A total of 115 entries were recieved in two categories.  The finalists for 2009 are:

Rolland McKellar (Okato)
Alison Robinson (Stratford)
Maureen Armstrong (Stratford)
Beverley Terry (NP)
Linda McIntyre (Inglewood)
Scott Murfitt (Frances Douglas)
Sarah Bennett (St Mary’s)
Jacqueline Wagstaff (Hawera)
Kirsten Corrigan (Hawera)
Murray Simpson

Table of Contents

Foreword – Mayor Ross Dunlop                                                                                 Page 1
Judge’s General Comment - Tessa Duder                                                                Page 2

Secondary School Section                                                                                

1st Place – Bronte Heron, All Thanks to a Jar of Peanut Butter                                 Page 3

2nd Place – Brooke Goodwin, The Man in the Window                                              Page 6

3rd Place – Summer James, Bear Paws                                                                    Page 9

Highly Commended:

Annielise Kuriger, Acceptance                                                                                   Page 13

Danelle Walker, Happy Families                                                                                Page 15

Brie Smith, Dazed and Confused                                                                               Page 17

Tyson Ngatai Martin, Young Juvenile Delinquents                                                     Page 20

Open Division                                                                                                        

1st Place – Beverley Terry, The Man                                                                          Page 23

2nd Place – Alison Robinson, Spouse Grouse                                                           Page 27

3rd Place – Sarah Bennett, On the News                                                                   Page 29

Very Highly Commended:

Rolland McKellar, Nearer the Sun                                                                              Page 31

Murray Simpson, A Lesson in PR                                                                              Page 35

Highly Commended:

Maureen Armstrong, Back Country Drama                                                               Page 39

Kirsten Corrigan, Beached As                                                                                    Page 43

Jacqueline Wagstaff, A Going Concern                                                                     Page 48

Linda McIntyre, Moving                                                                                               Page 52

Scott Murfitt, A Letter of Truth                                                                         Page 55





Written by Ross Dunlop

South Taranaki Mayor


Ronald Morrieson has really made an impact this year.

What a great year for the legacy of Ronald Hugh Morrieson and the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Awards.

The filming of Predicament in South Taranaki has been an amazing event and has raised the profile of Ronald Morrieson to a new level. Local people who have been disinterested or even hostile to the author are now taking notice. Copies of the Predicament book have been selling quickly at local bookstores and the libraries have a waiting list.

As he predicted, Ronald Morrieson was ‘one of those buggars who got recognised after he died’ but boy, this year’s event has ensured he’s been well and truly recognised.

The filming of Predicament with a cast of notable actors including Flight of the Conchords star Germaine Clement and musical legend Tim Finn, plus lots of very notable local extras!!! has created interest beyond expectations.

Morrieson’s former novels have been made into movies. We are hopeful that in recognition of the fact that Ronald Morrieson was a true product of Hawera and South Taranaki, the Predicament movie premiere will be held in our community.

It is now 22 years since the first Ronald Hugh Morrieson literary awards and it has evolved into a very important event on the literary calendar.

Thanks to all who have worked to keep this event alive and progressing.

A special thank you to those parents, caregivers and teachers who have encouraged young people to have a go.






Judge’s General Comments

Tessa Duder 2009

The purposes and criteria of the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Awards are, as short story and poetry awards go, a little unusual.

First, they are designed to honour a great local writer, so entry is restricted to those (or their parents/guardians) who live (or are ratepayers) in the South Taranaki area. Subject matter is similarly confined in time and locality, as Morrieson’s body of work was uniquely reflective of his life and times in and around Hawera.

And second, workshops prior to deadline are offered by the chosen judge, a thoughtful move on the part of the originators more than twenty years ago.

Of course, it’s not for me to judge the effectiveness of the workshops which I ran in June, especially as all the entries are received with the names removed. I can only say that I appreciated the very professional way in which the workshops were administered; the input and enthusiasm of participants in both student and open sections was pleasing; and the general standard of the entries overall was notably high, as seen by the number of stories I felt good enough in both sections to rate as ‘highly commended.’

The South Taranaki District Libraries are to be congratulated for their continued commitment to these awards – the secondary section now in its 22nd year, and the ‘open’ section in its second year. 

Their contribution to keeping alive the name and work of an important author is surely considerable, especially as New Zealand literature is peculiarly short of genuinely comic voices. Shortly after visiting Hawera for the workshops, I re-read Predicament, finding the voice I remembered from the first reading many years ago as unique, hilarious and disturbing, and the storyline as inventive and cleverly structured as ever. It’s no wonder that few New Zealand authors - Maurice Gee is one - come anywhere close to matching Morrieson’s achievement in the number of novels appealing to film-makers – the forthcoming film Predicament is the fourth to be adapted.

And with the expected surge of renewed interest in Morrieson, these awards are handsomely supporting aspiring local writers to understanding, as he did in full measure, that wonderfully bizarre characters and quirky storylines can be found in small communities, as rich and appealing as any more exotic setting.  It is a fine legacy that he left specifically to his community of writers and readers, as well as to our national body of literature.

Congratulations to all the entrants, and may all those students moving on from school to tertiary study or work continue to write stories for the new open section.      

First Place

All Thanks to a Jar of Peanut Butter

Written by Bronte Heron

New Plymouth Girls High School

"What shall we have for dinner Bronte? There are those lamb chops in the freezer, but we have to eat that lasagne soon, a few more days and it'll have to go. Ooh, remind me to get a litre of milk from the supermarket. I wonder if maybe..."


I leaned my head against the window of the car and closed my eyes. God, could my mother talk. I tried to block out the mindless rambling (that wasn't even directed at me), and focused instead on the steady rumble of the engines belonging to the cars surrounding us, waiting for the lights to turn green.


I opened my eyes to find an exact mirror image of the happenings in our car in the blue Honda rumbling away next to us. A boy about my age sat with the side of his head pressed to the window, squashing a messy crop of brown hair against it. I could practically see his eyes rolling at the woman sitting beside him in the driver's seat (presumably his Mum), who was having an animated conversation with herself.


He shifted his weight slightly, angling himself towards me. He looked up, meeting my stare, and we gave each other sympathetic smiles, both of us fallen victims to a teenager's worst nightmare: an enthusiastic mother.


The lights clicked green, and the cars revved in unison, filling the afternoon with the smell of petrol.




The New Plymouth Pak'n'Save was full of people, all intent on avoiding eye contact and focused on keeping their kids quiet. Since we'd arrived, I'd tried half heartedly to keep up a conversation with Mum, but even I couldn't help losing interest after three aisles worth of her nattering on about how expensive petrol is getting. Finally, we had both succumbed into an awkward silence.


Mum glanced at the shopping list and groaned loudly, bursting the bubble that had grown between us. "We passed the peanut butter half an hour ago! Bronte, go back and get some. I really can't be bothered."


"No problem Mum!" I replied hastily, all too eager to escape. I left Mum grumbling quietly to herself, grabbing randomly at cans of spaghetti and hurling them into the trolley.


I rounded the corner of the 'spreads' aisle, only to jump back behind it, because there, choosing between crunchy or smooth peanut butter was the Blue Honda guy from the intersection! Heart pounding, I snuck a look at him from behind a shelf of shampoo being sold at half price. He was on his own, probably avoiding his Mum like I was. Dressed in cleats and a soccer uniform, he gave off the impression that he was on his way home from a Saturday morning game. His brow was furrowed in confusion as he peered at the choices on the shelf. Clearly he didn't choose the peanut butter very often.


“Time to step in, Bronte. Be cool, be cool,” I said aloud, psyching myself up and receiving a few odd looks from some passing shoppers while doing it.


I stepped casually out from behind the shampoo shelf, trying to look as though my 

Mum had sent me to get some peanut butter (she actually had, so this look wasn't hard to pull off). He was still deeply immersed in his peanut butter mission, barely noticing my grand entrance.


"You want the crunchy kind," I said coolly, reaching over his shoulder to grab a jar of my own.


"Sorry?" He asked as he turned towards me, voice raised in confusion.


"Crunchy," I repeated, holding up my jar of peanut butter, clearly marked 'CRUNCHY'.  "Some people go for smooth 'cause it's easier to spread, but if it's taste you want, crunchy's the way to go."


He considered for a moment, cocking his head like a puppy dog would. His brown hair fell over his eyes a bit, and it took every bit of control I had to not reach out and brush it back.


