Cloncurry Prize - Spirit of the Outback

Poetry comp website banner 3

Coming soon!

In 2023, The Cloncurry Prize will be launched on World Poetry Day - Tuesday 21 March 2023. 
Keep an eye on this webpage for more information. 
By Brenda-Joy Pritchard  
We’ve left behind the urban sprawl, traversed the rural lands
to reach the realm of emptiness the bushie understands,
and once again, in Nature’s space, we feel our spirits start
attuning with the rhythmic pulse of Outback’s beating heart.
The Smoke is but a distant blur, a past now left behind,
as each expansive vista brings a greater peace of mind...
the Mitchell grasses, emus running, eagles flying high,
the trackless landscape stretching out to endless cobalt sky.
We sight the gouged meander trail of dried-out, gum-lined creek
as rustic outcrops shelter mystic secrets that they keep.
The underlying gold and copper casts an ochre hue
on quartz-seamed, rich conglomerates.  The Curry comes in view!
It warms the heart to near the hub that was our life support
through all our years of station life, the decades that were fraught
with fire, with storms, with dust and flies in soul-destroying drought –
the ravages of climate’s wrath that ‘sorts the weaklings out’.
Thank God we’d had the radio to help allay our fears,
the legacy of Traegar’s team of network pioneers.
Thank God the Flying Doctor service helped us all to bear
our traumas and anxieties – those ‘angels of the air’!
The Flynn Place in Cloncurry pays its tribute to the man –
a visionary of his time, a hero who began
a legacy of medicos and pilots who deserve
each breath of thanks that’s given from the far-flung world they serve.
Through times when catastrophic flood depleted land and stock
then only town-based networks helped alleviate the shock.
The fledgling, fragile human links prevented deep despair
from constant trials when lack of rain left paddocks dust-bowl bare.
Then on the day when health and age and debt and lack of kin
meant giving up our station life, the townies took us in
providing hospitality in true blue Aussie style –
the helping hand, the open ear, the sun-lined friendly smile.
And in our new environment we came to understand
how those who lived in clusters shared our passion for the land.
Descendants forged of hardy stock, they played essential parts
towards the station way of life that had consumed our hearts.
Where distance is the nemesis, the outback’s crucial code
is selfless co-reliance aimed to ease each other’s load.
Co-operation’s needed for the region to survive
and services have grown and spread to keep the West alive.
It’s been a year since we departed from our town abode –
your need for surgical procedures forced us down that road,
but we were strangers in the city, lost within the throng
while aching for the open space where men like you belong.
For men like you share memories of musters in the dawn,
of campfire glow and star-filled nights where mate-ship ties are born,
that special bond with horses, years of caring for your stock –
the mutual respect that reminiscences unlock.
Frugality, simplicity, fulfilling basic needs
the sense of satisfaction long-enduring hardship breeds.
Necessity will mould a man to struggle, toil and strive
so men like you share values that have helped the west survive.
You followed through traditions built by outback pioneers,
by those intrepid souls who lived in formulative years,
the legendary characters who’d go to any length
to challenge the environment with grit and guts and strength.
In coming back we have returned to where ideals reside,
where history is honoured, where the deeds of men abide,
and here within the vast expanse that skirts our little town
immersed in blaze of colours as the sun is sinking down,
in awe-inspiring atmosphere, both reverent and grand
I consecrate your ashes cast to spirit of the land.
Here where the wind of freedom chants its everlasting song
with heroes who have gone before – you’re home where you belong.
By David Judge
‘The Spirit of the Outback’ is a term we often use,
to conjure up an image for our poets and their muse,
to focus on Cloncurry and a million Aussie cents,
in honour of Dame Mary and the traits she represents.
But those who live there understand the Outback is profound,
that having just one Spirit’s not enough to go around.
They span the generations from the Dreamtime until now,
across a sprawling spectrum which we cannot disavow,
and even though we find some that give reason for regret,
we need to recognise them all as pieces of a set.
So where are all those ‘Spirits’ which define that special place,
where endless curved horizons meet the stars in outer space.
We find them in the books we read, of fiction or of fact,
like Mary Durack’s stories or where Davidson had tracked,
with camels and a dog to give some meaning to her life,
as fortunate as Facey with his struggles and his strife.
We also read the gripping tales of Burke and Wills and Eyre,
of Stuart, King and Cunningham, whose courage we can share.
We find them in those paintings on a wall or in a frame,
on Joel Fergie’s water tank, or signed with Chaplain’s name,
depicting Outback images and characters we know,
like ‘Barrack’ and ‘Brianna’ from the Deadly Dancers Show.
We see them in those landscapes from the Namatjira art,
or in a dotted masterpiece and colours from Pro Hart.
We find them where the Kalkadoon are recognised at last,
in ways that understand the hate and horrors of the past,
ensuring that equality is more than poli-speak,
and those who have the where-with-all, provide the things we seek.
There are no simple answers to the challenges we face,
but we can be reminded that there’s just one human race.
We find them in our Outback pubs we know are so unique,
where people from all walks of life mix seven days a week,
from miners, stockmen, truckies to the nomads with their vans,
and kids from all around the world who backpack with no plans.
Referred to as a ‘waterhole’ for those who like a drink,
our Outback pubs are so much more important than you think.
We find them in those shearing sheds that Lawson wrote about,
of ringers, pressers, roustabouts, in times of flood and drought,
and drovers who spent months away from loved ones we all know,
from verses by ‘The Banjo’ – ‘Clancy of the Overflow’.
In recent times we can revere those shearers we applaud,
like ‘Daffy’, Howe and Elkins who were masters of the board.
