Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition

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  • Tania Kernaghan

  • Allan Cooney

  • Brenda-Joy Pritchard

Key Dates
  • Entries open: 21 March 2023 at 9:00am AEST
  • Entries close: 1 May 2023 at 11.45pm AEST
  • Longlisting (selection of the top 50 entries): between 8 May 2023 and 21 May 2023
  • Shortlisting (selection of each judge’s top three entries): between 22 May 2023 and 4 June 2023
  • Final judging: between 5 June 2023 and 9 June 2023
  • Prize announcement: 23 June 2023

Cloncurry Prize

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


Junior Competition

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

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

  • Each entry must be a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) or PDF (.pdf);
  • The document file name should be the title of the poem only
  • Entries must be a single poem of no more than two pages written in English. Pages must be numbered.
  • Entries must be typed in Calibri or Times New Roman font, no smaller than size 11
  • All stanza breaks must be clearly spaced
  • The poet’s name should not appear anywhere in the document body unless it is relevant to the work (entries are judged anonymously)

The theme of the Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition in 2023 is “Outback Heroes”.

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.

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

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.


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
2022 Cloncurry Prize
2022 Cloncurry Prize
2022 Cloncurry Prize
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