Judges have decided the competition winner on the theme of "How I Got Here" is Thamilnila. Prize: $250. Please see her entry, the equal second-place getters Sally Rummery and Ingrid Pearson below ($75 each). Second-place sharers take the place of the people's choice award, which received minimal and inconclusive votes.
These are followed by the other long-listed entrants.
Judging criteria were technical skill, storytelling and emotional impact.
"How I Got Here" by Thamnila
My name is Thamilnila. I am 12 years old and I am from Srilanka. This is a short story about how I got here. I was born in a village named Kilinocchi in Srilanka. When I was born Srilanka was struggling with civil war where the minorities called Tamil were fighting to live with their rights against the government. As a kid I was born and brought up in the war zone. I did not have a peaceful and joyful childhood. My mother often told me how we struggled in Srilanka. Since the time I was born my mother kept me in an underground bunker to protect me from bombs, gunshots and shells. The war ended brutally in 2009. We were taken to a detention camp for screening and were detained there until 2010. In the detention camp there was a threat for my father. Therefore he fled from the detention camp and to avoid being executed, he went to India. He lived there as anonymous for more than 2 years. My mother and myself along with my grandparents were held back in Srilanka in the detention camp until 2010. After we got released from the detention camp, my mother moved with my grandparents to Jaffna which is their home town. At that time my mother was constantly harassed asking about where my father was. By the time it was 2012, my mother realised that the harassment was getting worse. Therefore she decided to flee from Srilanka and rejoin with my father in India. So my mother took me and flew to India in mid 2012. However, we couldn’t live there for long as we were non residents of India.
Therefore my parents decided to go to Australia. So we took a boat to Australia. At that time I was 3 years old. I could not remember much about the journey. But my mother told me that the boat journey was for 18 days and it was a very difficult journey with limited food and supplies. After 18 days on the boat we arrived at Christmas island. A couple of days later we heard the news that my grandfather passed away. But we couldn’t go back to Srilanka for his funeral. My father said he had another difficult time because of this. We stayed in Christmas Island for five months at a camp. From there we were sent to a camp in Darwin where we stayed for about 2 months. From there we were sent to Sydney. We stayed for 1 month in Sydney. Then we moved to Orange. At that time I was 4 years old.
Our life became peaceful in Orange. I went to kindergarten at Calare Public School. Since I was from a different background and culture, I remember it was quite difficult for me to mingle with others. At school I met new friends and teachers. Some of my friends were Madi and Claudia. And my favourite teachers were Mrs Keed, Mrs Sinclain and Mrs White. It was difficult each year with my studies. But my best years would be year 4 and year 5. I made a best friend name Katie in year 4. But later she left the school. I loved Calare Public School very much. It was an unforgettable school with so many memories. In 2014 my baby brother was born. I was really excited to see him. I had so much fun with him. Orange was a good place too. Also I learned that the country side is much safer, the air is much cleaner and the people are much more polite than the cities. Hence I loved Orange. Also we went camping nearly every year. I enjoyed camping.
While I was in year 5, my father got a job in Bathurst and he drove from Orange to Bathurst every day. Soon Dad and mom decided to move to Bathurst during the October school holidays. It was really sad for me to move as I grew up in Orange and made friends there. But my parents had no other choice. After the school holidays, I joined year 5 at Bathurst Public School. It was hard for me because I didn’t know anyone. But slowly I made friends. I am now studying year 7 at Denison College High School Campus and I am coping well with everyone. From here on I am building my future with the support of my parents, teachers, friends and the local community.
"How I Got Here" by Ingrid Pearson
The Wiradyuri First Nation people introduce themselves by citing clan and country by descriptive and emotive language.
So here I am, in Bathurst in Central New South Wales to share with you my connection to country – or rather, many countries.
I was named Kang Tjay-Ing by birth right, daughter of Kang Hoo-Bie and Tan Sian-Nio.
My father Hoo-Bie called Sumenep home, his country the capital of the island of Madura in Indonesia. My mother Sian-Nio came from East Java, born in the small town of Kediri. Both were descended from Chinese migrants who settled in Indonesia, fleeing from the troubles that had beset their homeland. One from Fukien, the other from Shandong.
My father’s clan were agriculturalists, growing tobacco and crops. This was obviously the gene pool that my father inherited, managing a coffee plantation and making charcoal during the Japanese occupation in the second world war. He continued his love of nurturing plants, and especially roses which he grew wherever he lived, growing especially fragrant specimens for cut flowers that filled up my parents’ home with sensuous fragrance.
My mother’s clan were traders, involved in general stores that sold home wares, fuel and food to the native population. My grandfather was involved with sugar cane trade and mills, and during the Japanese occupation, managing rice mills for his clan. Because of his trade with the Dutch, he believed that a Western education would benefit his children. And so, my mother studied to become a primary school teacher, furthering her education by correspondence to gain her secondary school teaching qualifications for maths and physics. As a teacher, she taught and ran a boarding house for children from remote locations. It was here that she met my father who was nine years her junior. They married in 1944.