We find them in so many places easy to forget,
like rodeos and racetracks where the punters have a bet,
and not just on the horses but on camels from the scrub,
where city folk are entertained with beer and country grub.
We can’t forget the Schools and Clubs and places where to stay,
or Festivals, Museums and the local Market Day.
We find them in the wildlife we all treasure as our own,
like things that hop and have a pouch and birds that have not flown,
that stand upon our coat of arms and make it so distinct,
reminding us of how we’d look if they became extinct.
We need to value habitats which have a major role,
maintaining our identity, the Outback’s heart and soul.
We find them on a doctor’s mind or on a nurse’s sleeve,
where patients are remote in places you would not believe,
without the Flying Doctor as those angels in the air,
the Outback would not be the same without their loving care.
The distances are vast and even though they breed ‘em tough,
the people of the Outback know, that’s sometimes not enough.
We find them in those musos who can play or sing a tune,
with songs that make your feet tap or that see young lovers swoon,
or maybe you’re an oldie who remembers days gone by,
and sang aloud with Slim along the road to Gundagai.
Whatever Country Music does, it makes you feel so great,
to be connected to the bush, just like another mate.
And lastly but not in the least, we read poetic verse,
to understand those ‘Spirits’, which for better or for worse,
are numerous and varied in the ways they symbolise,
those wonders of the Outback which may come as a surprise.
And if the urge to travel bites you on that bit we know,
remember all those ‘Spirits’ of the Outback when you go.
By Kaylah Faulkner
Spirit lies in the blood red dirt,
where the tree veins barely quenched lie,
climbing under and through,
sustaining a heartbeat through cracked bark,
a painted palette of copper leading to the high up gums,
with their spotted, broken leaves,
dancing to a harsh, dry wind,
showing a rhythm of no remorse.
Spirit lies in the blood red bridge,
rusted beyond a question of repair,
the job kept long of surveying a town built on the foundation of crumbled riverbanks,
holding deepest secrets,
holding deepest longings,
of the souls old and new,
knowing they are disconnected,
yet connected through the nature
(physical and emotional)
of a place they’ve christened home.
Spirit lies in the blood red tracks halted,
painting a picture of the foreigner’s nightmare,
unsure which way is North or which way is West,
(the land evolved since maps created,
only known to a familiar eye,
the souls with an ingrained compass),
wondering how a full tank of fuel was not enough to make it across this demanding land,
wondering how he can listen,
to be guided back home.
Spirit lies in the blood red sunset,
setting over a land that has seen it all before,
a land that has continuously found itself
after forces unforgiving unleash,
from mankind and mother nature alike,
combining to create stories told,
and yet to be told,
if only asked,
if only listened to.
Spirit lies in the blood red sunrise,
a cycle that replenishes,
signalling a new story,
out of the sacrifice,
out of the red blood spilled by;
the trees,
the rivers,
the cows,
the dingoes,
the snakes,
the ancestors.
By Ms Chandra Clements
From McKinley’s Gap to Gunpowder Creek
the Emu Foot marks bounds.
We stand upon this borrowed land
with legend in its sounds.
Walpala came; Walpala stayed, 
Kalkatungu here before.
From peace to war to peace again,
this land withholds the score.
The crane is carved within the rock,
the Eucalypt bears claim.
And a Warrior is among their tribe
with Spirit as her name.
She’s with us now, just like before,
amassed among the reeds.
Bed deep within the sunburnt view,
and the stockman’s sweaty beads.
She lies within the small green shoot
once fire has left town.
She hides beneath the split red earth
once drought unfolds its gown.
And there she is within the calf
that wobbles to its feet.
She rises from the copper mine
that blisters in grave heat.
She guides the Flying Doctors’ wings
above the flooded streams.
We hear her voice, the high-pitched call
as newborn babies scream.
As the farmer shakes his neighbour’s hand,
and thanks him for the loan.
As the miner ends her groundhog shift,
and shares a car ride home.
That’s when we see the Warrior rise
against the azure skies.
She lifts her head and spurs us on
with courage to defy.
The fence goes down, the dam depletes,
the crop fails to succeed.
Yet, setbacks in The Curry Land,
mean resilience in us breed.
The Mitakoodi and Pitta Pitta
have seen her magic weave,
embedded in their dreamtime tales,
the badge upon their sleeve.
Oh, Spirit is her common name,
And Outback is her last.
She links us all in this great land,
from current day to past.
Oh Spirit, let us all hold hands
and feel your call to rise.
I’ll lift you up and you’ll lift me,
with mateship as our prize.
By Emma Catherine Southwood
The drive out of the city is a ritual,
Rows of houses replaced with rambling trees.
Ushering my soul to the outback -
Australia’s cathedral.
Holy ground where Her spirit is strong
And Her glory magnificent. 
Her venerable icons captivate me - 
Unending expanse, rust red earth,
Lofty gorges, vast vivid sunsets,
Sky awash with stars!
I delight in feeling small against Her grandeur.
Content and privileged to witness Her beauty.
I hear birds offer songs of worship,
Their voices sweet and joy filled.
Performing recitals for all who will hear - 
Welcoming this day as a precious gift;
To cherish simply being here.
At night an offering of thanks.
The air is aromatic with incense -   
Soil and scrub, cattle and campfire;
The heavy scent after elusive rain. 
I breathe Her in giving life to my bones,
The mix of earth and salt transport me -
Baptized in dust and sun biting skin
I soak in Her strong embrace.  
Immersed in Her ruggedness.
I run my hand over the horse
And down the back of a dog;
Holy connection restoring the soul.
And Oh! To partake in Her feasts!
Generous ministry from farmers 
who toil a relentless land.
Producing bountiful offerings
To our sacred moments - 
Time shared with family and friends. 
The outback reveals Her divinity.
She grips me and holds me
And reminds me of who I am - 
Her disciple; a lover of this land.
Her spirit and mine - 
We are Australia. 
All shortlisted poems can be read here.

