Champion entries 2023


Murrumbidgee Living
by Jan Pittard

We hardly glimpsed
the Murrumbidgee
that winter weekend
we first checked out the town
the pub bistro and Botanic Gardens donkeys
got our attention
and despite its location
the Tourist Information Centre
didn’t advertise the river’s existence
the only waters we tested
were chlorinated
contained by tiles
The promise of a life
where nature and art would combine
brought us here
we were warned of floods
but reassured
by sturdy levees
and would not see
the river swell
 ‘til two years in
when the full bellied Murrumbidgee
drowned its plastic buoys
roiled around trees
submerged shores
and swallowed picnic shelters
When the river receded
debris and dragged tree limbs
caked in mud
made for an apocalyptic
khaki landscape
and sodden ground
sucked at our feet
Now we have seen the Murrumbidgee
in flood and depleted
have fallen under the spell
of its flow
and towering gums
sublime in health
or ashen silhouette
we’ve walked the Wiradjuri track
from Flowerdale to Oura
by remnants of the Hampden Bridge
and relics of the old pumping station
traced the intersecting lagoons
and watched Wollundry turtles
raise their leathery necks and snouted faces
above the water’s surface
glimpsed darting kingfishers
iridescent blue
against light stippled leaves and water
seen inky cormorants
perched on fallen tree limbs
wings outstretched to catch the breeze
watched neat native wood ducks
and their shiny mallard cousins
forage on the river banks
seen the contentious French geese
cross The Esplanade in procession
and always, always
under skies alive
with squadrons of cockatoos
wheeling and calling
We have heard
Gobbagombulin and Pomilgalarna’s story
read Mary Gilmour on the
stinking swan hoppers
coated in evidence of slaughter
seen the Gumi races revived
and Wollundry all lit up
for a local mini Vivid
and know the fate the river’s deep
can bring to those unfamiliar
We respect the Murrumbidgee
 the Murrumbidjeri
our adopted waterway
artery of Wiradjuri country
and draw energy and solace
from our existence
on its banks


Big Muz
by Sally Keatinge

There was movement on the Bidgee, word had passed around,
Big Muz the carp had got away,
The Carpathon in Jugiong had anglers, gathering to the fray.
Fisherman from everywhere, camped on the Bidgee overnight,
Wondering where the big ones were, dreaming with delight.
Blue was there with red hair, ginger beard a ‘ flowing
Flanny buttons all undone, beer belly showing ;
Few could fish like him, he could win the show
Cast beneath a snag, where no one else would go.
There was Snappy, Col, Len, Silver and Uncle Stan
Camping on the Bidgee with his Mrs in the van
That caravan was their pride and joy
Been in Stan’s family since he was a boy
The annexe went up, then the clothes line
Stan had a beer and Mum had her wine
The fire was blazing, beers were talking now
Blue bragged that Big Muz ‘was the size of a cow’
Stan asked “How did you catch him mate?”
Sweet corn, maggots, what was your bait?
I accidently found it, the perfect foil
Me arthritis med dripped onto me bait, hemp oil
I put me sunnies on, to keep out the glare
An explosion errupted , nearly threw me from me chair
It was the biggest carp I’ve ever seen, dancin’ all about
Grabbed the line, lurched backwards and yelled farrrrr out!!!
Now Blue’s no light weight, he was in for a fight
Gripping the rod, even his knuckles went white
Reeling in the monster, sweat streaming down his face
T’was going to be a marathon, not just a race
Suddenly a snap, like a cable wearing thin
Big Muz had escaped and Blue nearly went in
Well Big Muz’s story fuelled up the boys to be the winner
In their dreams, they just cracked another beer with dinner
Was it Stan or mum, who woke first in the night?
Both sat up, with a terrible fright
The caravan began to creak and groan
What’s happening said mum who began to wail and moan
The van started moving it really made you shiver
Stan yelled out “We’re going into the bloody river”
Scrambling out the fly wire door, racing outside
The sight before them, really opened up their eyes
The Bidgee was swirling and boiling with a beast
Big Muz was hooked and coming in to feast
The caravan slipped, in went the line
The table, chairs and even mum’s wine
It was edging closer, mum screamed in fear
Stan summed up the situation and just reached for a beer
No worries Mum, relax.. I know what to do
Grabbed his pocket knife, then cut the line in two
The van shuddered, coming to a stop
There was one last swirl and then a gentle flop
I can’t believe we had him, whispered Stan with a pause
Mum started giggling,” he was attracted to me draws”.
Stan pulled in the clothes line but knew he was too late
Grannies bright red knickers had been the perfect bait!


A Chorus of Cicadas
by Erryn Lees

The girl’s knees were grazed. Blood seeped in tiny balls that grew, blended and blurred. Her hands were covered in sap, so that when she clenched them the flesh stuck together for a moment before slowly pulling apart. She did this, twice, enjoying the sensation, ignoring the aching knees before drawing one hand to her nose to inhale the pungent aroma of river gum.