Fate decreed that within two years after Indonesian declaration of independence from the Dutch colonial government, in 1947 my parents fled the lawlessness and insecurity of insurgency in East Java for the safety of a big city. With their first-born son, they found themselves settling in Batavia – now known as Jakarta.
I was born in the year of the final independence from Dutch colonialism in 1949. The big metropolis of Jakarta of fine colonial buildings and grand tree-lined avenues formed my country. But it did not last.
By the time I was in my teenage years, persecution of people of Chinese descent became obvious. University entry quotas for Chinese students was reduced to 10% of student intake, meaning opportunities for a tertiary education for my brother and myself were limited.
A former Dutch colleague of my mother’s and his family who knew our family well during shared housing arrangements in Jakarta, had moved to Australia when the Indonesian government rid itself of its Dutch colonial masters and public services in early to mid 1950s. The kind offer from Jan and Gerda Nielsen to help educate my brother and I in Sydney was gladly and gratefully accepted by my parents.
As my father was working for French airline Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux, he took us on a short holiday to Sydney to meet the Nielsen family in 1960. At the time, the White Australian Policy was in full swing. But a kind immigration official suggested to Jan Nielsen and my parents that adoption would enable my brother and I to stay in Sydney to continue our studies. And so, my brother adopted a new identity of John Nielsen in 1960, followed by my new identity as Ingrid Nielsen in 1964. I was a mere 15-year-old.
Sydney became my second country, where I felt safe and belonged. I completed my secondary education at a Catholic High School for girls and earned a Commonwealth scholarship to study for a degree in architecture at the University of New South Wales. Sydney offered me many opportunities to create a successful career as an architect.
When I left my position as Senior Design Architect at Western Sydney University in 2014, my husband Stuart and I began searching for a suitable place for our retirement. We chose Bathurst over at least half a dozen locations after an exhaustive desk and field research, with weighting to suit each of our individual criteria.
For Stuart Pearson, whose family has strong links to the Central West of NSW for over 160 years including finding one of his forebear’s name on a plaque on the Bathurst War Memorial Carillon, it was a home coming.
For me, Bathurst feels full of promise, welcoming and friendly – a place I can call my third country.
"How I Got Here" by Sally Rummery
Dripping, undies balled in our hands, we skid past the group still drinking. Wet hair clings to brown shoulders as we pile onto a bed. A puddle of arms and legs, we giggle as we whisper goodbyes. Outside the group sing and cheer.
The night is hot, and I wake to find Molly asleep on the floor.
New sun spills itself across streets lined with plane trees as I leave Argentina for Chile and eventually Australia. My bus heaves itself up and then over the pale redness of the Andes and I see myself on the slight curved line that is the division between sea and sky.
Santiago is on fire, its buildings grown ugly with spray painted protests. A raw, swollen throat and accompanying fever mirrors the angry city. Looking for a post office, I find a boarded-up shopfront and a man who tells me to get in his car. Stepping out, his eyes are hard. He comes at me fast, one hand outstretched, the other hitches his pants higher on his hips.
Desperate bravery remembers the Spanish words that I spit at him as postcards to a family I have never met suffer my fear. The city’s sirens overwhelm our intimacy and I slip away.
Two months before, in the same city, dogs bark and children laugh over the sounds of bartering. The smell of sawdust mixes with the sweetness of mangoes and bright bowls of powdered herbs intersperse neat stacks of vegetables. La rubia! the vendors call, La rubia! Ven aqui! A German girl turns to me. Do you understand? No. You are the blonde, she says, they are telling you to come.
Later, when I leave Chile for Argentina, this time my bus winding over the northern snow-capped Andes, I become celestial azul. The blue-eyed girl.
Though sometimes frightened, I do not fall to the power of another. Nor do I collapse into the gaping hole that widens beneath my ribcage. I do not become victim to the vision of a cooling, stiffening body, foam spewed from its lips and nostrils.
Instead rain falls past sizzling meat. The umbrella I hold caves inward, drenching me. Laughing, he calls me salt. He tells me he is in love with her.
Running, screaming, girls plunge into an icy lake. Snow-capped mountains rise behind us.
Instead I see his face through smoke. Marijuana’s sweet smell mixing with meat and wine. Sitting with backs to the wind, yellow grass whispers and bends. Mountains coloured in bold stripes see his face become a smile.
We talk of trauma and the loss and waste of first loves and she tells me about divorce and of the death of another woman’s baby. Across the table they talk of potatoes.
Instead, shoulders warm in the sun, we lean together, heads meeting over my notebook. He writes childishly, numbers appearing. Write them in Spanish, he says, before I get back. His eyes catch the light.
