-flung outposts as it plays a vital role
in protecting those who’d have to, otherwise,
spend a day or more on travel for the healthcare they require
when emergencies have caught them unprepared,
so the service can be something that will guide us and inspire
further thinking about stewardship that’s shared.
Like respecting Mother Nature, as we’re heading down the path
of a climate that keeps turning to extremes,
so we face a world in danger, with a tragic aftermath
that will mean the end of all our hopes and dreams
when the food bowls of the nation are just arid, wind-blown sand,
and the rivers merely latticeworks of mud
as a tribute to our failure to take heed and understand
that our legacy could be inscribed in blood.
Leaving nothing in a story spanning sixty thousand years,
from the early days when settlement began
with the very first arrivals, through the convict pioneers,
to the present day, and evidence that man 
is destroying vast resources that are needed to survive
as pollution spreads its poison through the air,
and so many species suffer as they fight to stay alive
in a future that seems destined for despair.
So the welfare of the planet is our principal concern
as the warning signs get clearer by the day,
but we still have many lessons that remain for us to learn
if we want to keep catastrophe at bay,
and the spirit that we’re seeking can be found in all that drives
the compassion of the flying doctor crews
in the twenty-four hour service that has saved so many lives,
dedication that so rarely makes the news.
And those fundamental lessons have to come, in part, from those
well attuned to all the rhythms of the earth,
our indigenous first peoples who have known the highs and lows
of the seasons since the moment of their birth,
for millennia have taught them how to work with nature’s laws,
how to take just what they need and nothing more,
a philosophy essential as an urgent global cause
to avoid a vast environmental war.
But the first step to be taken is a transformation here,
recognition of so much that’s been concealed
by the steady hum of progress as old cultures disappear,
leaving wounds that time has certainly not healed,
the result of crimes committed not so very long ago
as the white man colonised Australia’s shores,
a disruption that continues, as the headlines often show,
in a travesty that closes many doors.
It’s respect that’s so important if we want to change our ways,
for the planet in its current threatened state,
but we also have to value the ancestral fires that blaze
like a beacon with the dreamers who relate
what’s existed through the ages, what is now, and yet to come,
in the hope that through the years that lie ahead
true equality will flourish when we’re marching to a drum
that ensures mankind is healthy, clothed, and fed.
So let’s follow the example that the flying doctor sets
as a symbol of what selflessness achieves
through a caring hand extended, without rancour or regrets,
an acknowledgement that “service” interweaves
understanding and commitment to a shared environment
that depends upon us all to play our part
in a fragile ecosystem where the curse of discontent
can so easily destroy a nation’s heart.

Runner Up

Broken Down - by Jennifer Harrison 


gum trees thin and stippled
with glare-light and red dust
they don’t seem to grow
from the baking earth
but have been bark-cast
into form by a sparse ghost-god
with a sense of humour
and a practical mindset—
their life-cycle’s warped
and the disfigured dead stand
in fields and by roadsides
eroded stumps unapologetically
monumental yet diminished
by the sky’s freakish distance— 
and the living: their spindly
narrow-leaved branches
reach calmly into mirage
hills pale blue in their shimmering
cattle lazily flicking tails
not budging midday
from the scattered cool patches
of variegated shade—
they don’t seem to be so much cast by
as cast aside from botany
unreal   spiritual
even young trees look elderly
born emaciated and dry
as we contemplate pulling out
the bedding from a nearby sheep shed
to sleep on while someone tinkers
in the truck’s bowels
with a spanner and 1930 pliers—

