‘Emu Girl, on the day before flying’ wins the Banjo Paterson Awards 2016

It’s a delight and an honour to have heard that my poem ‘Emu Girl, on the day before flying’ has won the Open Poetry section of this year’s Banjo Paterson Writing Awards, which are run annually by Central West Libraries and Orange City Council. My gratitude goes to them, and to the judges of the award.

I first entered ‘the Banjo’ in 2008, and won it with ‘Walyunga’, followed by a second win in 2010 with ‘Orpheus, in the desert’, and several poems which placed for third prize in intervening years; ‘Ledge Beach’ in 2009, ‘Crown of Stars’ in 2012, and ‘Circle of Stones’ in 2013. This Award has become particularly close to my heart, and I’ve used it as a focus-point for inspiration to write poems that have a specific Australian element to them. This has often been a response to the presence and atmosphere of this ancient land that I love deeply, sometimes with a social or cultural aspect, and the interweaving of mythology.

‘Emu Girl, on the day before flying’ is a speculative (science fiction/fantasy) poem which takes a prominent group of stars visible in the night sky from Australia – the Southern Cross and the ‘Pointer’s, Alpha  and Beta Centauri – and blends word etymology and the ancient Arabic names of the stars with the Aboriginal myth of Tchingal, the mighty Emu in the sky whose head rests in the Southern Cross and whose body stretches through the Centaurus constellation. The poem is ‘told’ from the point of view of an Alpha Centaurian ‘descendant’ on Earth, the Emu girl of the title, who recalls fragments of the invasion of her star system by smoke birds, and the battle of the two brave brothers, recounted in the Aboriginal stories as the Pointers, who fought to ward them off….until gradually the fragments weave together in the Emu girl’s awareness.

With thanks again to the judge(s), and congratulations to this year’s prize winners in all categories of the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards, of which a full list can be found here.


Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, from the Hubble telescope. Image courtesy NASA.

  Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri, from the Hubble telescope. Image courtesy NASA.


‘Circle of Stones’

I was delighted to hear this morning that my poem Circle of Stones (written as Jo Mills) has been awarded Third Prize in the the Open Poetry section of this year’s Banjo Paterson Writing Awards, run by Central West Libraries in Orange, New South Wales (Australia). It’s an honour to have another poem place in this award, since I first entered it in 2008. That year, Walyunga won First Prize. This was followed by Ledge Beach (Third Prize, 2009), Orpheus, in the Desert (First Prize, 2011) and Crown of Stars (Third Prize, 2012).

To overseas friends who might not have heard of Banjo Paterson, he’s one of Australia’s most famous poets, who penned a great deal of what is known as ‘bush poetry’ or ‘bush verse’; a story or ‘yarn’ told in rhyming verse. He is most widely known as the author of Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River. Next year, Orange will celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth with a festival, which I would love to attend. The award named after him certainly feels like an old friend.

With thanks to the judges and organizers of the awards.

Circle of Stones

her first circle is time

she squats in dust and draws a line

with her finger, never minding dirt

or cracked nails: the land waits

parched for new pathways

summer’s wane lets old sky breathe

arc of the sun tints grey sand


second ring is memory

ancient days when waugals swam

crystal rivers under bony hills

she still hears murmurs, wind underground

ones with Sight said rainbows ran through

caverns of amethyst and gold

she gathers bits of quartz and plants them

all around the sun


mother moonlight is the third

silver circlet of night’s queen

drips trails of pearls into the dark

stretching out her hands, lined deep

as weeping marri-bark, she catches

first raindrops of this shifting year

digs a pool inside the sun for his

lover, pale of face


fourth will be the eagle’s eye

clear, pure amber iris-ring

pupil filled with heaven’s wide blue

shot through incandescent rays

she sends a call that brings him dropping

to her wrist, chocolate feathers fanned

banded white like alpine snow

he gifts a quill, she sets it straight


last is fifth, the dreamers’ path

spiralling into the serpent year

see her bury the old shed skin

scales lit as petals of burnished hearts

red flowering gum, she lays a wreath

on grit and stone, she sings

of stars and promises, the circle breathes

beneath her feet, for love, for life

sweet unity


dedicated to the Eagle, with love 

The circle of stones, where I sat to write this poem.

The circle of stones, where I sat to write this poem.

Light Eagle

Light Eagle

Poetic wandering….

With a bit of a nudge from a friend (thank you, Nicole), I’m going to post a few poems…beginning with those that have been voice-recorded. The first one, Orpheus, in the Desert, was recorded for ABC radio in 2011 after winning the open poetry section of the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards. Very timely, as I’ve just sent off a poem for this year’s award, at the eleventh hour (entries close tomorrow)!

This was recorded over the phone, with one hour’s notice, on a single take…whew,  more than few deep breaths taken beforehand. The ABC set it beautifully to music – a real treat.

For my non-Aussie friends, Banjo Paterson is honoured as a long-time local hero in his hometown, Orange (and Australia in general). He wrote verse prolifically in the late C19, most famously ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘The Man from Snowy River’.

I’ve had other poems win and place in this award, and will post them soon.

