Anyone who thought poetry’s popularity with the young was waning forgot to tell the 10,000 plus entrants from over 700 schools – a significant increase over last year’s number – in the 2012 Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition.

Entrants from primary and secondary schools around Australia submitted a plethora of passionate, evocative work, enough to excite the competition’s judges about the current rude heath of the form.

Young poets were given freedom to write to a suggested topic or on any theme they might desire, imparting a large measure of creative leeway. As such, the poems covered a range of topics and were written in a range of poetic forms, from the highly structured and traditional to the avant-garde.

Reading the entries suggests that the judging was a difficult but pleasurable task for the judges, as they worked through submissions written in cinquains and haiku, sonnets, ballads, free verse and experimental forms. 

“It should be noted that whilst some poetic forms, such as the cinquain and haiku, may seem to be very simple to write, it is a rare pleasure to find one which is superbly crafted, showing adept use of poetics to make it speak to the reader. And, whatever form chosen, those poems which had been well crafted really stood out, with every word, every rhyme (where used), every line break carefully chosen and adding to the whole.

“I’d like to stress how excited I was by the breadth and depth of the poetic talent among Australia’s teens. Throughout the judging process my desk was the scene of laughs, sighs of bliss, tears, and utter amazement as I wondered at treasure after treasure. Wonderful things indeed,” says the judge for the secondary school submissions, the writer Sally Murphy.

Poetry submitted to the primary section was no less interesting, showing a surprising level of craft and sophistication. 

Glenda Millard a much awarded and prolific children’s writer who judged the primary school submissions said: “Wheels have been set in motion and imaginations have winged their way to new heights to produce an astonishing array of marvelous entries! It is always a source of great pleasure to me to observe the extraordinary range and variation of work produced from a single topic or theme. 

“This year’s awards have been no exception in that respect. And among those many students who chose their own topics I’d like to ask each one the question that writers are so often asked; ‘Where did you get your idea from?’

“There were humorous poems that made me laugh out loud, poems that expressed love of friends, family, pets and place. Some expressed great sadness and longing.

While some poems rhymed, others didn’t. Poetic devices of all kinds; simile, metaphor and alliteration were used, and used well. Extensive vocabulary, comprehension and knowledge of poetic forms were evident in many of the upper primary entries,” 

The winning poets and their families were flown to Gunnedah to attend the awards ceremony held at The Civic Theatre on 31st August to coincide with National Literacy and Numeracy Week activities. Winners received an attractive cash prize, trophy and merchandise.

The winning poems were recited by their authors, the atmosphere enhanced by a recording of Dorothea Mackellar reading her iconic work ‘My Country’.

The competition has links to the very early days of poetry in this country, Mackellar a seminal figure in Australian literature, spent much of her time near Gunnedah at her family’s property.

The overarching purpose for the awards is to get kids writing poetry. The resources page at The Dorothea Mackellar website has an invaluable series of ‘how to get started writing’ pieces by writers who have been or are involved with the awards. They are some of Australia’s best so a visit to the site is worth it, if only to gain some insight into their creative processes.

Award winners

Senior Secondary 

Merry Li Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Peppermint Grove WA 

Junior Secondary

Beth Downing Campbell High School,
Campbell ACT

Upper Primary

Salina Ai Able Education Australia College, Eastwood NSW

Lower Primary

Holly Grainger St Michael’s Collegiate School, Hobart Tas

Learning Assistance And Special Education, Secondary

Josiah Toft Wycliffe Christian School, Warrimoo NSW

Learning Assistance And Special Education, Primary

Dergam Salah Redeemer Baptist School,
North Parramatta NSW

Community Relations Commission Award

Alexander Maloof and Rhys Halkidis
Trinity Preparatory School,
Strathfield NSW