The Cloncurry Prize is one of Australia’s richest poetry competitions with a cash prize of $10,000. The competition aims to showcase the essence of outback Australia. The Cloncurry Prize is open to Australian Citizens, living in Australia with all entries to be assessed by a select panel of judges.

The Junior Competition is open to Queensland school aged individuals with a cash prize of $250. 

The theme of the 2022 Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition is “Spirit of the Outback”.

The inaugural Cloncurry Prize launched in 2021 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.

The Cloncurry Prize, junior competition is open to all Queensland school aged individuals with a cash prize of $250. 
The theme of the 2022 Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition is “Spirit of the Outback”.
Key Dates:
Entries open: Now!
Entries close: Friday 13 May 2022 at 11:59 AEST
First prize - $250
Second prize - $150
Third prize - $100
How to enter
Email your poem to clearly stating the entry is for the junior competition.
The file name should include the Title followed by the Poets Name e.g. The Cameleers Saddle – Bob Down.
Make sure you have read and understand the competition Terms & Conditions before entering the competition.

Junior poetry poster low res

  • Entries open: 1 December 2021 at 5.00pm AEST.
  • Entries close:  Extended to 14 February 2022 at 11.59 AEST.
  • Longlisting (selection of the top 50 entries): 18 February 2022.
  • Shortlisting (selection of each judge’s top three entries): 25 February 2022.
  • Final judging: week commencing 28 February 2022.
  • Prize announcement: 18 March 2022.

For information on the Junior Competition, see Junior Competition tab. 

Cloncurry Prize

First prize - $10,000
Runner Up - $1,000


Junior Competition

First prize - $250
Second prize - $150
Third prize - $100

Cloncurry Prize

1. Complete the online registration process and pay the $25 entry fee via trybooking
2. Email your poem to with a copy of the trybooking ticket that is attached to your trybooking confirmation email. Please check your junk folder if you haven't received the confirmation email. 
Make sure you have read and understand the competition Terms & Conditions before entering the competition.

Junior Competition

Email your poem to clearly stating the entry is for the junior competition.
The file name should include the Title followed by the Poets Name e.g. The Cameleers Saddle – Bob Down.
Make sure you have read and understand the competition Terms & Conditions before entering the competition.

Entries must be submitted observing the following formatting and stylistic elements:

  • Each entry must be a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx);
  • All stanza breaks must be clearly spaced;
  • Entries must be a single poem of no more than two pages written in English;
  • Pages must be numbered, with the poet’s name right aligned in the footer of the document;
  • The poet’s name should not appear anywhere in the document body unless it is relevant to the work; and
  • The file name should include the Title followed by the Poets Name e.g. The Cameleers Saddle – Bob Down
Tania kernaghan profile


David Campbell profile


Allan Cooney judge profile coming soon!


The theme of the Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition is “Spirit of the Outback”.

Longlisting Criteria (Top 50)

  • Theme Relevance – Spirit of the Outback = 60%
  • Form – word choice, commas, stanzas = 20%
  • Language – choice of words, and order is precise = 20%

Shortlisting criteria (Top 10)

  • Theme Relevance – Spirit of the Outback = 60%
  • Form – word choice, commas, stanzas = 15%
  • Language – choice of words, and order is precise = 15%
  • Legacy – timelessness of Poem = 10%

The competition Terms & Conditions contain valuable information including key dates, eligibility and formatting. A copy of the Terms & Conditions can be found HERE.


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

Scott Morrison

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

For media enquires, please contact Council's Media and Public Relations Officer, Ella Thompson on 07 4742 4100 or

For general enquires, please contact Council's Community Activities Officer, Celene Franklin on 07 4742 4100 or

Poetry comp website banner 3