Students from around Australia gathered in Gunnedah on Friday for the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards.
The much-anticipated event was well-attended, with special guests Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, awards patron The Hon Margaret White, and guest speaker, Deborah Cheetham of Short Black Opera.
Tamworth Public School won the primary section of the Schools’ Award, which caused great excitement.
“Their entries were of such a high standard that it’s obvious that there is a great love of language and a great love of bringing it to the classroom,” judge Leonie Tyle said.
Teacher Annie Everington attended the ceremony with student Katie Sheppard and said 50 students from the school entered poems.
The secondary Schools’ Award was won by the Youth Education Centre in South Australia.
There were a number of performances woven throughout the awards ceremony, with St Mary’s College stage band showcasing their skills, led by teacher Emma Kersley and fronted by young talent Sara Dear. Short Black Opera also performed, bringing Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem My Country to life with music and song.
Mrs White was gifted with a painting of Gunnedah artist Shirley Urquhart and said it had been “a great joy” to be part of the awards.
“All the poems are wonderful,” Mrs White said.
“They’re laugh-out-loud some of them. All of them are wonderful to read but some strike you particularly.
“I’ve been privileged to be here with you in this district of Gunnedah and I hope all those who come after me enjoy it as much as I have.”
Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society president, Philippa Murray said she felt “honoured to be among such talent” at the awards ceremony and encouraged the winning students to continue to explore their creativity.
“Keep writing and make this success a milestone on the road to great things,” she said.
Mr Coulton took to the podium and praised the students for their efforts.
“I think in this day and age when we’re communicating by text, by emojis, it’s so important that our younger people are embracing the power of the word,” he said.
“A well-constructed poem is not only a snapshot in time but is relevant for times to come. To think that My Country is still as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.”
The poetry awards have a special place in the heart of former Gunnedah resident Marina Maas whose late mother, Mikie Maas, was instrumental in establishing the competition.
She recalls attending the poetry awards with her mother, and her parents reading thousands of poems single-handedly in the early days of the competition.
Ms Maas said her Dutch-born mother was inspired by My Country and it brought tears to her eyes to see the competition continuing to flourish.
“It just gives me goosebumps how much pride she had in Australia,” she said.
“I’m just so happy to be here.”
Ms Maas praised project officer Ruth Macaulay and the memorial society for all the work they put into the competition.
“It was one of the best I’ve seen,” she said.
“It was fantastic.”