The judges’ report

About the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize

Administered by Queensland Poetry Festival, the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize is Australia’s only open-age Indigenous prize for an unpublished poem, funded by Copyright Agency.  It is open to Indigenous poets, emerging and established, throughout Australia. The prize for a single poem (or suite of poems) of up to 100 lines comes with a first prize of $2000 and mentoring sessions with an established Indigenous poet. The highest-placed Quandamooka entry is awarded $500. The two winning poems and the two runners-up are published in Overland, alongside the judges’ report.


Judges’ report for the inaugural Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize

The Inaugural Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize is named in tribute to Australia’s earliest published Aboriginal poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Both sections of the inaugural competition were judged ‘blind’.

The section prize for Quandamooka poets hailing from Minjerribah Stradbroke Island was ‘The bunyip of Bummiera’, by Cameron Costello. Costello drew upon the influence of Edgar Allan Poe to tell a haunting tale of the mythic monster living in Bummiera (Brown Lake) on his island home.

The poems entered into the overall national Oodgeroo Noonuccal Prize were of an encouragingly high standard. At least a dozen strong poems did not make the list of Highly Commendeds (notably, ‘Skin 1968’; ‘The woman I am’; ’Henry’; and ‘Hear no, see no, speak no Aboriginal’).

Of the Highly Commended entries, ‘A poem about community – the braille of our nation’s Soul’, by John Graham, called out to the myriad potential connections, rather than disconnections, of modern aboriginality. And ‘Missing home’ by Kristine Ellis was extremely evocative – trapped in a violent relationship in the tropics, living in an ‘old Holden’ the protagonist fiercely longs for the scents of home and to ‘hear the cattle truck’ driving through familiar streets in an inland town, much too far away.

The inaugural Oodgeroo Noonuccal national prize for First Nations poets was ultimately shared between Andrew Booth for ‘Cut up song’ and Julie Janson for ‘Duria burumurrung: eaglehawk time’.

Andrew Booth, who is a Bundjalung man and also the 2015 David Unaipon Prize winner for unpublished Indigenous writing, wrote ‘Cut up song’ in response to a memory of hearing a Central Desert Women’s Choir singing ‘Advance Australia Fair’. Describing the Australian national anthem as emblematic of ‘everything Australia isn’t’ Booth spoke at the Queensland Poetry Awards of imagining a conversation between a black grandmother and grandchild where the grandmother calmly explains that ‘they got it wrong, bub’. The poem, as witty as it is incisive, draws our attention to Aboriginal humour and resilience in its portrayal of one black response to ideas of ‘advancing Australia’. The judges were particularly struck by the unusual stance taken by the grandmother character who is at once typically Aboriginal in idiom and pedagogy, but also wonderfully anarchic in her determined undermining of white orthodoxy.

Julie Janson (Dharug) was co-winner with her poem about a young Koori girl who becomes a conduit with white society at the point of first contact in the Blue Mountains. Janson weaves a portrait of a people and time negotiating enormous change, and tragically expecting that the invading white society will behave as it says it will.

Melissa Lucashenko and Sam Wagan Watson


Image: ‘Stradbroke Island, Queensland’ by Edenink / flickr

Melissa Lucashenko

Melissa Lucashenko is an award-winning novelist who lives between Brisbane and the Bundjalung nation. Melissa’s most recent novel, Mullumbimby, was awarded the 2013 Deloitte Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, won the 2014 Victorian Premiers Prize for Indigenous Writing, and was longlisted for both the Stella and Miles Franklin awards. Mullumbimby was also longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Prize 2015. Melissa is a Walkley Award-winner for her nonfiction, as well as a founding member of Sisters Inside.

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Samuel Wagan Watson

Samuel Wagan Watson is a Brisbane-based writer of Germanic and Wunjaburra ancestry. In 2018 his body of work was granted the Patrick White Literary Award.

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