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2016 highly commended entrants

In 2016 two entries have been highly commended by our judges: 'What happened then' by David Adès and 'Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge)' by Steve Armstrong.

What Happened Then - David Adès

What happened then was like an asteroid strike,

an extinction event, the darkened air,

a great gouging wound across the land.
Imagine two lovers at a train station suddenly

boarding different trains, each looking back to the station
as their train departed – easing from the crowded

platform before gathering speed – moist eyes
watching the station recede, barely comprehending

there would be no return, that the way forward
precluded the way back. Imagine there were no station 

and no trains and yet the lovers departed. It was love 
that receded. A layer of sediment fell and what was caught 

in it became fossil and what was not caught was lost.
The fossils tell a story, but only a small part of it.

What happened after was an obsession with archaeology,
with digging up fossils, holding them this way and that

in the light, proffering explanations that fail to explain,
that never satisfy, that lead only to more questions.

Everyone present then tells a different story now.
So much diverges from the original moment, so much

is held in contention. Inside each story is a pain
that does not abate as the lovers try still to hold themselves

together, all the while flying away like galaxies
after the big bang, as far and as fast as they can.


Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) - Steve Armstrong

THIS MORNING a lap-steel 
play of light on limestone. The gorge is vascular, bleeds ochre-pink through 
gunmetal grey. Gaudi's free-forms shaped 

by The Wet; labyrinthine 
caves and crevices, pillars and folds. I'm thinking of Jandamarra now, his hiding 
places here in the walls. Rifle shots ricochet;

battles fought, for this 
is Bunuba country. High up, fine-boned figs and birdsong falls in slow-time 
for the mirrored water. The wind quickens 

in the silvered throat 
of the gorge, is moved to celebrate and the river cannot resist, kicks up its Cuban 
heels, no matter how fleeting the mood. 

Water like the rocks—
where the Wandjina dwell—remembers all that's over-written; bodies in a bloodied 
river, people chained by the neck and driven 

on their dreaming paths; 
locked behind bars in the belly of a sacred boab. This prison tree, stands within 
shout of the longest trough for watering cattle. 

had come, riding over the land, failing to announce myself or ask leave to enter. 
I came and I camped for a week at Windjana Gorge 

National Park. Each 
day on the bank of the river, busloads of tourists pass; their gorge according to 
the guidebook or for some, it's a New Age Jerusalem. 

At close of day, an artesian 
welling; doubt I'll ever belong. Camp bedding, dry grass and red earth written 
in silver. Above my head a blood-wood, a bare stencil 

printed on the sky. 
Night wind—a Chinese dragon—swoops, rattles the leaves of trees with its tail, 
then it's gone. Stars—and no escaping an unblinking 

moon; she holds my face 
and won't let go. Gravity loosens its ties and when the moon beckons at her zenith, 
I lose my nerve, pull the wool beanie over my eyes. 

NOTES like tumbled stones, 
sink through clear water. A morning solo, high in the half-lit cliffs. Suddenly, song 
and darting flight, birds thrill at being earth and sky. 

Bare feet, buried in the silt 
of the riverbank—now all the selves I bring fall quiet. Play in the dirt, dance and 
stand in the clouds of dust and slanting light.

I'm no longer possessed 
by a mind that tells me what I do or don't deserve; it's an instrument loosely held, 
with breath for brilliant cockatoos, the undulating 

line they scribe. Laughter 
flies off the walls, I'm caught in the motionless eye of a freshwater croc, rooted 
to the ground. Tonight, my branches brush the stars. 

1. Windjana Gorge the name settler cattlemen gave to the place traditional owners, the Bunuba, call Bandilngan.
2. Jandamarra, a Bunuba man, led a lengthy guerilla campaign against cattlemen and police in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He was shot dead in 1897 at Tunnel Creek by Mingo Mick a black trooper.
3. Wandjina: Dreamtime Creation Spirits who are said to have retired to the rocks of the Kimberley.