Here’s the audio file for Orpheus, in the Desert – scroll down the page to the first audio track:


Here’s the text version:

Orpheus, in the desert

Morning light, the first day of his crossing

red dirt striped to soft maroon

he walks into dry land, remembering

the precise curve of her cheek;

sees it everywhere, in rounded granite

at his back, in cumulus drifts banked

against days of azure, now softened

to pearl-shell dawn.


Sand ripples out to the cloud-line, as if

the ocean crept here in the night

and dried to dust, waves frozen in grit

until the next hard easterly should sweep

it’s sculptor’s hand across the land,

etch new dips and ridges, like the line

of her lips opened on breath; he thinks

of Styx and Acheron.


Night water, velvet under ferryman’s oar

but here riverbeds are empty, waiting

on melodies of rain, notes of droplets,

fast-stoked torrents, a finer music

than gold-strung wires beneath his touch.

Harp of his longings; in this country

artesian underworlds spread vast silence

over her reflection.


Sun rays scrape his knuckles, not soft

in the valley of silt and spinifex. Spirits

start to fade, tall wandjina, stately, graceful

in their floating strides; late evening

they’ll return, heads rimmed in constellations

Southern Cross at their fingertips, searching

he catches a glimpse of his love’s pale shape

among the ghosts.


Dark shadow on the sand, wedgetail

circles in the light, watchful amber eye

the colour of a harp’s polished curve. Heat draws

serpents from dark dreams, their scales

brown or yellow-striped, too close an echo

– that bite – her slender finger punctured

he still sees her tumble down the path, so deep

the well of Hades’ sleep.


In this land he might start fresh, change

his name, rewrite his travel-worn lament,

decide to call her ‘swallowtail’ or ‘xenica’

watch her new wings flash their gift, released

from the prison of his heart.  Might file

for migrant status, invoke Aegean blue

and oracles, myth’s long, unwinding thread

washed by wider skies.


He stoops, scoops up sand, lets it trail

thin ribbons on the wind. Even here, rains

will fall, paint countless blooms

to dusk’s horizon, nectar bowls for her

uncurling tongue, southern land’s ambrosia.

His footstep’s rhythm sets the beat, hand describes

an arch of hills, plucks from sunbaked air

tendrils of sweet liberty.


I wove the tapestry below while writing a sequence of ‘Orpheus’ poems. The figures in the tapestry are based on those in a painting by Edmund Jeanes, Orpheus and his Muse, late C19.

'Orpheus II'; handwoven tapestry, 130cmx95cm, wool, cotton, silk.

‘Orpheus II’; handwoven tapestry, 130cmx95cm, wool, cotton, silk.

I see shades of Orpheus in The Siaris Quartet, especially from the second novel, Reunion, onwards… (for those who know the myth…or who don’t…Orpheus lost his love Eurydice to a snakebite, and followed her soul into the Underworld, in an attempt to win her soul back from Hades’ keeping. A bargain was made for her release, but Orpheus failed to keep it).

In Siaris, this theme takes a gender reversal, and a rather different bargain, the long-term consequences of which I am currently sorting out in Book Four.

Reunion is available from Musa here or from Amazon here.

‘Crown of Stars’ wins third prize in the Banjo

Lovely news: my poem Crown of Stars has just been awarded third prize in the Open Poetry section of the Banjo Paterson Writing Awards, run by Central West Libraries in Orange, New South Wales (writing as Jo Mills ~ details of other poems can be found in the Awards and Publications sections of my blog, including Walyunga and Orpheus, in the Desert, which won the Banjo in 2008 and 2011 respectively, and Ledge Beach, which placed third in 2009).

This year’s place in the Awards is particularly pleasing (and to me, funny), since I’ve been mostly focused on novels. So much so, that I had nothing ‘right’ to enter in the Banjo this year (which is for poems with an Australian theme, flavour or content). Crown of Stars ‘arrived’ as a stream of consciousness onto the screen two days before the entries closed. This meant I had to express post the poem (ordinary post taking three days from Western Australia to New South Wales). Unfortunately, I managed to just miss the post from my nearest post office, so found myself driving down the hill through peak hour traffic  to get to a larger post office before close of business…and having a good laugh at myself along the way!

When I passed this tale on to the convenor yesterday, she said ‘It’s good to see such a high level of commitment’.

Ah, the joys of poetry! Thank you, dear Muse. I love you.

The results can be found here. I’m looking forward to reading the first and second prize winners when they are published on the Library’s website. You can read my poem below:


 Crown of Stars

desert wind at night
strands silt-lines     
colour of blood
she walks     
gathers velvet wings
so old     
only the land remembers
how her bones      
were carved
in wandjina days     
her face painted
crowns of stars on walls     
ochre stains
this town of ghosts     
casts sentinel shadows
iron corrugations rust     
salt of the earth
sand runs snakes on wind     
no roads
left under wedgetail shadows     
no sky
colour of blood     
in this darkness
she walks     
crescent sliver silvering
Isis of the south     
searches dust-storms
this empty doorway     
free-standing recalcitrant
carries silhouettes     
trick of the eye she fancies
stoops under the lintel     
finds velvet wings
flutter round the lamps     
grey moth-spirals
as her memories     
ephemeral bodies
relinquish names     
they dwelt here
gone now
chased their tracks     
colour of blood
veiled stubborn human prints     
land remembers
older days     
tall shapes
roamed unformed hills
desert wind at night     
into waiting arms
she walks     
her face painted     
gathers velvet wings