"Thanks," He chuckled, taking a jar of crunchy for himself. "Mum usually does the shopping while I'm at soccer. I guess you could say I'm a peanut butter rookie."


"Good thing I was here to help then, huh?" I said with a cheeky smile.


"Definitely." He flashed me a grin, and I nearly dropped my jar of peanut butter.


"So Umm..." I could feel my composure slipping. "You're a fan?" I asked, holding up my jar again. I swear, I must've had a spring in my arm or something.


"Na, not really. I've always been more of a one for Marmite."


I've never been a supporter of Marmite, ever since I was little the smell alone would make my stomach turn. My disgust must've shown on my face, because he laughed loudly, sending an electric current up my back.


"Oh, come on! Everyone likes Marmite!"


"No thanks." I said, disgusted. This made him laugh again.


"Look, I’II show you." He took a few steps away from me, heading towards the Marmite. He turned to make sure I was following, but like the dork I was, I had remained rooted to the spot, still gripping my jar of peanut butter tightly.


He sighed loudly, rolling his eyes at me. He walked back over to me and gently grabbed my wrist, pulling me after him as he walked back towards the marmite. I didn't know if he could feel my pulse, but my heart was beating so hard it moved my t-shirt.


He turned back towards me, letting go of my wrist. I could still feel the warm patch his palm had left. "I have to say, you're the only person I've ever met who doesn't like Marmite."


I shrugged. "None of my family does. My Dad's always said we were taking a stand against the Marmite industry." I thought back to the many times my father had made that announcement, while proudly holding his peanut butter covered knife in the air. It was his ritual every time he had peanut butter on toast for breakfast. It would always end with Mum shaking her head at him and telling him to hurry up so she could make her coffee.


His eyes bugged wide at me. "Your whole family!? That's crazy. Have you never been interested before? Never considered taking a walk on the ... well, the dark side?" He threw me a coy smile.


Even though I knew how disappointed Dad would be, I swallowed my pride and gathered every ounce of courage I had. "I’II tell you what? Id be more than willing to try your Marmite, but only if you try my peanut butter as well." I looked to the floor, waiting for his sharp intake of breath to tell me that he would not, could not, convert for me.


Instead, his warm hand tilted my chin up towards him, so he could see my eyes. Electric currents sparked through my veins from where his skin touched mine. "That," He said, slowly and deliberately, "is the best idea I've heard all day." And he smiled a smile so big that I caught it, as if it were contagious.




"Bronte. Bronte!" Mum shook my shoulder, bringing me back to the present moment. "Help me get the groceries out of the boot, and get your head out of the clouds while you're at it!" I heard the door slam behind her as she left the car.


I leaned my head against the head rest of the seat and let a huge grin spread across my face, too happy to let Mum’s bad mood affect my own. It felt as if I was glowing, and my insides had melted into honey. I opened the door and climbed out of the car slowly, letting the moment last longer. I dawdled around to the back of the car; the boot left open by Mum, who had just walked into the house taking bag-full's of groceries with her. I looked around to check that no-one was watching, and carefully removed the jar of Marmite I had hidden in the bottom of one of the bags, which I had placed strategically near the back so that I could bring it in.


There, scrawled on the yellow label was the name 'Tom', and a cell phone number beneath it. I hugged it tightly, and thought of the infectious smile of the person who had given it to me, the guy who had the messy crop of brown hair and wore a dirty pair of cleats. And with that, forgetting all the groceries except for my one jar, I strolled towards the house to make myself a Marmite sandwich.




Judges Comment

Putting a new spin on a ‘girl meets boy’ story is quite a challenge, but this young writer was more than equal to the task. There was a fine sense of pace, a wry humour, effective choice of telling details, believable dialogue, and a final neat twist. This story showed what can be done with a single idea, a brief moment in time, developed into a satisfying whole.






Second Place

The Man in the Window

 Written by Brooke Goodwin

Hawera High School

"The Ronald Hugh Morrieson literary contest is for South Taranaki students to commemorate..."




"Alright guys let me know if you are going to enter and have a good afternoon" (kids rustling and talking) "Hey Jenny you going to enter" Says Sarah as they walk the corridor to the gate of freedom. Frantic teenagers everywhere are talking and screaming to each other as they plan their afternoons and gossip. Jenny overhears a group of boys planning to go for a skate and a group of girls planning to go out for a coffee, what different lives we led.


"Hello? Earth to Jenny"


"Huh oh sorry, no I'm not going to enter it's just a waste of valuable me time"


"Yeah I hear you, who wants to waste time writing when you could be washing your hair. Watch out looks like Mrs Brewter is on the war path again. She'Il take your socks if they are the wrong shade of blue"

"Yeah I know right, she needs to lighten up and make the world a better place to be, anyway see you tomorrow"


Jenny walks down the main street of Hawera to get home. It's the easiest way to get there but not always a quiet and peaceful one. There's people yelling across the street, heels clacking against the path, and groups of guys and gals talking louder then they need to, quickly the cafes and take-away joints are filled up with hungry students eager to forget and wash away anything they've learned throughout the day. Jenny tries to block out all the noise and commotion by looking around her, at the buildings bopping up and down and their colours slowly fading. She looks to the pattern of the pavement tiles that are ever changing. Jenny's favourite building is the town library. It had a different style to all the other plain and dull town shops and is inviting. Its doors are like big welcoming arms into the insides of the body. Where you feel safe inside the lungs and have time to breath, and be alone with your thoughts. You’re surrounded by people with the biggest kindest hearts. She stops outside the window and glances through the eye as she does just like every other day. She's tempted to enter through the mouth but knows she'll be late home, instead she just stops and looks for just a few moments. A balding, tall build Middle aged and clean shaven man comes and sits in the blue arm chair by the window, he begins to read 'The Scarecrow' but she can't make out the author. Thinking nothing of it she walks on home.


At school the next day Jenny begins to think of that man from the window, she wonders who he might be, maybe he's new in town as she's never seen him at the library before.



"Hey Jen don't forget I'm coming over to yours tomorrow night"


"Yeah I know Sarah you've told me a thousand times, see you tomorrow for another fun filled day of learning.”


Something pulls Jenny towards the library, for some reason she hopes she gets to see the man from the window again, and she does. When she reaches her living library there he is, sitting in his faded blue chair and today he's reading 'Pallet on the floor' She watches him for a moment then was frightened when he looked up from his book and waved at her. Jenny jumps with fright and walks off home in awkwardness.


The next day she begins to think more. Who is this man? And why can't I get him off my mind?


"Jen I can't wait to come to yours tonight we're going to have the best night ever! Don't you think?"


"Yeah me to, but we should really start our geography assignment, you know how Hawera High just loves its Pupils to succeed right"


"Yeah there's no love for the under achievers here"




"Is that the sound of freedom I hear? I think it is"


"Yeah lets go"


As they walk down the street Jenny starts to experience a feeling of anxiety, she somehow knows the man will be sitting in his chair with a new book, or at least that's what she hopes for.


Jenny sees him, he's sitting in his favourite faded, soft blue chair and today she sees he's decided to read 'predicament'. He waves just as he did the day before and Jenny is suddenly and strangely no longer frightened and gives an awkward wave back.


"Jen? Who are you waving at, there's nobody there"


Jenny is shocked her jaw drops, how can the man she's seen the last few days, and the man she is staring at right now not be there how is that even possible.


"Come on Jen let's go already, say goodbye to your imaginary friend"


"But... But..."


"No buts lets go home and get this party started"


Jenny doesn't have the action packed Friday night that Sarah had planned instead she starts to question herself. Am i just seeing things? Have I gone insane? How can this be? This doesn't make any sense I must be honkers.


Monday goes slower than ever, her classes go amiss as she doesn't have the brain space to contemplate the man in the window and concentrate on her attention seeking teachers. She's frightened and even scared to walk past the library once more.


She plans to walk straight past the library today. She doesn't want to see the man in his chair. She gets to the window and before she takes another step, something comes over her and she turns slowly to face the window, her eyes shut...


She opens her eyes slowly, peeking at first. Then with eyes as wide as a horse she doesn't see him. He's not in his usual spot. He's not in the chair. Where could he be? Jenny is distraught, all she sees are some posters on the window advertising the Ronald Hugh Morrieson literary awards. Jenny takes a closer look at the picture of This Ronald guy.


"This can't be... He looks strangely like..."


