Stringybark Short Story Award 2021
The Stringybark Times Past Award 2020
Competition Closed: 27 September 2020
127 entries. $1020 in prizes.
Judges: Brett Jones, Stephen Senise, and David Vernon
Editor: David Vernon
Cover designer: Jonathan Vernon
Layout: Stringybark Publishing
Australian printer: Prinstant, Canberra
Australian history is replete with drama, yet for many, Australia’s national history consists only of indigenous dispossession, convicts, gold-rushes, bushrangers and ANZACs. This book proves this view wrong — sure, we do showcase the old favourites – but there are many other tales to intrigue you. There’s the custom official with the ingenious way of detecting illegal immigrants, the escapee who enjoys the taste of homo-sapiens, a colonial governor with a penchant for practical jokes, an evil military secret and an insider’s view of a female mental asylum. Showcased here are thirty-three award-winning stories from Australian history, all based on real events, that shine a light on some of the lesser known corners of our past.
“Drop your breeches. There’s a good lad.” The ship’s medical officer barely looks at me. He has his back to me while he waits for me to oblige. A small mallet twirls in his fingers. I dunno what he thinks he’s going to do with that. “Strip, lad. That’s an order. What’s your name?”
I can’t answer. Of all the ridiculous things I’ve failed at, forgetting to have a name is by far the most stupid.
— From “The Stowaway” by Catherine McGraffin
My eardrums shudder. The door erupts. A bag of flour flies across the room filling it with white fog. Noise reverberates around my skull, shatters the window. After the blast there is silence. For a few seconds I think I’m deaf. Then a thin wail pierces the paralysis; screams, thudding footsteps, shocked voices and the high-pitched terror of horses overwhelm the settlement.
— From “Never Again” by Rosemary Stride
33 published stories. One e-book and printed anthology, Golah Sing.
Edited by David Vernon, e-book and paperback, Stringybark Publishing,
A$15.95 includes postage within Australia. Discounts for multiple purchases. Please enquire for international orders.
Pre Order Paperback
est. Mid December
Purchase E-book ($3.95 AUD)
The Female Side
A Letter from Maria — Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti
Potions, Bay Leaves and a Red Ribbon — Rosemary Argue
The Scorched Earth — Greg Bartlett
Blood on the Wheat — Helen Bensley
The Shearer's Wife — Juliet Blair
A Beam of Light — Pauline Cleary
Chosen by Lottery — Lilian Cohen
Like Soft Dark Wings — Craig Cormick
Everything that Remains Unsaid — A.Z. Pascoe
For Whom the Bell Tolls — Rod Flanagan
The Malefactor Alexander Pearce — Everald Garner
Once a Jolly Swagman — Jane Hall
Ends and Beginnings — Alan Hargreaves
Pandemic 1919 — Katrina Hasthorpe
Their Day — Nicole Kelly
Manna — Anika Kim
Par Avion — Stephen Knox
Worgan’s Piano — Peter Long
The Last Tram Home — Sherry Mackay
The Stowaway — Catherine McGraffin
Charlie Cake — Shannon Meyerkort
The Silence After — Andrew Mickelson
Transported — Victoria Mizen
Kurpany — Dave Slade
Your Friend, Joe — Kay Spencer
Never Again — Rosemary Stride
Torres Strait at War — Bob Topping
Truth Stick, Townsville, 1902 — Roger Vickery
Nashe’s Air — Roger Vickery
Knowing the Trail — Hayley Young
A big thank you to all who entered the 2020 ‘Times Past’ writing award, and to the other judges, Brett and David; and to Stringybark Publishing for providing such a showcase.
There was a lot of eminently enjoyable writing to read, often of an exceptionally high standard. There were even a few stories that struck me as having captured key elements of classic, Australian fiction, making a lightning-like impression.
Writing well, is not easy. It can be a lifelong pursuit; refining technique every step of the way. In that sense, we're all still at school. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to judge the 'Times Past' competition because reading is, ultimately, a form of (passive) learning.
What distinguishes the more successful stories from the rest of the pack?
For this judge, it may have come down to a writer having had something to say; something to add to life's appreciation. And avoidance of cliché. A novel or imaginative break from narratives, hashed and rehashed. Reality, bursting through.
I am also reminded of that quote by Mark Twain: “when you see an adjective, kill it”. Indeed, there was an abundance of flowery descriptions weighing down the also-rans; superlatives, bridling. But in the dash to the post, the main chances were those where good writing was given free rein. Unencumbered and easy striding.
You'll see what I mean. Here are some of the best. Welcome to the winner’s circle.
I’ve always found history fascinating but not dates, nor kings, nor political leaders. High-level descriptions of wars don’t particularly excite me. I’m a person who likes to get down among the weeds of history and discover a long-forgotten event. I am never more thrilled than when I read about some occurrence of which I am ignorant. In such cases I immediately reach for Wikipedia to obtain an overview of the event. If I get really excited, I log into Trove and delve amongst the newspaper and article archives to check on the details.
But if I can’t have some unusual event to chew over, then I want a new perspective on a common event. The stories the judges have chosen in this marvellous anthology all provide new or different perspectives on Australian history. And it is that which I am looking for first and foremost in a piece of writing submitted to a Stringybark competition. Where authors write about well-known subjects, I favour writers who tell the tale from an unusual point of view.
Once my interest is grabbed then I want the story to be well told, with a consistent and appropriate style. While grammar and punctuation are less important in the scoring of stories, poor construction can really trip me up when I am reading. If the flow of the story is interrupted, then I mark a story down. There is little excuse not to know how to punctuate a story when there are so many resources available for free on the internet.
Finally, there were five or six stories entered in this competition that failed to meet the theme of the competition. In a history award I expect to read history stories. When the requirement is for a story of 1500 words or fewer, I expect to read 1500 words or fewer. When there is a requirement to provide a short historical overview at the end of the story, I expect to read one. Writers do not do themselves a favour when they fail to follow the instructions.
Having now stated what I like and don’t like in judging stories I have to say that the quality of this year’s entrants was wonderfully high, and I was thrilled to have difficulty in helping to choose the highly commended stories. Thank you to everyone who entered. It’s only through your efforts that we judges have something to judge!
Finally, a big thank you to my fellow judges. Brett Jones and Stephen Senise — you were terrific.
Judge and Editor