Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition

Cloncurry Prize
Remembering Mary
We think back to Mary Bassett, born in 1835,
another in a bother of sons and daughters
for a Cornish family—our ancestor, Mary,
who scoured, laundered, stitched her years to 20
when she wed a farmhand soon short of work,
bore a run of children, just two sons surviving,
before farewelling family into distant memory
and misery on an immigrant ship, the Golden City,
16 weeks in sea-surge, stifled in breathless gloom,
bedding wet from bursts of sea through shipside gaps
and, worse than that, an infiltration of typhoid
taking her infant son to an ocean burial,
Mary staring down from heaving deckside
into a blue expansive as the heavens.
Then, a different blue, the luminous southern sky,
under which, she sadly, gladly, disembarked
to strange new sounds—kookaburras, cockatoos—
and scrawny trees and tawny grass, and
wagon-travel to outback Queensland pastoral stations—
Cooyar, Daandine—named according to
First People’s words for land no longer theirs.
Did that discomfort Mary? The taken land?
Did she ponder this in isolated hours,
her wiry, bandy-legged, ready-for-horses husband
gone to the wide outdoors with cattle?
Mary, sweat-wet, swelled with pregnancies,
early-morning milking, butter-churning, baking,
hefting heavy washing, wielding flat irons,
thrusting broom and mop at there-again dust and grime,
knowing she’d be doing it the next day too,
and in the evenings tending sickly children,
scissoring, thimble-fingered pinning, sewing
by candle glow and moth flutter, darning, mending,
patching patches, her exploits stitched on calico
and linen, and writ in rust of washing tubs.
We think of Mary rearing poddy calves for petting
and for later butchering, and pigs,
dispatching deadly snakes too close to home,
sometimes seeking respite in a gum’s mean shade,
the sky white-hot through squinting eyes
clouded with fatality, two daughters born and toddling
until taken by diphtheria.
We remember Mary in the Christmas pudding story
passed down through the women of the family,
the laughing aunts recalling Mary’s pudding
bouncing best in a communal tub of boiling water
(that tub got somehow from the Golden City)
until the pudding, pierced by a jealous other, sank.
We see Mary in a cousin’s chin, in an uncle’s eyes,
and in just one photograph—Mary sitting stiffly,
jacketed in black with cameoed white lace collar,
her handsome face, her downturned smile, sad eyes,
gnarly, hard-boiled hands, her left arm gripping
an infant grandson, her right arm hanging,
its hand reaching awkwardly for empty air.
Yes, we remember Mary, our outback hero.

They came when the colours of season were turning
from green to magenta and burgundy red.
They came when the sun was a demon and burning
the souls of the living and bones of the dead.

On camels and horses, they rode in formation,
abreast of each other, together as one...
in silence they shuffled, without conversation,
immersed in the haze of a merciless sun.

T’was Robert O.Burke who elected to lead them
through desert and scrub where the skies never rained,
and William J.Wills who neglected to heed them,
when camels and horses and men had complained.

“If only we’d come when The Cooper was flowing,
we might have been able to follow its course,
instead of just wandering north without knowing
its true destination or primary source.”

If only they’d come at the start of September,
they may have been welcome and given respite
from summer’s inferno and hell of December,
that bleaches the Spinifex grasses to white.

Perhaps they were destined for fortune and glory,
these heroes who’d ventured to places unknown.
ut history tells of a different story
of men who had died in the outback alone.

Soon others were able to venture and follow
the tracks that were laid by these brave pioneers;
as one would appear like a mi ratin swallow
a hero, to conquer unchartered frontiers.

When Ernest J.Henry retired as a cropper,
his future and fortune were set to unfold.
Prospectin for metals he’d come upon copper,
as perfect as jade and as precious as gold.

The town of Cloncurry arose from the rubble
of diggings by miners and back-breaking toil;
as cattle and sheep came to graze on the stubble
of grasses that sprung from the newly tilled soil.

As stations were settled and numbers expanded,
the outback had seemed to be conquered at last.
For many had come with their swags empty-handed,
to bury the bones of an uninterred past.

The women and men who had come were rewarded
with treasures more precious than metals and ore.
For those who remained, would be duly afforded
a freedom they’d never ima ined before.

The outback is more than just wide open spaces;
it’s more than just copper and cattle and sheep;
there’s somethin still sacred in unchartered places,
where spirits and heroes of yesterday sleep.


  • Allan Cooney

  • Brenda-Joy Pritchard

  • Penny Lane

Key Dates
  • Entries open: 21 March 2024 at 9:00am AEST
  • Entries close: 3 May 2024 at 11.45pm AEST
  • Longlisting (selection of the top 50 entries): between 10 May 2024 and 20 May 2024
  • Shortlisting (selection of each judge’s top three entries): between 22 May 2024 and 4 June 2024
  • Final judging: between 5 June 2024 and 9 June 2024
  • Prize announcement: 21 June 2024

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 2024 is 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants', through the lens of Outback Australia.

Longlisting Criteria (Top 50)

  • Theme Relevance – Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, through the lens of Outback Australia = 60%
  • Form – word choice, commas, stanzas = 20%
  • Language – choice of words, and order is precise = 20%

Shortlisting criteria (Top 10)

  • Theme Relevance – Shoulders of Giants, through the lens of Outback Australia = 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 on 07 4742 4100 or

For general enquires, please contact Council's Events and Activities Coordinator, Deborah Fenton, on 07 4742 4100 or

2023 Cloncurry Prize Poetry Competition Winners

Remembering Mary ~ Penny Lane

Runner Up
Heroes of Yesterday ~ Tom McIlveen

Third Place
Unsung Heroes ~ David Campbell

Highly Commended
The Women of the Outback ~ Bronwyn Blake

Outback Legend of the Sky ~ Barry Desailly

2023 Cloncurry Prize Poetry Junior Competition Winners

First Place
Where Outback Heroes Roam ~ Mateo Leclerc

Second Place
Outback Heroes Live Forever ~ Eloise Brown

Third Place
In the Heart of the Outback ~ Jayden Sherwood