Jenny pulls back in fright and surprise as the man from the window is standing right next to her. She watches him as his tall figure points to the picture and then at himself and nods in agreement with a slight smirk on his face. He then points at the poster then at her and nods. Jenny is confused what does the poster have to do with her? Before she has time to even think, he walks off with some joy in his step, humming a piano tune and reading 'Came a Hot Friday' written by well himself it seemed, Ronald Hugh Morrieson.


She understands now, she understands what this all meant. She rushes to her Bright blue room plastered with posters and turns on her computer and heads up the page with 'The Man in the Window'.




Judges Comment

Fantasy within restraints of a 2000-word short story is a tall order, but this story of the unknown man spotted by Jenny reading various Morrieson novels in the Hawera town library displayed a fine sense of irony. Dialogue, language and suspense were all nicely handled towards a suitably ‘post modern’ ending.









Third Place

Bear Paws

Written by Summer James

St Mary’s Diocesan College

‘Can you go and get some milk please?’ Mum asked.


‘Yeah.’ I replied, thrilled at the idea of having some form of activity to occupy my long and tedious school holiday hours.


‘There’s some change on the bench.’ Still prepping vegetables for tonight’s dinner. What an exciting life you have mother.


I grabbed the change and jammed it in my pocket. I chucked my well loved headphones over the old noggin. With brass in pocket and ears jet set for aural ecstasy, I was ready to fulfil my dairy product mission. I dawdled my way out the door. And what will my ears be experiencing today? I felt around in my pocket for the play button on my iPod.


I walked to the easy rhythm of the double kick drumming, mindlessly tapping the cymbal crashes with my hand. My lips seemed to sync the words on their own accord, a skill derived from prolonged and extensive listening. C, D#, that cool sweep in A major… my brain already recognising and analysing those oh so familiar musical passages. Bored from the cymbal crashes, my hands began to air guitar the solo, all the way to the dairy. Bet that old lady was having a great time staring at the corrupted youth of today.


Yeah, had gotten the milk along with some candy to go with it. Off to home we go.


Der! Der! Der! I sang the last few chords. The double kick masterpiece was finished. I began to munch on a sour grape, serenaded by the frantic strumming of two detuned acoustic guitars. Excellent. Escape the Fate.


‘Please don’t worry, I am doing fine.’ Fantastically well thank you very much.


‘You’re much too busy to even find the time.’ Hmmm. Try my entire seventeen years of existence basically.


 It had been a while since I’d sacrificed my thoughts to this subject. I know how you feel Ronnie, lead singer from Escape the Fate. We’re not really that different, apart from a few things: I’m not in jail or a dude. You aren’t a teenager. Your mum walked out when you and your now drug addled brother were kids. It’s just me. The old man bailed before birth.


Lost in my thoughts, it took me a while to realize that I was already at the gate of my house. Looks like we’ve got a visitor… I walked in, put the milk in the fridge and dumped the remaining cash money on the bench. I could see the back of mum’s head in the dining room. She was talking very quickly to the unknown visitor.


I couldn’t see the other person’s face. All I could see were a pair of dirty boots and a pair of very large hands, almost like bear paws that had a strange familiar quality to them… seemed very, very familiar... My stomach began churning with a sickening and vile amalgamation of anger, dismay and apprehension.


I was frozen in my tracks. Rooted to the spot. It was a wonder I managed to lower my eyes in horror at my own pair of bear paws too.


It was him.


My heart hammered against the bone prison it was trapped in. The blood pumping around these adolescent veins felt like it was clumping up. So I was going to get a major blood clot in my leg. Not exactly the way one goes about being invisible.


What should I do? Sneak into my room very inconspicuously? Or perhaps wait it out in the kitchen..?


While all of these plans could have been very clever, the only problems were that: I’d have to walk right in front of them as my room was off the dining room and that when their talk would come to a conclusion, they would have to walk in front of my proposed hidey hole in the kitchen in order to access the main door. Guts.


All those sour grapes had begun to come up the old oesophagus, blocking it. The tight grip that my anger, (or was it fear…?) had on me, finally realized by the wrath of too much candy. The great grape lump felt uncomfortable.


What was I going to do?


To distract myself I glanced at the calendar. Freaky. And to think that ten years ago, almost to the day, I was a seven year old pipsqueak, off to face perhaps one of those life-defining moments, the ones where you remember every single insignificant detail.


It had always been me and mum. I’d lived with her forever. I’d never really cared about the absence in the father or significant-male-persona-that-everyone-apparently-needs department. Ten years ago mum thought it to be high time for a meet and greet.


It was a fun filled trip to the aquatic centre… whoop whoop. Fun for all. A friend had been recruited for moral support. I was seven. Quite frankly it scared me to death in the metaphorical sense.


Few years down the track when the conciseness of my handwriting had greatly improved, Mum thought some letters would be a good idea. As a kid I would have done anything for her, but as I grew older, I’d sussed out my own opinion. No way was I going to write any letters lady.


Fast forward maybe four years. Eleven, pre-teen, nearly on the cusp of adolescence. We went to the movies. I spewed in the car. I got sick. Somehow my feelings had manifested themselves out by incarnating their negative vibes into vomit and mucus. Mum still didn’t get it. And I’m not sure if she does now.


Sometimes he’d pop in on the olds. Which I’d never understand. The guy who abandoned your knocked up daughter? How could you pal around? Just didn’t add up. On occasion, I’d be there during these visits, but I would just skulk around, having long showers or camping out in the computer room.


Not today. Nope. I’m gonna let him have a piece, or perhaps two of my mind. I tried to gulp down the sour grape lump in my throat. Here goes…


‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I demanded, stopping Mum in mid-sentence. Going in all guns blazing.


She turned her head to face me, adapting the almost comical manner of horror movie antagonists. The hand holding onto the cup of coffee was trembling ever so slightly.


Though Mum had turned to face me, he didn’t. Dark hair hung, obscuring the visage, making it nearly impossible to read his expression.


 ‘Roddy.’ Mum had the courage to break the awful veil of silence that had been draped in the room by my own doing.


I began fiddling with the cords of my headphones. Mum opened her mouth as if she was going to offer her words of wisdom to help along the awkward situation. I started to twiddle my thumbs absentmindedly.


‘No, Jenna. It’s okay.’ So the demon spoke, preventing Mum’s thought articulation.


Finally, an answer. I was going to get an answer to one of the questions that had plagued my mind for years. ‘

Why are you here?’ I repeated. ‘


Well,’ he said.


‘Well what?’ I could see that this was hard for him too. The opportunity to take another dig was just too tempting.


‘I know I haven’t been the best father to you, Roddy.’ The words only just made their way out of his mouth. The big bear thumbs began to twiddle. I stopped twiddling mine. ‘


Too right you haven’t matey.’ I heard myself say. I had my eyes fixed firmly on him, but I could feel Mum’s eyes boring a hole in the back of my head. She was not impressed with my lack of respect.  He allowed himself the luxury of a small emotionless grin, then turned and looked me right in my eyes. They were the exact same shade of green as mine. ‘


What I am trying to say is that… I want to become a part of your life Roddy. I want to get to know you… to make up for not being there.’ Tones of sincerity and regret spiked the words.


My lip quivered. What the hell..?


He’d missed out on so much already. Everything. Birthdays, Christmases, injuries and excellent report cards. Too much time had ticked away… Too many opportunities that had been left to rot to pieces…


‘It’s too late.’ I retorted. ‘Dad.’ Putting particular emphasis on the d word.


‘Oh…’ The paw ruffled the already messy mop of dark hair.


‘Nah. Just get out. Get out of my house.’ I said, the words so glacial. ‘You know where the door is.’


Reluctantly, the pair of dirty boots started to walk their owner to the main door. He stopped as he reached me.

‘You know Roddy, I’m sorry. It was so hard…’ he cut himself off. I didn’t allow him the luxury of seeing my features twisted by pain and doubt.


I watched his back retreat as he walked through the door. Melancholy had stunted the tall lanky stature by a few centimetres. Shoulders were nearly sagging to the pavement, while the dirty boots scuffed it in sorrow.


‘Are you satisfied now Roddy?’ Mum asked me, but her words weren’t tempered with any malice or sarcasm. I looked down at my own pair of bear paws: big, all fingers and covered in calluses. ‘Is this what you want?’


I heard her words but didn’t comprehend. I was looking at the Escape the Fate lettering on the back of his t-shirt. ‘Hey! Wait up!’ I cried, running to catch up.



