Wagga poet Jan Pittard said she was blown away when her piece Murrumbidgee Living won the Catherine Bragg Poetry Prize at last week’s Jugiong Writers Festival poetry event.
Tackling the chosen theme ‘Moments on the Murrumbidgee’, Jan shared her own journey of coming to know and understand her “adopted waterway”.
“We were invited to the presentation and I was so surprised when I got there, not only that they awarded me the open category poetry prize, but they awarded me the best poem of the whole event so I was very chuffed!” she said.
Historical fiction writer and teacher Erryn Lee, won the prose category, taking out both the Adult Local prize and Champion Short Story.
A Chorus of Cicadas is based on her mother’s experience as the child of migrant farm workers in Jugiong in the late 1950s and she explained that she decided to enter along with her secondary students at Sacred Heart in Cootamundra.
“My entry came about because of the school’s involvement with the Jugiong Writers Festival’s schools program, which this year sent the fabulous [author] Jack Heath to do workshops with our kids,” Erryn said.
“My theory was, if the kids were writing, as their teacher, I should too!”
Sally Keatinge won the local poetry prize with Big Muz and coordinates the schools side of the festival which is held every two years.
She said it had been an exciting way to promote literacy among the local kids and to celebrate local writers.
“Often country students don’t have access to authors and for our Small Schools Writers Day we had five,” she said.
“Our featured author Jack Heath is such a great presenter, and you could have heard a pin drop in his workshops, the kids were so engaged.”
Along with the workshops and events, Sally said the writing competition continued to attract a high standard of work.
“We have both the school sections and the adult competition and we get some amazing entries,” she said.
“The poetry competition is now named the Catherine Bragg Poetry Prize after one of the original members on our committee.
“Catherine was the most fabulous local poet and so passionate about writing so we named it in her memory after the last event.”
Jan is an active member of the Booranga Writers Centre in Wagga and enjoyed sharing her love for the river.
“The theme Moments on the Murrumbidgee really resonated because I could trace the arc of not knowing anything about the area at all, to what an important role the river now plays in my sense of place,” she said.
Erryn Lee described herself as an unpublished novelist and said the limitations of short story writing proved tricky.
“One thousand words is quite a challenge; I normally have trouble cutting my stories back to 100,000!” she said.
“My story, though not true, was inspired by the setting of the river at Jugiong and my mother’s relationship with her brothers and parents and the trouble she had at school with having a funny Dutch name, one she refused to answer to.
“Mum was pretty impressed that ‘her story’ won too, true or not, and my students were duly impressed.”
Sally said the festival’s connections with the schools were highly prized.
“I think it’s really encouraging that we get so many entries from the students and four of the winners were also involved in the workshops,” Sally said.
“It gives them a purpose for writing and sharing their stories and hopefully we’ll spur them on to greater things!”
You can read more about the Jugiong Writers Festival and read the winning entries here.