55 entries were received from around Australia for our inaugural Writing for the Environment Award. The quality of entries was so high the judges struggled to find a winner. Every piece of writing submitted contained at least one element that made the judges sit back and marvel at the care and concern for the environment, and at the quality of the writing itself. Bob Walshe, in whose name the competition was launched would be intensely proud of what this competition brought forth. The writing evoked powerful images – both positive and negative, reflected on personal achievements and challenges in a world where nature is being destroyed, and touched reader’s emotions.
The winning entry is by Alex Talbot, The View from Merewether Surfhouse. The story is featured on this page, below. It tells of a young woman’s passion, concerns and actions to make the world a better place. Her focus inspires and her boyfriend as they gird themselves for what lies ahead.
We Could Start a Riot Ismene Panaretos
Skull [of a Banksia] Ellie Fisher
A Stance to Save the World Abbey Briscoe-Dowden
Finite Chiara Metters
The Creature We Created Liana Low
Run Daria Osipova
The Rubbish Collector and the Youth Ray Zhang
Writing to Change the World Anthony Radic
Breathe Zohar Levy
The View from Merewether Surfhouse
Samuel removed his socks and shoes before he stepped onto the sand. When was the last time his feet had been in open air? He shivered at the sand’s coolness. It would have been about three months ago, the last time he was on this beach with Eloise. A strong northerly wind blew as they walked the shore. He walked on her left, ocean-side, so he could feel the small waves that crept onto the shore slide over the top of his feet. He was careful not to wet the rolled-up cuffs of his pants. It was May and they were both rugged-up, in knits and jackets. Samuel had flown up from Melbourne to Newcastle for the weekend, and that weekend had coincided with the 2019 Federal election. He was grateful to be in Eloise’s presence on the morning after the result was announced.
Every morning at 7 a.m. Eloise walked from her rented apartment in Cooks Hill to the end of Bar Beach, in the sweet-spot after her first coffee and before breakfast. Crashing on her living-room couch, Samuel had woken up early to ask if he could join her on her walk. She’d said yes, but warned him that an extra part of her morning ritual was to pick up trash that had found its way to the ocean’s shores.
‘Sure, the polls were predicting a landslide Labor victory…’ Eloise said, pausing to pick up a coke-can and stuff it in a large canvas bag. ‘But you shouldn’t listen to the polls, you should listen to people.’
‘We weren’t listening to Queensland’ Samuel sighed. He helped to lift a rock with a torn IGA plastic bag stuffed under it, for Eloise to collect.
‘Exactly. We’re in bubbles, you more-so than me, I can’t even imagine the Melbourne echo-chamber. You start to think everyone must feel as deeply about the environment as you do, and then we’re shocked to learn that people could have anything else on their mind. I’m not sure what the post-election atmosphere will be like here. Newcastle’s a contradictory place, it’s an art-centric, student-run town, with nature reserves and perfect beaches, but it’s also one of the largest coal exporting ports in the world.’
Samuel turned from her and stepped into the shallow water, leaning down to splash his face with sea water. He did this three times over, each time feeling more soothed, more composed. Eloise joined Samuel in the shallows, and he linked his arm through hers. Way out to sea Samuel could narrowly make out white sails. A small sailing boat was taking advantage of the wind, heading north to warmer waters.
He gestured toward it. ‘What do you say El? Can we pack it all in and sail away together? Please?’
She untangled her arm from his and moved to continue walking. ‘No’, she said, looking back at him. ‘We have to stay. We have to make things better where we are. No sailing away, no moving to New Zealand. We cannot give up.’
He ambled behind her while she strolled confidently ahead, each equally inclined to suddenly become engrossed in their own anxious thoughts. He relished this about their friendship, that they could be alone, together. Their shared tendency to overthink, to question everything, was the reason they had become close allies back in high-school.
Further down the beach Eloise spotted three discarded beer bottles and startled a seagull as she darted to collect them. Samuel smiled to himself, knowing she did this every day, not needing to be asked to do it, nor encouraged. It was just instinctual to her. As she picked up one of the bottles, brown liquid slipped from the bottle’s mouth onto her jeans, but she didn’t seem to notice.
As they neared the Merewether end of the beach, Samuel realised Eloise hadn’t said a word in over ten minutes. He wondered if her usual morning beach clean-up wasn’t always this frantic, this urgent. He thought about how much she had put into weeks leading up to the election, campaigning for the Greens and fighting with her parents – who ran a florist in town and had been voting Liberal since before she was born. He had not looked at her closely enough, under her brave facade, she was shattered. Her eyes were dewy and downward cast.
Samuel wanted to break the silence. Eloise was now clutching a full bag of trash in her left arm, and trying to fold a broken abandoned camping chair with her free hand.
‘Please let me carry some of that’, he said gently.
‘No Sam, we need your arms for the trash we missed, for the stuff we find on the walk back.’
He stepped towards her and kissed the top of her head. Her surprise allowed him to take the rubbish from her slackened grip.
‘Let’s go up to the Surfhouse first – I will buy us breakfast.’ He nudged her foot with his. ‘We’re going to need strength for the revolution.’
‘That actually sounds really nice.’ Eloise smiled for the first time that morning and together they walked toward the stairs of the cafe.
They placed their rubbish on the edge of Merewether Surfhouse and were met with sympathetic smiles from the staff. Eloise picked a table lit up by the morning sun and a spritely teenage waitress took their coffee orders.
Being with Eloise on this morning,
Samuel didn’t feel defeated, he felt energised.