Judges Comment

This story of Roddy’s response to her absent father’s sudden and long overdue return rang absolutely true. This story was carefully structured, the halting dialogue between awkward father and resentful, angry daughter showing a subtle understanding of how inadequate spoken words can be, yet reconciliation is never totally impossible, even through some unlikely words written on a T-shirt.







Highly Commended


Written by Annielise Kuriger

Hawera High School

Once upon a time I thought this was what I wanted. What I needed. I always visualised acceptance as a circle. You were either in, or you were out. My entire life at high school was spent on the outside; I could never seem to get in.

As Andrew’s hand slowly falls into mine, my thoughts go back to the day I first met him. His glistening, piercing blue eyes gazed into mine, and seemed to be able to see right through me, into the real me. It had been a perfect summer’s day in South Taranaki. Much like today. The mountain was in clear view and an exotic floral smell wafted on the breeze. An ideal day for the senses. I spent this day in hospital. I thought my life had come to an end, the pain was so excruciating. I cried out in agony as the doctor continued to mumble words that made no sense at all to me. All I could think was ‘how I had gotten myself into this situation, how could I have been so stupid?’

I was 16. My life revolved around what was in and what wasn’t. Boys were the subject of most of my conversations and the daily ‘in’ couple changed frequently. My life as I knew it then always seemed overshadowed by those who were popular. I was always on the outside looking in. With my lanky mousy hair, my boyish figure and my dairy farmer roots, I was well off their mark for perfection. I knew this and yet for a bizarre reason unbeknownst to me now, I desperately wanted to be in.  I had always strived to get inside that circle. That circle of acceptance. Due to my imperfections, I always had to find other ways to squeeze myself through their petite pores of judgement to see a way in.  I always read the latest gossip so I could join in with their conversations, and all of my hard-earned cash was spent on outrageously expensive designer brand clothes. Yet no matter how hard I tried, my efforts were constantly being rebounded off the tough exterior of their circle, a force field of favouritism.

Then I meet Whitney. Whitney had recently moved to the district from Auckland and her big city past instantly placed her straight into the centre of the circle. Yet for some strange reason Whitney clung to me. If anyone asked Whitney to hang out, they also had to ask me. Whitney had provided me my door into the circle, and I readily took it. I never thought of the repercussions, I was too busy enjoying the ‘dream’. My schedule was suddenly booked from Monday through to Sunday with events from small group coffee outings to Friday night parties, I was in. My life, in my eyes, was now perfect. Parties were a huge thing for me. I was new on the scene, and being new meant being prey. I was constantly pressured to drink anything handed to me from beer to vodka shots to straight rum and Saturday morning was often a blur of the night before. Most weekends I had no recollection of what I had done or who with, yet to me it didn’t matter. For me this meant acceptance, and to me acceptance was everything.

However, it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t long before I was once again shunned from that circle. One Friday night we meet a group of older guys. Looking back I knew I should’ve said no, but I wasn’t brave enough to stand up for my beliefs.

I was in, and I didn’t want to be out. Cheered on by his mates and my so-called friends, one guy led me to a free room. I woke up the next morning in an empty bed with no real recollection of the night before. By Monday however, I realised that Friday night was still fresh on everyone else’s mind. I was able to pull together what I had forgotten through the few snippets of information I was slowly fed by those who knew. I was the talk of the school. Every gory detail of my night was known by everyone.  To begin with it was great, I was popular. Maybe not in the way I had visualised it, but I was popular. However a month down the track the true reality hit. I was no longer inside that circle of acceptance. I spent seven more months at school before I left, before I had to leave.

I found myself further from that circle then I ever was. I was no longer outside the circle. I was completely off the radar. I was sneered at and was once again the talk of the school. The principal suggested that I finish my year of study at home, but my mum wanted me to face up to the consequences of my thoughtless actions. I continued with my education but once summer break hit, I signed out. My dreams and hopes for the future disappeared with that signature, and I could no longer live in the now. My summer was spent indoors until I arrived in hospital that day in January.

As we turned to leave the park, Andrew runs to feed the last bit of bread to the ducks. I wait and smile as I watch him slowly bend down, attempting to catch one. He doesn’t succeed but the smile on his face is enough to tell me he’s happy. I continue walking, waiting for him to catch up. He yells “Wait Mum!” I turn back and watch my son scare the ducks off into the lake. His glistening and content  blue eyes remind me of the ones I gazed into the first time the doctor handed him to me in that delivery room. His piercing blue eyes had seen right through me. I couldn’t fool him, he knew the true me. I finally realised that I was accepted. He accepted me for who I was, Tegan - his mum.


Highly Commended

Happy Families

Written by Danelle Walker

Hawera High School

“And you? What would you like Jessica? Jessica!” The voice broke me from the safe haven of my thoughts and I looked up at my parents, I was trying not to cry.


“What do you want Jessica?” my mother asked. Her voice was not spiteful, but nor was it concerned, rather it had the tone of someone who has just pulled out their trump card. My father also turns to me, trying to lock his gaze onto mine. He is also forcing the question on me.


“Yes, Jessica, what do you want?” A whimper escapes my lips as I continue to stare hopelessly at them. The tears I was trying so hard to stop slowly slide past my eyelashes and down my cheeks. They both move closer asking over and over. Who do I choose? I clamp my hands over my ears and drop to the floor moaning. They start to argue with each other again as I rock myself slowly back and forth. How can they make me choose? How dare they turn this decision on me!


They’re arguing again, over stupid things that don’t matter. They never stop! Or rather they do, but only to ask me who I want to go with. I swear I even hear them arguing to each other, in the different rooms of the house, in their sleep! I hear them because I rarely get a full night’s sleep anymore. I toss and I turn all because of one stupid question, all because of them! What did I do to get the ‘privilege’ of choosing? They decided to get a divorce not me, I want them both. I can’t choose.


I sigh and open my eyes again. Sleep is impossible as usual. I remember the days when I would only wake to the temptation provided by Dad’s cooking. It would start in the kitchen, then the aroma would slowly  gain a life of its own and would spread down the hall and into all the rooms until it finally reached mine, waking me from my slumber to the happy sounds of a family breakfast.


Is that enough I wonder? Should I go with Dad? On the up side I’ll never go hungry. But if I go with Dad will Mum resent my decision? Will she hate me for it?


I roll onto my other side. Mum. She used to sing when I came home. Her voice used to fill the house, whether she was singing about love, nonsense, adventure. It didn’t matter, her voice it was just so . . . joyful. I would join her, chucking my school bag on the floor and we’d dance around the room. We haven’t done that since the fighting began.


Is that enough? With Mum I would always have fun. There would be no moaning to silence every time we hired a chick flick. But would I miss the moaning? And more importantly, would Dad hate me, for choosing Mum over him? Oh how am I supposed to choose?


My parents leave the office and the lady turns to me.


“Okay Jessica” she says “In these situations we prefer to ask the child, you, what they want.” She clasps her hands together as she looks at me. “So Jessica who would you like to go with?” How I hate that question. I mumble my reply and my parents are sent back in.


“Mum” I choke out. “I’m a growing woman I need my Mum to explain things to me” I try to explain to my Dad. He smiles sadly and I run to embrace him in a hug.


“I love you Dad” I tell him, the misery leaking through with my words. I breathe in deeply trying to commit his scent to memory. When would I see him again? He kisses the top of my head.


“I know kid. I know” is all he says. He hugs me tighter and I don’t want him to ever let go, but he does.


“I’ll see you soon Jess” he promises as he walks away. It breaks my heart to see him go but at least I know he doesn’t hate me.


I return to Mum and she holds my hand squeezing it tight.


“You’re a brave girl, Jess” She tells me as we walk. I look up at her trying to put what I feel into words.


“Why couldn’t we be a happy family, Mum?” She looks at me.


“Some things just aren’t meant to be kiddo” she sighs. “Some things just aren’t meant to be”



Highly Commended

Dazed and Confused

Written by Brie Smith

Opunake High School

The camera flashes, blinding me momentarily. Small purple spots dance across my vision, leaving me dazed and confused. The family breaks away with a sigh of relief. A quiet murmur rolls over the crowd. They are a swarm of bees waiting for someone to make the first move. But it dies down quickly, as one by one they slowly retreat to the beach side Bach, to bask in the warm glow of a freshly lit fire.