Meritorious mention 

a portrait in the theatre of desire - by Brian Obiri-Asare


Master P & all his girlfriends, they came to settle the south-west
back in the black and white times. Master P he’s a mighty flash fella, 
wicked & fierce. he sounds in bites, singing, babbling these flashes 
of glamour in the dry. he sings sweet stuff about mother earth 
& blue savannahs & they swoon one by one by one. it’s a bit much. 
all the time he’s bouncing between women, all the time women, 
more & more, stealing their fire & melting into a merry abyss. 
he broke damper with the first comers, who’d also been scattered
by havoc, caught a whiff of their ravaged trail. that’s why he’s wild
in pursuit, spreading song through purple shores & here we are
trying to put the murmur of a sunken place to rest. Master P
rounds up his brothers, every pay day. they tear up town & 
colour the deep brown ranges. you can hear them in the storm 
clouds there. so brutal, so melancholic. Master P has girlfriends all over. 
night & day he runs amuck, crazy for their fire. you can hear him
in the beer garden & floating in space. singing the country & now
how to put it - my sister’s gone got fed up with his voice? he’s screaming,
frothing at the mouth. the sun’s out, so too some rain & drizzle. the
devil is beating his wife. that’s why he’s holding a knife, framing 
the mood in the outback. sitting on the edge of Kelisha’s bed,
seduced by the red desert torching a hole in his heart. he scares 
all his girlfriends - they’ve spirited away, can’t stand the sound. 
his brothers don’t want to speak. for month’s there’s been this pale
murmur sounding on repeat. & Master P, he’s no fool. he knows why

Submissions for the 'Cloncurry Prize ~ Spirit of the Outback' poetry competition closed on 1 February 2021. Announcement of the winner will be 22 March 2021. This will be an annual competition so stay tuned to this page and our Facebook page for the next round. And get writing!!



Mary Gilmore


Cloncurry Shire Council Mayor Greg Campbell has announced one of Australia’s richest poetry competitions. ‘The Cloncurry Prize ~ Spirit of the Outback’ will showcase the essence of Cloncurry and uncover the next bard of Australia, to celebrate our past, our present and our future.

The Cloncurry Prize is expected to become an annual event with a generous cash prize of $10,000 for the successful winner, plus an additional section and prize for juniors. Announced today, entries will be accepted from 15 December 2020 to 1 February 2021 with the prize announcement on 22 March 2021. The competition is open to any Australian Citizen, living in Australia with all entries to be assessed by a select panel of judges.

Announced to commemorate the 155th Birthday of Dame Mary Gilmore DBE, who returned to Cloncurry to lay rest with her husband in December 1962. The national competition pays tribute to Dame Mary, an Australian writer and journalist who features on the $10 note, known for her prolific contributions to Australian literature and the broader national discourse.

Message from the Prime Minister 



I am delighted that Cloncurry Shire Council has initiated the ‘Cloncurry Prize ~ Spirit of Outback’ Poetry Competition.

Dame Mary Gilmore was my great-great aunt. She was a beloved family member, and a source of pride - for her poetry and her place as a voice of our people. 

When I see her wise face looking out from our $10 notes, I imagine her surveying modern Australia with wonder, and I suspect with a few helpful suggestions. 

Much of what she spoke for has come to pass, so much of what she valued remains, and so much of our nation's promise has been fulfilled. I can't think of a better place than Cloncurry, where Aunt Mary rests with her husband William, to uncover the next bard of Australia, whoever she or he may be. 

Australia is an ancient land of stories that reach back for millennia. The rich oral and visual imaginings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, the poems of colonial Australia, and the verse that grew from our developing nation reflect the epic narrative of our history. In times of trouble and challenge, these are the stories we turn to for comfort and hope. 

The stories of Australia come from the city and the bush. They are made in the past and the present. They are our beacon for the future. They are the words of our national spirit, which transcends politics, religion, ethnicity or capital. Aunt Mary wrote once 'I see the world as one'. It's my belief that true poetry comes from that vision and brings people together. 

Our poets tell our stories and show us who we are. Sometimes, as the days race by, we forget to stop and listen to those voices. I'm grateful to the people of Cloncurry who have endured so much in recent years, for encouraging us to change that - to hear our stories anew and celebrate the spirit they represent. 

The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister of Australia

September 2020