I watch a sax player smile through his solos as I drink blueberry beer with a beautiful man who doesn’t speak my language. Afterward, holding hands, we run down tiny cobbled streets.
I am alone in a park when I discover I am happy. A woman pours smarties into my questioning hands as her small dog licks my knee. Paz, she says, the confectionary’s muted green and yellow and pink shells reflecting the garden around us. It is easy to be content in the hubris of strangers. They do not see desperate fear in eyes that open on mornings, inflamed lines stretching along thighs. They do not know the blood underneath my fingernails.
In the south, icy wind carves me into pieces. I am lonely. I share cake with a tiny finch and walk among flamingos. Their pink necks form silhouettes against bleak green reeds. Ocean becomes grey as bitter gusts tear shreds in stillness. Peace, she had said, her cause of kindness lost in the space between our languages.
Peace, I said when I saw gratification reflected in the mirror of a pink bathroom, a hand reaching forward, cold as it held its glass echo. Peace as all of the world’s sorrow melts in a fevered throat.
"How I Got Here" by Mildred West
My journey has taken me down rough roads – roads filled with potholes of fear, anger and grief. This journey has happened not once but four times. Glutton for punishment you say. Maybe so, but without this journey I would not be here!
But before I tell you where here is let me tell you what this journey has been all about.
Last year, I celebrated my silver anniversary of having ‘The Beast’. ‘The Beast’ is to blame or congratulate for this journey. Whoa, congratulate – how could that be and who is ‘The Beast’? One question at a time, thank you!!
Who is ‘The Beast’? He has been the ‘friend’ I have been carrying around in my head for probably a lifetime. He finally chose to rear his ugly head twenty-five years ago. His real name is Chordoma Brain Tumour but ‘The Beast’ sounds more appropriate don’t you think? He has led me down the rough roads and he has put me out on the ledge many times.
What is the ledge? The ledge is where I go each time I have life or death situations. It is a very scary place to be, I can tell you. Standing on this ledge I wonder will I fall this time or will I be able to climb back up. Fingers crossed, I will be able to climb back up to my family and friends who want to help, but unfortunately cannot reach me. A chilling thought and one so far, I have not had to worry about.
Now back to your original question – why would you congratulate ‘The Beast’? Under the circumstances, one cannot help but think what a nasty situation to be in and I certainly have to agree. I do have to say though, ‘The Beast’ has given me more than it has taken away. How could that possibly be true? Amazing as it sounds, it is. What he has given me has gotten me to here.
He has given me patience. I have always been in a hurry – rushing here, rushing there. As the sole bread winner with a family and fulltime job, I had very little time to stop and appreciate what was around me.
Acquiring patience led me to find appreciation. Appreciation of what? Appreciation of everything, of course! All those things I had been missing because I was in too much of a hurry to stop and look.
Finally, I did stop and I did look. What I saw was the love of family and friends. What I saw was the beauty and joy all around me. I took the time to smell the roses. I took the time to watch the birds and the bees and the butterflies.
So, this is where I am. I take time. For time was something I was not sure I would ever have. I am grateful and thankful for this time. I am grateful and thankful for all that I have. And yes, I am grateful and thankful for ‘The Beast’. For without ‘The Beast’ I would not be here. ‘The Beast’ has been my teacher and has taught me well. I am loved. I am happy. The rest does not matter.
I am here.
"How I Got Here" by Paige Younger
Glass doors reflect my hard stare as I scan the surrounding environment. A once known territory, now unfamiliar land. My body quivers as my hand pushes heavily against the cold silver handle. Struggling slowly to progress forward, I envision the leopard. Injured, it battles to continue running.
A wave of emotion overcomes me as I step onto the glossy hardwood court. With every timid step the pain grows stronger, asserting the limits of my injury. I cannot move faster. I won’t be the player I once was, knowing I might never play again. I crave the deep sighs of relief succeeding the wake from a threatening dream. Assurance of a fictional reality. But this is real, an inescapable situation. Like the leopard after a life-threatening fall, I struggle to comprehend my new life.
Running the length of the court, jogging, high knees, butt kicks, grapevine, lunges. All eight in a line, moving in symphony of timeless execution, like the choreographed dance of ballerinas. The exciting tension of playing alongside my teammates has, like my withering muscles, faded. I miss their dependence, being the first player on court, and one of the last subbed off. Their loyalty. Their trust. The adrenaline rushing after each game, scoring basket after basket, the cheers of family and friends engulfing me with pride. The hype of the game rooted deeply within. I feel the ball in my hands. The brown leather soft, solid and smooth against my skin, my finger lingering on the textured black, imprinted branding within the thin, symmetrical lines dividing its surface. I had potential, opportunity. But now I’m still. Barely able to move. Even if I recover, will I ever be the same? Can the leopard run again?
