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Australia’s most prestigious poetry competition in The Cloncurry Poetry Prize 2024, announces winner

The Cloncurry Poetry Prize 2024 5 mins read
Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based Imogen Batt-Doyle has won The Prize

A three-years-in-the-writing deeply personal ode to the vast red dirt of the Outback has won Australia’s most prestigious poetry competition – The 2024 Cloncurry Poetry Prize (The Prize).

 

Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based Imogen Batt-Doyle has won The Prize against hundreds of entries with her poem Larapinta (Red Dirt Dreaming) which embraced this year’s theme, ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, by reflecting on the Dreamtime, the spirits that roam the Outback and her personal connections to the land.

 

Though Ms Batt-Doyle could not be present for the award ceremony, she was thrilled to learn she was the winner and receive $10,000 in prize money.*

 

An outdoor educator, Imogen has spent the past three years writing the poem, drafting, adding and editing while she was guiding groups of adults along the Larapinta Trail (which she has walked 42 times), west of Alice Springs. The trail ends at Rwetjepme (Mount Sonder). There is an 8km climb to the 1500m peak, which she would walk pre-dawn to watch the sunrise with her groups.

 

She channels her love of wild spaces through poetry and believes that the wild still runs through us – and our cities. Her full bio is below.

 

“I had the unique experience of hiking predominantly with fundraising groups, who were raising money for conditions like Breast Cancer, MS, PTSD and Parkinson's Disease. This meant those on my tours were often adults who had faced close and often painful encounters with adversity, sickness and death. Witnessing strangers come together in their grief and in their determination was powerful. I would share the poem Larapinta with these groups at the end of the experience, as we sat in the gorge and reflected for one final time together,” said Ms Batt-Doyle.

 

The winner was announced by Cloncurry Shire Council Mayor Greg Campbell on the banks of Chinaman Creek Dam at Cloncurry, with poet enthusiasts and locals gathering to celebrate.

 

Mayor Campbell said Australia’s cultural signature, and particularly that in the Outback, was inked by the muses of poets.

 

“There are few that don’t recognise the names Dorothea Mackellar, Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and even famed modern poet, Rupert McCall, and their spine-tingling odes to Australia’s ‘sweeping plains, ragged mountain ranges, droughts and flooding rains’, it’s fitting therefore, that one of the nation’s richest poetry competitions is hosted by one of the nation’s most beautiful Outback towns – Cloncurry,” he said.

 

“The number and calibre of this year’s entries have reinforced The Prize as one of the richest and most prestigious poetry contests in the country.”

 

The Mayor also commended the work of this year’s judges; Allan Cooney, Brenda-Joy Pritchard (2022 Prize Winner) and Penny Lane (2023 Prize Winner).

 

Our judges have volunteered many hours to read hundreds of poems entered in this year’s competition and we are so thankful. It’s vital to have a judging panel as experienced and expert as these three.” 

 

Ms Pritchard, who said she was honoured to be back judging the competition again this year, added, “The Cloncurry Poetry Prize carries a great deal of prestige and as an ‘open’ style competition, attracts poets of all genres from around Australia.”

 

“This year’s theme generated responses and tributes to ‘giants’ from all areas of the Outback and from all eras of the past. It was wonderful to see so many varied expressions showing how the character, customs and literature of Outback people have been formed and shaped by the Dreamtime legends, the Indigenous Australian custodians, explorers, inventors and entrepreneurs, and by settlers and visitors from all parts of the world,” she said.

 

The winning poems can be found on Cloncurry Shire Council’s website.

 

-Ends-

 

*A double celebration was held by Imogen and her sister, Isobel Batt-Doyle, who found out the same day she will be representing Australia at the Paris Olympics in the 5000m event.

 

Imogen Batt – Doyle: Artist Statement -

 

Growing up, my family took frequent camping trips to the Flinders Ranges, and my days would be spent catching lizards in the dry creek beds, surrounded by the native pine forests, red gums and ochre colours of the semi-arid landscape. My dad grew up in Oodnadatta, and I’ve always felt a deep connection to the desert ranges and wide open spaces of inland Australia.

 

Every now and again, he sends me a photo from when I was little - usually I’m out in the bush somewhere, with bare feet and a muddy face. My parents tell me I used to sit and sing - about the earth and all that inhabit it; about connection, harmony, and peace.

 

While I was an avid and voracious reader who loved to write, create and learn, I struggled at school. Receiving an official ADHD diagnosis last year has put a lot into perspective. Overwhelmed by pressure and perfectionism, I escaped into the stories I devoured, and as a fairly melancholy and fraught teenager, it was both the bush and my books that I turned to for solace. I spent years trying to drill the shyness and sensitivity out of myself, seeing it as a weakness, a flaw.

 

I chose Outdoor Education because I thought that maybe I could be a role model for other teenagers who struggled like I did, empowering them and encouraging strength and resilience through outdoor experiences. Over the years, especially working with adults, I’ve come to realise that so much of this empowerment and strength comes not from overcoming hardship, or the challenges of the environment, but from developing a sense of connection and belonging to the natural world.

 

I began writing this poem almost exactly three years ago, while guiding groups of Adults along the Larapinta Trail. Directly west of Alice Springs, the Larapinta (an anglicisation of ‘Lherre Pinde’, the Arrernte word for Salty River) winds for 223 kilometres through Western Arrernte Country, along the rocky ridgelines of Tjortja (the West Macdonnell Ranges), which are the headwaters for the Finke River (the ‘Salty River’ after which the trail is named). I’ve walked the Larapinta 42 times, and have only missed two.

 

I’ve had some of the most profound moments of my life on this mountain, and witnessed some incredibly profound moments experienced by those I’ve hiked with, as we spoke to, and listened to the land.

 

Hearing our voices echoing across the plains as we called out together. Hearing dingoes howl as the wind picked up and the sky turned pink with sunrise to the east, thunderstorms raging in the west. Drones going haywire, my guests coming to me to speak of the fires they felt they saw, the ancient voices they felt they heard. Sharing circles in the creekbeds, held by the red cliffs of the gorge. Tears of joy and release and sadness. The tears on the face of a man with Parkinson’s, at 74, at the top of Rwetjepme surrounded by his family. Another man’s voice breaking as he spoke of the ghost gums and the power and inspiration he felt from spending a week in their presence. The countless people who shared a sense of the presence of their loved ones who had passed, joining them in the space.

 

These days I am mostly focused on school groups, and am preparing to begin my own programs, combining outdoor journey experiences with ecology, spirituality and psychology. I also take adults on Vision Quests – deep, solo nature connection experiences that are akin to modern day rites of passage. Ideally, I hope to create journeys that convey the feelings I express in this poem, to re-introduce people to the wilder parts of themselves, and contribute to the development of a more eco-centric culture.


Contact details:

Kath Rose

0416 291 493 

kath@kathrose.com

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