I slump over to Mother. She's leaning against the side of the fish pond, the orange-tinged bricks digging into her hip. Her long, thin, freshly manicured fingers just break the surface of the water, causing ripples to fold over like silk curtains in a slight breeze. I watch as the school of gold fish dart away, swimming in circles out of terror... or maybe just habit.


Mother is talking to Uncle Seth again. They're constantly arguing about which type of car would take off the fastest. I don't think it's something worth quarrelling over but I tend to agree with Mother most of the time. I guess that's what you get when your mother's first job was as a mechanic. She will probably always be set in her strange ways. I bury my face into her stomach, and breathe deeply. The smell of old petrol and grease fills my nostrils. I love it. In an odd way it's a very comforting smell. It smells like... like home.


She wraps her arms around my shoulders and squeezes gently. Her arms are warm from being baked in the December heat. Her fingers twist into my curly bronze hair then slowly comb downwards.


"Georgie," she says. Her voice is slow and slurred at the end. "Georgie?" I pull back to look up at her face. The sun is just behind her head making it look like she's wearing a halo of light. She smiles but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. My eyes flutter closed. I fight to keep them open but I succumb to black nothingness.


It's the first Christmas since Dad died – exactly a year today. Somehow this doesn't bother me. I liked my Dad, but I didn't really know him... not like I should have. He had two other kids and a fiancée, so I suppose he didn't have much time to waste with his bastard daughter. I didn't see him as my 'Dad'. No, a normal Dad wouldn't ditch his kid at the park then figure out he was missing something four hours later. A normal Dad would say 'I love you' before he leaves. All he ever said to me was 'See, yah next time kid'. So I really can't say that I miss him. There's nothing missing. It doesn't break my heart that he's not here anymore. It's more like he never existed. Mother on the other hand, took his death harder than anyone. She fell into the deep abyss. A great hole filled with anguish and grief carved its way into her heart.



Because of that I took over her role as 'Mum' for a while. I was the one who washed her tear-stained bed sheets. I was the one who stayed home from school to clean the house or make sure there was food in the fridge. Things are just starting to get back to normal... well, how it was before I knew I had a Dad. Mother is still recovering. She's getting there, slowly. It wasn't her fault he was dumb enough to...


"Georgie, we have to go." The sound of Mother's voice breaks my chain of thought. I open my eyes to see Mother scowling at Aunt Lucy and Uncle Seth. "Now!" Her nails dig sharply into my shoulder.


Lucy grabs my wrist and tugs me out of her grip, "You'll kill her. You can't drive like that." I flinch at her matter of fact tone.


I focus on Mother. She's swaying slightly, and her face is contorted in rage. I've only ever seen her like this once before. It was just after Dad died. She'd downed a whole bottle of whiskey in less than an hour.


"She's my daughter," she screams, sending spit flying in every direction. She reaches for my other arm, but Lucy is too quick. She pulls me behind her. I try to look around her legs but she gently pushes me further into the couch. I feel scattered like a bag of Pebbles. A part of me wants to be with Mother to comfort her, but another part wants to stay behind with Lucy and Seth... safe.


She's only ten. She's got a life as well," Lucy says through gritted teeth. I can tell she is becoming impatient. She is probably not used to being challenged.


Mother has her hands balled up into tight fists. Her translucent skin hugs her bony white knuckles. She steps towards Lucy with fury burning in her eyes. I want to shrink into the couch, to be concealed by the bright coloured patterns. I think of screaming at them to stop, but I know this would just make more problems than it would solve.


"Whoa, calm down. Look, Dayna, why don't you just stay the night at our place, it's no big deal. We can talk about this in the morning," Seth says soothingly, stepping in between Mother and Lucy. His expression mimics mine, worried.


"No," Mother hisses. She grabs the keys and her bag from the bench in one swift movement and storms out the door, slamming it behind her.


I pull out of Lucy's grip and stumble to the door, flinging it open. But it's too late, I watch as the car shoots down the driveway. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. Something tears at it, ripping jagged holes through the middle. By now I feel riddled with them like Swiss cheese.


"Mum!" I scream, but she doesn't stop. Hot, burning tears well up in my eyes and spill over the edge. Strong arms wrap around my waist and pull me up. I don't look at Seth. I just stare at the driveway hoping she'll come back for me. My frosty breath swims around my face. It reminds me vaguely of the gold-fish in Lucy's pond.


I wait inside, pulling crumpled decorations off the Christmas tree and repeating "Mum" over and over, as if this would somehow bring her back. Poof! She would scoop me up in her arms and take me home, like magic.


But she doesn't come back.

Dayna Christiansen passed away December 25th 2008
Cause of death: head on collision
She is survived by Lucy Cartworth and Georgina Christiansen



Highly Commended

Young Juvenile Delinquents

Written by Tyson Ngatai Martin

Opunake High School

"Young Juvenile Delinquents"

Dear Reader

"Devious juvenile's, ruthless vandals and cunning criminals are on the prowl and they stalk these cold bitter streets... they're silent when they walk, real bad boys move in silence they say. They smoothly and effortlessly talk their way out of any sticky situation...Slickly controlling you with their deceitful words...weakness is their weakness...They will inevitably persuade you to trust them. People I am warning you that devious juveniles ruthless vandals and cunning criminals are here and breeding very quickly on these cold bitter streets". Peter Johnson.

Liquor Store Nightmare

Silence is so loud at night, trees sway, crickets chirp and the wind whistles strangely. That unpleasant feel of cold steel against my back sends waves of chills down my spine, it makes me think why I'm doing this? But my friends will tell me to shut up, so I give in once again to peer pressure. Who's to blame for this? Me for being weak. Not standing up for myself. As my mind starts to wonder I get a slight nudge and a "hey bro are you ready, let’s go and do this"

I sigh, take a deep breath and tighten the black bandana around my mouth. Slowly I pull my concealing dark hood over my head and pull the 9mm pistol from out behind my back. It's heavy and has this effect which keeps me questioning myself? Are these my true friends? My brothers or just devious juveniles wanting me to take the fall for this if all fails miserably. No time for being a "pussy" other guys say. I stumble in after my best friend and aim the heavy piece at the helpless clerk "brace yourself' he whimpers and cries for us to take anything but don't shoot. My friends take no time grabbing cash alcohol and cigarettes and putting them in the bag. I shake with fear and tremble as I realise how serious this situation is. In a quick second it’s all over, we’re in the car driving back to the safe house. They all cheer and yell like animals, ecstatic about this minor victory. Chanting and passing cigarettes around to each other, none for me thanks no cheering or yelling for me either. Not after what I had just seen and done. We all pile out of the car and they sort through the stolen loot inside. I sit down with furious guilt and anger burning inside me. My hands shake and my speech becomes slurred when I try to talk. Emptiness fills me and the fear in the clerk's eyes stays perfectly embedded in my memory. I try to smile but it feels wrong. I glance at my "friends" and they show no sign of remorse or sympathy. I head straight for the door grab my bike and slip off into the darkness. I stop to a halt at a nearby bridge and toss the gun off into the murky water below and try to forget about it. But I become paranoid by passing cars or flashing lights that I see or hear. So I take the backstreets, alleyways and cut through parks where I’m not as exposed like the packed open roads.

It's quiet and peaceful this way back home. In the distance I can hear police cars zooming past streets and loud music being blasted at a close by party which alerts me I’m getting closer to my destination. I pull into my unwelcoming street where the streetlights flicker wildly and graffiti is displayed on every fence or open spot available. I race up the driveway, dump the bike on the lawn and open the door. Immediately I get out of this guilty disguise and with no delay I jump on my bed and slowly drift off to sleep hoping this was all just a terrible nightmare.

I wake up to the noise of birds singing, children laughing and neighbors engaging in everyday suburban conversation. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and I smile feeling like the "liquor store incident" was just a bad dream. Then mums hands me the paper. Read this, can’t you believe it again, Jesus we should have just stayed in... I don't quite catch on to the rest of what mum says because I’m startled by what I can see "liquor store robbery.” Young juvenile delinquents responsible front page of the Taranaki Days News.

It wasn't a dream or a nightmare it was reality and I’m to blame. I’m stunned at one specific text where a liquor store owner "Peter Johnson" describes juvenile delinquents and their actions. It makes me think? Those "young juvenile delinquents" were my friends and "me". That morning my head was bottled with bad thoughts. I kept asking myself what would happen if I got caught and where I would be sent. The whole day flew by fast and I must have jinx myself. Then suddenly a hard knock on the door gave me this odd feeling. Mum answered the door and there stood two policemen asking for me. I bowed my head in shame and hurriedly confronted them. Rivers of tears stream down Mum's cheeks as they told her the whole story. One of my friends had snitched me in when he got caught, some friend he was.

