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Writing moments.

Entries are open for the 2020 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction, one of the richest competitions for non-fiction in Australia.

Jun 17, 2020

Words: Gippslandia

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It was a Sunday afternoon in early February when chief judge and prize sponsor, Phyllis Papps, and special guest, renowned Gippsland-born author Don Watson, presented the prizes for the inaugural Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction.

How fortunate is the region to have a visionary such as Phyllis and her judging team, Bass Coast Post editor Catherine Watson and Waterline News editor Geoff Ellis, to support the craft of developing engrossing non-fiction writing?

We nearly break our brain getting a handful of borderline coherent sentences together for Gippslandia, but Phyllis shared that all 42 entries into the competition were of high quality.

Congratulations to Phillip Island writer and historian Christine Grayden for winning first prize with Jobs that no longer exist — A memoir, and to second and third prize winners, Julie Constable and Malcolm Brodie, respectively. Prizes totalling $10,000 were awarded for first, second and third, along with four special commendations.

Thanks to the generosity of the authors and the Bass Coast Post, Gippslandia can present excerpts from Christine’s memoir and a piece that received a special commendation, Ed and the Birds by Karen Bateman. To enjoy the entire works, and the complete set of winning writing, please visit the Bass Coast Post website.

Jobs that no longer exist — A memoir

Text: Christine Grayden

“Her and me’s mates!” Keith exclaimed. He drove Nanna home, and upon returning shortly came into the kitchen, looked at me, tilted his head and said:

“Well, if you’re staying here you might as well make yourself useful. Get a hat and you can come out on the boat with me. We have to pick up the nets in an hour or so and you can untangle the fish as we go.”

That was my introduction to many years of holidays and weekends spent working with Keith at hard physical labour of various kinds that all led in different ways to the occupations and interests I pursued in my life. None of these jobs I did with Keith exist any more but have become part of Phillip Island’s history.

Whether it was because Keith felt sorry for me, or simply because I was young and fit and at a loose end, Keith happily took me on as a workmate and never mentioned that the jobs he asked of me were really ‘men’s jobs’. He simply expected me to pull my weight, do the work, and in return he paid me a share of the cheques when they came in.

Most of my contemporaries were spending their school holidays working in one of the many small retail businesses in Melbourne on suburban shopping strips in those days — delicatessens, grocers, haberdashery shops, babywear shops, clothing boutiques, newsagents, book and record stores — or tramming into central Melbourne each day to work as a junior for one of the major department stores. While they were stuck in menial inside jobs where they were paid a pittance and subjected to sexual and other forms of harassment, I was out in a beautiful environment and my fiercely protective uncle sheltered me from any unsavoury characters.

Netting fish, lugging kelp and wet cuttlebone, and drying chicory were all hard work; no doubt about that. Although I played softball at school and did all the housework at home, I was definitely not physically prepared for just how tough these jobs were. But over the weeks and years, I became strong, fit and adaptable.

Fishing was the first job I did with Keith, and continued on and off for 15 years. He only had a 14 foot bondwood boat which he rowed as it had no motor. He fished for ‘table fish’ — whiting, flathead, pike, red mullet — which paid well for relatively small catches, and meant he did not often have to seine for larger quantities of less valuable fish such as mullet. Keith was the fourth generation in his family to fish in

Western Port, dating back to the 1860s. He eventually sold his fishing licence to a keen young man from Rhyll, who is still licensed, although now of course all netting is stopped in Western Port so he fishes with a fishing rod.

Keith was an early member of the Phillip Island Conservation Society and quickly got me involved. I started fighting for the Phillip Island and Western Port environment at the age of 16. I am 66 this year, and still fighting after 50 years of environmental activism. There is no doubt that my years on Western Port, out on the edge of the channel with the dolphins, inshore with the gulls, sometimes visited by a hungry Albatross, watching the seals fluidly cruise the water and the huge black rays sliding under the boat, dipping the oars in a sea of bright green phosphorous at night — all of these experiences led to my great love of Western Port and my vow to fight for it as long as I live.