Exhaling, she assessed the damage through the tear in her brother Yop’s pilfered trousers. Pulling the hole wider and her knee higher she leaned over to spit, a string of clear liquid dribbling from lip to knee. With one finger she rubbed it, diffusing the red to pink and bringing a new sting from the astringent sap on her fingers. As she frowned at the offending injury a flurry and screech heralded the arrival of a pair of snowy-white cockatoos that crashed into the canopy above dislodging a shower of blush-pink blossom stamens and silencing the cicadas that shirred in concert from every direction in the still dry heat.



The girl knew what he wanted and refused to budge or make a sound, suspended as she was in a world of green and grey, nostrils filled with the fragrance of eucalyptus, fingers sticky with sap.

‘Taneka! Mama’s gonna flog you if you don’t git up there now!’

She didn’t care. She didn’t want to mind her sisters while Mama gave baby Owen a bath. She wanted to run and swim and play like the older boys did, growing wild beside the banks of the Murrumbidgee. The ‘Bidgee as Papa called it.

Leaves crunched beneath Maarten’s feet, curled and brittle from the dry summer air, he shaded his eyes as he skimmed the bank below, where the water flowed in seemingly sluggish currents of green, brown and silver, reflecting the colour of the gums, bank and sky. The river looked sleepy and peaceful but she knew it was like the kittens beneath the old hayshed, deceptively placid until they sank teeth into her fingers. The water was deep, cold beneath the surface and the currents were dangerous and unpredictable.

Still, she loved to float on its surface, Maarten’s steady hands beneath her holding her. She’d watch the clouds drift, ears below the water blocking out the sounds of the cicadas shrieking in the bush and the harsh cries of the mobs of cockatoos the boys were tasked with chasing from the vege gardens. She imagined herself flying, soaring like the majestic wedgetails high above the trees in the endless blue Australian sky and away from the floggings Mama was overly fond of giving.

My name is Tania. Her lips formed the silent contradiction. She refused to even think of herself by the hideous Dutch name she had been given, one that made the girls at the small Jugiong schoolhouse giggle and the boys tease, wasn’t allowed down here alone. So she kept silent, breathed in the hot air, laced with the sweet-sharp scent of resin and hoped he would not look up.

He didn’t. Never expected his seven-year-old sister to have shimmied her way up the trunk, toes finding cracks and burrs until she could wrap skinny arms around a branch and wriggle her scratched knees up high enough to hook them over the limb and tug until, breathless she could right herself and sit panting, triumphant. Now, she sat above her brother’s head, silent. Heart pounding.

Below her Maarten muttered under his breath, exhaled upwards, disturbing the sunbleached tips of his fringe that flopped over the deeply tanned skin of his face. Still muttering he strode off into the scrub, pushing his way deeper into its branches. When the sound of his trespass faded and only the staccato ruckus of the wagtails could be heard, she untangled her limbs, one arm embracing the trunk she pulled herself to her feet, bare feet bending to follow the rounded contour of the limb beneath them.

Slowly she reached out, arm extended, fingers reaching. The rope suspended from a higher branch just beyond her reach. Inching her feet further along the limb over the refected sky below Tania reached out once more, her movement changing the shape of the shade on its surface. Her fingers brushed the rope, teasing her. Sweaty fingers slipped on the tree trunk, easing her closer, fingers curled around the rope, setting it swaying slightly.

And then she was teetering. Tania pulled back with a cry of indignant alarm, arms windmilling as she arched forward and downward.

Silver green water—

A flash of a child’s startled expression—

Eyes wide, mouth open—

Then, like Alice through the looking glass, she struck the mirrored surface and was swallowed by the deep cold water of the Murrumbidgee, forcing the breath from her lungs and leaving only concentric circles rippling in her wake.

* * *

It was Maarten who dragged her out of the river’s heart and on to the sandy loam of its bank.

Maarten, who—with a grip on each of her skinny arms—shook her fiercely both in frustration and fear, and in the twin desire of forcing water out and air back into her lungs.

He stood over her as she gasped and wretched. In time she looked up at him through river-soaked and dripping bangs. He had dropped her on her scraped knees at the foot of the gum.

Exasperation warred with concern in his expression. ‘You’ll cop a flogging for this you know,’ he sighed.

Tania sniffed, a wet and pathetic snuffle. ‘Only if you tell!’

He shook his unruly dark hair and spun away, starting up the steep bank.

She trudged after him, still dripping, out into the fierce heat haze and crunching grass. Her hair and threadbare shirt, also stolen from Yop, would be nearly dry by the time they reached the old wooden farmhouse.

Behind the pair the bush sighed and the cicadas recommenced their summer chorus.

View full summary of winners in the 2023 Competition