One by one they spot me, excitedly running over. Coming to a halt, uncertainty radiates from their eyes, unsure of whether to hug, our usual greeting that developed over seasons, every hello and goodbye accompanied by a warm – and usually sweaty – embrace. Deciding against it, they ask if I’m okay. I assure them I’m fine, a lie so convincing I’m beginning to believe it. But the pain jolting through my body with each step continues to prove the truth behind the pain. I pass under the glass backboard I know so well, the small black square, the red metal ring, the white net fraying ever so slightly. Reaching an empty seat, I fight the pain and gently lower myself onto the smooth, cold plastic. Keeping my balance, I shift my gaze forward and am met with the sympathetic eyes of familiar strangers, silently assessing my restricted capacity. Silently watching the weak prey. I look to my teammates, my friends, my strength.
My best friend’s eyes search mine and like a haunted movie, I view the past. Only flashes appear. She was there. She saw it all. Running along the track, our powerful legs propelling us forward, faster and faster. We were flying, soaring higher, higher than we’d ever been. Dull concrete transitioning into green grass. Dirt, hills, trees, no obstacle too big. But the branch. The branch that lay innocently across the track mocks me as I try to forget the embankment, the trip, the freefall.
The sickening sound came as my head forced its way onto the ground. CRACK. My body. CRASH.
I could hear my friend faintly yelling ‘No!! Wake up. Wake up!’ The fear in her voice grew stronger and stronger, screams permeated my thoughts.
Muttered murmurs. My mind is confused . I open my eyes, and immediately regret it. The blue silhouettes dominate my view, my barely growing consciousness drawing them in closer and closer. ‘Remain calm.’ My mouth refuses to communicate. Reaching for the sky, domineering and demeaning, the ever-growing trees block my limited view. Straps imprison my body, pinning me to the ground. My body refuses to acknowledge its existence. Is this how it feels to be tranquilised? ‘Everything will be okay.’ They lied!
Periodically beeping, the beat of the machine drums through my lifeless body. White. Sterile. The unavoidable bumps hint at the controlled movement of the tires. The blue shapes still attendant, moving rapidly within the now confined space. The darkness pleads for me‘We’re losing her. We’re losing her!’
Seven days spent in my deathly cocoon, I emerged only one year ago. Being back here, the place I called my home. The dull concrete walls welcome my return, their warmth as alive and inviting as the people. The people I called my family. Peers and coaches no longer considered just friends. My eyes glisten as I realise it is much more than a home and a family. It was a life. A life worth living. MY life. A life I will continue to live.
I am the leopard, now slow and unable, having lost the skill that once defined me. Initiating adaptations, adjusting with terrain. The leopard regains beauty in a new sense. A prowess of a new kind.
"How I Got Here" by Stuart Pearson
His surname jumped out at me. It was crowded among a long list of other surnames on a plaque at the Bathurst War Memorial Carillon. Yet it still drew my eyes to it.
Pearson is a common surname and just because I shared it with the name on the plaque shouldn’t have meant anything. But strangely it did.
As I stared at the name, I began to wonder. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Could it be possible that we were related?
The last thought caught me by surprise. I had never really known my father’s family history. There were vague whispers about the family originally coming from inland New South Wales, but they were shrouded in shame, anger and denial.
My Great grandfather was a gambler and a philanderer who had been charged with murdering one wife and attempting to murder another. As a young boy, that’s all my dad knew about his family history, but that was enough to earn him a severe bashing at the hands of his father with the rebuke to never talk about the family’s dark secret again. He never did.
So why was this name on a memorial plaque to World War I soldiers in Bathurst calling to me? Was it my own desire to reconnect with my family’s past that was causing my imagination to run wild? Whatever the reason, I felt compelled to find out.
William Ernest Pearson was a young lad from Grenfell who was so keen to join the War that he journeyed by train to Bathurst against his father’s wishes to enlist. He was shipped to France, fought in several engagements and then suffered severe Frostbite. The injury became gangrenous, leaving the doctors no choice but to amputate his leg above the knee to save his life.
William’s great “adventure” to the Great War was destroyed through injury, which left him a broken man. But thanks to his WWI service record I made a momentous discovery. He and I were indeed related!
Through this one single doorway of his Army record I uncovered his birthplace, his age and an address of one of his family members. From these few scraps of information, I was able over time to reconstruct my long-lost family history.
My name is Stuart Pearson and my family has been linked to inland New South Wales for over 160 years, ever since my forebear was one of the first white settlers on the Lachlan river at a place that became called Hillston.
Thanks to William – just a name on a plaque - I have been able to reconnect with my past, my heritage, my roots. How did I get here? I can’t honestly say, but what I do know is that a random name on a random plaque on a War Memorial Carillon in an inland city was all it took.