The long ride to the police station made me feel weak and vulnerable to weep and cry, but I must stay strong for myself I kept saying. But with only Mum and me, and Dad in prison it didn't give the police a swell impression. We arrived at the police station and they pulled me out of the car. The place where they kept the troubled youth was disturbingly cold and dull. I could hear the other kids screaming out gang names, swearing, constantly saying threats to one another. It was loud and rowdy like a dog pound. The head policemen walked out and cheekily said "quiet down ladies use your library voices please" he smiled and greeted me and said in this annoying tone "ahhh so you’re one of the infamous liquor store bandits? You should choose your friends wisely next time I suggest, your associates are put away till this is all solved". “Well my friend you won’t find any trustworthy friends in here, so don't get to friendly” he laughed but I didn't find it funny.

The head policemen and another policeman mumbled words to each other for a bit. I paid no attention as I was awed by the amounts of graffiti and names that were engraved in the solid concrete walls and the cold bench that I was sitting on. It was covered in names "James was here 1998" was amongst the countless numbers of names that were defaced in to these walls.

A policeman snapped his fingers at me like I was a dog. He took me down the corridor past all the cells and up some stairs. We finally reached a room which said "interview 1A" on the grey dim door. Inside the room it was plain, lifeless and it had a large barred window with a hatch overlooking the beautiful mountain. He locked the room and told me to wait here for a minute. It was quiet in this area, not silent but quiet.

 I liked this room away from the voices and echo's of the downstairs or the "cruel dungeons" I called them. I stumbled over to the barred window to look out at the stars that filled the dark sky. I try pulling the hatch open to get some fresh air, but it's hard with tight handcuffs on my wrist. But they’re in front of my body but not behind. I guess I’m lucky this time around.

Fresh air filled the room and I just stood there for the time I had left alone. Quietly I tuned in to the mysterious silence that is so loud tonight. I listen as the giant trees sway slowly, the friendless cricket chirps with sadness and the wind whistles unusually strange. That unpleasant feel of that icy cold steel against my wrists sent endless waves of chills up my arms. It makes me think and wonder why I am in this position. Peer pressure? Bad friends? No male role model to look up to? Who's to blame for this mess? Me for being weak giving in to peer pressure and not standing up for myself. Minutes pass by and no one comes so I wait, gaze out the window towards the stars and get lost in the lonesome night.



First Place

The Man

Written by Beverley Terry

As the man unclipped his horse's lead the metal clip fell against the tin shed, making a loud clanging sound, the signal for the dogs to start their excited braying. Soon they would be freed of their chains.


The man slowly led his horse down to release the dogs, stepping carefully amongst the tree roots. Soon the dogs would be housed in new kennels up off the ground. 'Better for them and me," thought the man as he bent down to unclip the excited dogs. Only the mature dogs would be going with him today, as he was going over the river, not ideal for young dogs because if they got frightened and needed help he wouldn't be able to give it. The man knew too well what happens to a young dog that gets left behind on this side of the river. Being the home side they just go home, and that's not what you want them to learn to do. A dog must stay with its master, not much use if they don't.


The farm track wove its way through the trees, always upwards. It would take him three quarters of an hour to reach the top, and about the same down the other side, a bit longer to reach the river.


He would be travelling on the 'new' track. It had been in use awhile now, the old track followed the gorge, very deep and steep. He could remember well having to rescue logging horses that had fallen in there. No mean feat digging them out, no bulldozers to help in those days. The track was always trouble, slips from above and from below. Still, a lot of people had travelled it, it had been the only way in and out, and several families including himself and his brother, had lived back at the river. Having to travel it to get the cream cans out to the railway and bring supplies in had always been a trial.


Today he was enjoying travelling on the high road. He could check stock from up here, right across onto the other faces. His horse was travelling well, he knew where the slippery papa was tricky and worked his way around these without being told.


The man paused at the top to look down towards the river and the flat green paddock. The paddock where they had formed a small race track and used to hold picnic races. It suddenly made him think "Where had all the people gone?" He knew the answer to this of course, after the depression they had walked off their farms and gone to town.


It took him longer to reach the river than it used to, but he was in no hurry. Being on his own today he was his own boss and that didn't happen very often any more.


He was standing beneath the old rimu tree that was one of his favourites. Leaning against the tree trunk was an old dray wheel and axel. He could remember the day when the other wheel had broken and a replacement had never arrived. Beside another tree rested another of his old friends. His konaki with its small wooden wheels at the back and its sledge front.


Little did he know that all this, including the trees, would in a week's time be covered in fast raging water described as a once in 100 years flood. Trees that weren't swept out of the ground would still die of drowning, sheep carcasses hanging from the branches fifty feet up.


But now the river was running low and peaceful. The banks and crossing were always changing so they had to be checked out each time before crossing with stock. The horse and dogs crossed without pausing. Straight in and up and out the other side to start the zigzag climb up the face called Gibraltar. The land opened out to rolling pasture, north facing and pleasant. The man always enjoyed this part of his 3000 acres. He thought he could live here if he was on his own.


He was now approaching a gate, the second on his ride. He had no worries about getting on and off his horse. He had his magic stick, as his grandchildren called it, just like McIver. He could hitch the catch up with his stick. Open and close the gate without getting off the horse — real handy.


Now he was in the last paddock. The one with the lagoon, bush, wild pigs and horses, and evidently some wild cattle as well. These had been spotted two days prior by a couple of wild horse watchers. The cattle stayed in the bush during the day, coming out to drink and graze in the evenings, but he might just see them moving through the scrub, just as the watchers had.


He had just ridden along the ridge through a healthy stand of manuka and kanuka. Coming out into the open he could see the light playing on the water of the lagoon. There was no wind today and everything was so still. To the right on a far off knob stood the wild palomino stallion, the younger one. It still amazed him that this prominent male allowed the old guy to remain in the herd. He knew that the young colts just disappeared. Maybe the old guy helped the young one to get rid of them. Two would have an easier job of herding them off the cliff. The man had found an ideal place for this to happen; the edge off a dead-end bulldozed track that fell away to a black hole. He had never tried to enter it himself to find out but hadn't found any evidence elsewhere.


The stallion stood motionless. The man knew that the horse would be watching his every move. The rest of the herd would have been moved to a distant valley and the stallion would have taken his stand an hour ago, when the man had crossed the river. The man's horse was a gelding and the stallion would know this, if the man had been silly enough to have ridden a mare the stallion would be taking a closer interest. After all, this was the way of it.

A sudden flash of white amongst the manuka on the far side of the lagoon caught the man's attention and the wild horse was forgotten. Yes, the man thought, wild cattle, hard to tell how many but several, well worth a try. He would bring back a few steers and older cows to turn loose here. Then let them be for a few weeks with plenty of grass, and hope that they don't turn wild.


He was thinking this out as he turned to leave. One last look at the wild stallion and he noticed that now there were two. The older horse had joined the younger one, maybe as backup if needed.


The ride back to the river was quicker than coming out. "Going home old boy" said the man to his horse. The dogs looked up at the sound of his voice, tongues lolling, eager to reach the river for a drink.


Once across the river the man dropped the horse's reins to let him graze a little. The man was enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun and the river sounds. Suddenly the horse gave a start and rapidly backed back, sitting up on its hindquarters and was starting to tip over backwards with the man still in the saddle. As the horse reached the vertical the man looked up into the clear blue sky and thought it would be a beautiful day to die. In slow motion he placed his hands on his horse's rump thinking "I can't do this, I can't hold a whole horse up."


The horn of his western saddle was above him and he wondered if it would get him in the chest or stomach. Desperately he gave a push, throwing his leg in front of him. He couldn't believe it, the fallen horse rolled one way and he the other.


They both slowly got to their feet. The horse standing with its head down. "Now what was that all about old boy?" said the man as he ran his hand over the horse. He decided that the horse had choked, grazing with the breast plate on must have restricted his airway.


The horse got over its fright and was keen to get home. Once the man was mounted again the shaking was slowly leaving him. "A nice hot cuppa would go down well," he thought. As he reached the top of the track he paused to enjoy the view. From here he could see all four mountains, his own to the west, and the other three together to the east. They all had their first fall of snow shining in the sunlight. "Frost soon," he thought.