​The writers group at the prize giving for the 2019 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction: from left, Malcolm Brodie, Don Watson (guest speaker), Julie Constable, Christine Grayden and Phyllis Papps.
​The writers group at the prize giving for the 2019 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction: from left, Malcolm Brodie, Don Watson (guest speaker), Julie Constable, Christine Grayden and Phyllis Papps.

Ed and the birds

Text: Karen Bateman

A friend and I walked along this ruined laneway, late afternoon at the end of summer, and denounced the people who had bought the block.

“Why didn’t they buy in a paddock,’ my friend said.

‘Or a housing estate?’ I replied.

‘Why put in a swimming pool when you are ten metres from the beach?’ my friend wondered.

‘Because they are stupid, rich fools,’ was my considered response, before a middle-aged woman came out from the edge of the block and stood, hands on hips, and glared at us.

‘Oh no, that’s embarrassing,’

I muttered, ‘Let’s go.’

‘Nah’, said my friend eyeing off the woman, ‘They deserve to know what the community thinks of them.’

I tell Ed this story with a mixture of victory and shame.

‘And I get it.’ I go on, ‘She wants someone to pay, I want someone to pay.’

I tell Ed I want people to be outraged, to demand more, to create a fuss about the gentrification of the town, the vegetation loss, the creep of the housing estates. I want someone to be held accountable.

Ed tells me that the older demographic is dying off and the current crop of sea-changers want new houses and butlers’ pantries. They don’t want straggly native gardens; they want order and precision. They want prestige — a word plastered across the real estate signs that loiter on the edges of small blocks, near the crumbling weatherboard shacks, the brown brick units overlooking the eroding beach dunes, a word linked to the size of the dwelling or the view of the inlet.

I feel like it’s the emperor’s new clothes. Encouraging buyers to come and enjoy the tree change, while the trees are being razed and the wetlands bulldozed. I feel like I want someone, someone sensible, to stop this money orgy of progress and to ask in a quiet, considered manner ‘Is this what we really want?’ The word prestige, in this context, is a liar’s paradox, uttered by real estate agents and supported
by developers.

‘Prestige’, Ed shakes his head, pushes his chair back from the table.

‘Maybe they need to re-define the good life,’ I say, quoting Lester Milbrath.

I had read Milbrath when I was seeking respite from environmental lethargy. I felt confronted. I was panicked on behalf of the entire human race. I worried that time was running out. We were interfering in the food webs, messing with ecosystems. We were wiping out top predators and fish populations, fragmenting habitats and polluting waterways. We were fouling our
own nests.


Entries are open for the 2020 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction, one of the richest competitions for non-fiction in Australia, with a total of $10,000 in prize money.

The prize is sponsored by Phillip Island writer and activist Phyllis Papps to encourage and support local writers of non-fiction in an era of diminishing options for mainstream publication. The first prize winner will receive $5000, second $3000 and third $2000.

The inaugural competition last year attracted 42 entries from throughout Gippsland, ranging from personal memoir and true adventure through to biography, natural history and local history.

The prize is open to writers living, working or studying in Gippsland, or who have a strong connection with the Gippsland region.

Entries can be in the form of prose or poetry but must pertain to the Gippsland region, issues or people. The length is 4000-10,000 words.

The prize is auspiced by the Bass Coast Post and the Waterline News.

Post editor Catherine Watson said that while the generous prize money was important, most important to many writers was a deadline and a guarantee that their work will be read.

Entries close on September 4, 2020 and prize winners will be announced in November 2020.

The winning entries will be published in the Bass Coast Post and may be republished as an e-book or hard copy following consultation with the writers.

For more information and entry criteria, visit Bass Coast Prize for Non Fiction at or email Phyllis Papps at

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