At the age of fourteen he had arrived by rail to this little settlement named after the Maori rat, and now he wondered where all the years had gone.


As he looked back on the old race track a cold, sad feeling came over him, "Must be shock from my fall," he thought. As he neared the homestead he wondered what he would tell the folks about his day. Maybe just about the cattle would do. He had tried to tell them that he felt safer on a horse with four good legs than on his own shaky ones.



After tying up the dogs he walked his horse to its tie up. Unsaddling was always an effort so he was relieved to see a grandchild arrive to help. "Granddad you need a stable hand to do this for you. At 87 you should take it easy."


He humoured her by agreeing, little knowing that this had been his last ride.



Judges Comment

A back country Taranaki farm was the setting for this very successful story, following an aged solo rider’s outing up into the hills, his memories of earlier years, and a nearly-disastrous incident. The writer’s familiarity with the rugged landscape of steep tracks, dogs and cattle, farm ages, river crossings and wild horses was clearly conveyed, and the language suitably sparse and free of sentimentality.









Second Place

Spouse Grouse

Written by Alison Robinson

High street was quiet when Mrs Kelly arrived to do stand-in duty at the café. She noticed that the man the staff called Ned was sitting in the corner. He was, absorbed in his private thoughts, registered the arrival of Mrs Whatzit ('that nice lady who had probably been a nurse.

As patrons finished their meal and left she came to clear and wipe the tables.

'Good afternoon,' she greeted him. He put his cup down and said, 'It doesn't feel very good to me.’

'Oh?' she said. 'I beg your pardon. Are you not very well today?'

'The wife, actually,' he volunteered.

'Nothing serious, I hope?'

Ned sighed heavily. 'To be completely honest, - I've no idea what's bugging her. I'll never understand women. What DO they want?'

Mrs Kelly sat down opposite.

'Would it help to talk?'

He seemed to brighten. 'Actually, it might.' He fidgeted with the tea cosy. 'She's always been a person who just can't take criticism.'

'Goodness!' she exclaimed. 'How did you find THAT out?'

He shot her a suspicious glance but there was no hint of sarcasm on her face. 'She takes offence at the most ordinary remarks.'

'What sort of ordinary remarks?'

'Well, now we've got gas hot water I have to keep telling her not to use the hot tap like it was the cold tap. Then she shouts at me, 'I'm right-handed, 0.K? And my left wrist is sore.'

'I see.'

'And every few days I catch her cutting the vegetables without using the chopping board.

You'll blunt that knife," I say. Why CAN'T women listen to what you tell them?

And then she goes all quiet and moody.'

Mrs Kelly stood up and said quietly, 'I'm needed in the kitchen. I'll give this some thought and I'll be back. Don't go away.' He grunted.

In no time at all she was back. A new couple had come in and she waited till they began to choose their order.

'Maybe’ she said quietly, 'It would help if you told her you still love her?'

He snorted. 'Don't be silly! We've been married for.. for ages, and I've never been unfaithful to her. Of course I still love her. And she knows I do.' He poured again, then added, 'And another thing; - that huge earthquake down south recently was a real wake-up call wasn't it? It seemed to catch everybody by surprise. I know it shocked me. I said to her, 'that just goes to show how careful we have to be. That could happen anywhere. Not everywhere has a dormant volcano like we do, but anywhere could get an earthquake. I said to her, "Now you're NOT to walk up town past that water tower. You could just as easily use another street. And if you need to use the Library, don't loiter there. Quickly choose several books, then get out of there."

'And how did she take that?'

He was quiet for a bit, remembering. Then he muttered. 'She smiled and said, "Yes my Dear," quite sarcastically. I can't prove it but I'm pretty sure she just ignored what I said.

He reached for the teapot. It was almost empty and Mrs Kelly fetched some hot water. 'For what it's worth.' she said quietly, I suspect your wife is anxious and afraid - not afraid you don't love her, but what is harder to take, afraid that you don't even LIKE her. It might startle her, but I suggest that when it seems a good time to speak, you give her a big hug and tell her, "Cheer up, Love! You are a very special person. I'm so glad you married me and I like you very much indeed." I think you'll find that's what women need to hear.'

 When Mrs Kelly cleared his table she found a very generous tip.


Judges Comment

A fine example of what can be achieved in less than 700 words! The power dynamics of a long-time marriage was cleverly suggested in the dialogue between a perplexed husband and an unknown woman helping out in a café, dispensing tea along with a little discreet but wise advice. This vignette showed restrain and unusual humour.









Third Place

On The News

Written by Sarah Bennett

On the News Tonight

I saw a child

who looked only seven years old.

He should be at school

learning how to write

but instead

he’s walking the streets

scavenging food,

slowly starving.


On the News Tonight

I saw a man.

He was said to have killed his entire family

but he swears he’s innocent.

True or false?

Only he will know the truth

But the jury decides his fate

‘Not Guilty’.

What if they were wrong?


On the News Tonight

I saw a mangy cat.

It was dead,

cruelly slaughtered

its body a wreck.

Human hands did this.

The paws were gone

as was its tail

the doers of this: 7 year olds.


On the News Tonight

I saw a child.

He was crying

his home was taken away

His Mother, His Father, His Sister,

His Brother

ripped from his side.

Now he is a killer

a gun at his side

and a heart made of stone.

Only 10 years old.





On the News Tonight

I saw a war begin.

Eight Christians were slaughtered

like sheep at an abattoir.

Terrorism groups were responsible

for this horrific crime.

This is only the beginning

of yet another religious war


On the News Tonight

I saw an innocent man

get shot in the chest

three times.

No way could he’ve survived.

He was shot by a police officer

in a shoot-out.

They got the wrong man

and there’s no bringing him back.


On the News Tonight

I saw not one thing

that made my heart warm;

no stories of friendship

or of love

or simply being happy.

All I saw was death



Now answer me this

Who wants to live in a world like that?




Judges Comment

The only poem to be awarded a place in either section, ‘On the News’ fulfilled the expectation that poetry should fundamentally have ‘something to say’. Throughout the seven verses there was a subtle indication of familiarity with current news event, which made the final line summing up of the media’s preoccupation with disasters and the rhetorical question of the final line ever more telling.











Very Highly Commended

Nearer the Sun

Written by Rolland McKellar

Let me tell you a bit about my mate, Tim. He lives in Opunake – I figure he is more of mentor really.  He’s pretty old – I’d say about 70. But a young 70 and boy is he fit. We go for long walks and he is hard to keep up with, which is a bit tricky because Tim is a bit deaf and we’ll be talking ninety to the dozen, solving the world’s problems - along fairly left wing ways.

These days he lives alone. Apart from his books – stacked right up to the ceiling in some parts of his house. Far too many of them for bookcases to hold. His wife died about five years ago – doing what she loved best – playing indoor bowls in a competition. Just like that – bang. It was a stroke I think, or maybe a heart attack. Reading is what Tim likes doing best.

Tim is an interesting looking cove – quite slight, average height, but his goatee beard makes him look like a kind of Abe Lincoln. He’s as skinny as a rake, with a heavily lined face – even the lines seem to have lines! Despite his age he’s still not grey – at least only a bit. And he has a deal more hair than I have, despite being years older.

Tim seems to have met so many notable people – sometimes I wonder if he is stretching the truth a bit. I mean, how come he’s managed to meet so many famous people. Yet he always seems to have facts and details to match his encounters. Who has he met? Well, one was the poet James K Baxter – whom he calls Jim and sometimes Jimmy. “Drink and smokes were his downfall”, stated Tim.  He reckons James had met his wife Jacqueline in Opunake, where she’d grown up. Another was the poet Allan Curnow – he’d been a lecturer in English at Auckland University. Tim said Curnow was always going on in lectures about the colour red – the colour reminiscent of sex. That shut me up – I’m a bit prudish in that department.

Me? I’m a teacher, based in Wellington, in my early 30s and I visit Opunake quite regularly, with my parents retired farmers and living in the township.

One day up for the weekend last month, I called in on Tim – he made a startling suggestion, “Let’s get up early tomorrow and climb Mt Egmont. There’s not too much snow on it just now”.

“Mt Taranaki – that sounds like a hike and a half. I’m not sure if I’m up to it”, I replied.

Tim countered with, “Look lad, old A.H. Reed did it at the age of 85 back in the 1960s – a young buck like you should have no trouble. Even an old bugger like me has done it about eight times, I think - since I turned 60. We can go via the Stratford Mountain House – there’s even a photo in the restaurant of the old chap, Reed at the summit.

“I suppose you’ve met him too?” I interposed.

“Well yes”, replied Tim.  “But that was long before he was knighted”.

It was all planned, rations, maps, food and gear sorted out. I even had a cell phone – just in case. But, I slept in – until I was woken by a startlingly loud knock on the bedroom window.

“Come on – get your arse up” he shouted, a touch rudely, peering through the bedroom window. He’d marched round to my folk’s house, all business-like and at the ready. I was up, showered and dressed in record time. Didn’t bother shaving.

I drove us to the Stratford Mountain House. It was still pretty early when we got there – around 8am, dank, cold with some freshly fallen snow on the ground. Early – but evidently not early enough. Tim grumbled, “This is late – we should have been here an hour ago,” adding with emphasis, “At the earliest”.

We set off at a good clip. There wasn’t too much snow to worry about. Soon we were high above the Taranaki plains. We could see forever. Tim was at it again.

“See down there – that’s Stratford. Janet Frame lived there for a while”.

“Where?” I asked. I’ve always been interested in Janet Frame.

 “Oh, firstly in Miranda Street and then Juliet Street – she didn’t stay in either house for long – even though she owned both.

“Why?” I ventured.

“Noise – lawnmowers in the hospital grounds and later, in the other house, trains. She never stayed long in any one place. By the way, I’ve never met her. I never will either – she’s dead just now”, he said with finality.

“See down that way – that’s Kaponga. That’s where Frank Sargeson’s uncle Oakley Sargeson had his plumbing business – before he bought his farm in the King Country. Oakley installed virtually all of the township’s major plumbing - it hasn’t been replaced either”, he intoned. He added, “Frank used to visit and wrote that he once saw a kiwi cross the road just out of the township”. I reflected on the fact I’d never seen one – not even one with a DoC band around its leg.

Around 1pm we stopped for a lunch break. As usual, Tim had been setting a cracking pace. I was keeping up – just – mostly due to pride. (How much older than me, was he?) I was relieved when Tim asked if I wanted to stop for lunch. “Perhaps we should”, I replied – trying to sound nonchalant.

We’d been quiet for about ten minutes – unusual for us, when more name dropping started. “I once met Dr Benjamin Spock”, he commented. Now this definitely sounded a bit far fetched.

“At a medical conference? I didn’t know you had a medical degree”, I said with a sly grin.

“No no”, replied Tim – Dr Spock spoke at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Auckland. “I can’t remember too much about what he said, but I remember how he handled a noisy, disruptive opponent in the crowd. He simple ignored the diatribe and continued talking as if nothing had happened – he didn’t try to answer any of the abusive comments which were made.

“Yes – I see Robert McNamara, who is called the ‘architect of the Vietnam War’ recently came out against the US military involvement”, I commented by way of reply. “Hasn’t he just died?” asked Tim. I nodded. A bit before my time, that war.

Tim tried to point out Colonel Malone’s old farm, but I had trouble picking out where he was indicating. The farmer/lawyer died at Gallipoli. The Malone Gates are a Stratford icon.

Tim started to talk about writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but claimed he was as much a musician as a novelist. “They called him ‘Slapsy Morrieson’ – because he played the double bass in bands around Taranaki. He played several instruments and taught music”, explained Tim. I knew Morrieson had lived in Hawera virtually all his life and about the obscenity of the destruction of his home for a fast food outlet. Tim is pretty easy going – and rarely riled. But there was no mistaking the angry flash of his eyes as he recalled the struggle to save the writer’s house in the early 1990s. Former Mayor Mary Bourke and current Mayor Ross Dunlop were very involved in the unsuccessful fight to save the house.

“Torn down - all for the sake of a bloody takeaway place”, he exploded – but he said it less politely than that. Tim didn’t often use bad language – just occasionally for emphasis, or when he was outraged.

He pointed out Eltham, where a film of Morrieson’s novel ‘Came a Hot Friday’ was filmed some years ago. I recalled the crowd scene at Coronation Hotel and Billy T. James. We discussed the fact that another novel – ‘Predicament’ is being filmed there, right now. He said that many writers shunned Morrieson during his lifetime, but a couple – Sargeson and Maurice Shadbolt, recognised his true literary worth. “Shadbolt worked as a newspaper journalist in Hawera for a while”, he commented.

“And there’s Opunake”, I volunteered – once home to writer Graeme Lay. I was gratified that I could finally make a contribution.

“Oh yes”, Tim responded. “Of course he got into hot water because some of his short story descriptions exactly fitted some locals – in a less than flattering way”. He added, “Later Graeme moved to Auckland and used to visit Frank in his Esmonde Road bach for a chat and a glass of Lemora wine. His novel ‘The Mentor’ was based on Frank”.

It was getting quite chilly so I was more than happy to accept Tim’s suggestion to, “get going”.

“Yes, it’s getting bloody cold”, I complained.

“But we’re getting nearer to the sun as we climb higher – should get warmer”, Tim joked.

After a while of climbing upward, it got considerably colder and we came across quite a bit of snow. I noticed that Tim was not forging ahead quite as strongly as earlier and even occasionally stopped to catch his breath.

Then it happened. Tim fell over – he immediately tried to get up, but sat down again in the snow. After a few minutes he tried again. “It’s no good – every time I get up I feel as though I’m going to faint”, he gasped. “Hope I’m not going to kick the bucket on you lad”, he added - with a grimace.

I helped him shift away from the snowy ground to a bare rock   and called 111 on my cell phone. After giving the details as to where we were, I looked at Tim with concern and hoped I wouldn’t have to do CPR - not sure if I could remember how to do it. Luckily, Tim seemed to improve with rest – he tried just one more time to rise – but the same thing happened – he almost blacked out. By now, I was getting worried – big time.

It can’t have been more than 20 minutes later when, with huge relief, I heard the sound of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter approaching – wop wop wop. I’d laid out our gear in a kind of SOS symbol. I ran about waving and shouting like someone demented. The helicopter pilot spotted me, and landed nearby. I helped the two paramedics stretcher Tim on board – he seemed bloody heavy for a thin guy.

 “Sorry chaps – I’m embarrassed about this – I used to be fit, but I guess the years have caught up with me”, he said, addressing the pair, who said nothing, but smiled and nodded. Tim looked like he was more uncomfortable about causing a fuss and bother – rather than his  predicament – that word again!

As we headed back in the chopper, Tim seemed to be almost back to his old self again. I strained above the helicopter noise to listen to more tales – C.K. Stead, A.R.D. Fairburn, Maurice Duggan, Dr Michael King – they all knew each other evidently and rows weren’t uncommon. Even Katherine Mansfield got a mention. The iconic writer didn’t appreciate D.H. Lawrence using her as his model for a character in his novel ‘Women in Love’. The two writers and their partners Frieda and John Middleton Murray lived in adjoining cottages in Cornwall once – but it didn’t work out. I was about to ask Tim why, when it was time to land.

They didn’t keep Tim in Taranaki Base Hospital for long. But they did some tests and found a problem – and put him on the right medication. He has to take a couple of pills daily – otherwise he’s back to his old self. He’s still walking flat out, with me struggling to keep up. But we stick to less strenuous walks like around Opunake Lake or Ohawe Beach, “One of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s old haunts – his folks had a bach there”, Tim said.

“Does it still exist?” I asked. Tim shrugged. And he’s still going on about all these famous people – mostly literary - claiming he’s met many of them. But has he? – I just don’t know.



Very Highly Commended

A Lesson in PR

Written by Murray Simpson

It was at the end of the week, I was tired. I wanted to go home and have a beer and take my boots off and walk around barefoot fancy free. I wanted to text a single mother on my new phone, if l knew any, otherwise I would mow my lawns and have a tui or two and probably text the adult information column. Not quite because my mentor rang me to say I had one more job to do. Nothing major, a small quick job and "you will still be home by 2.30pm," on a Saturday afternoon. Reluctantly I agreed.

My job was to deliver and spread 7m³ of 'grade six' metal to a lady horse trainer in Inglewood. Albeit in a truck I had never driven before. It was to be spread evenly over her training track, 3mm thick, no more no less. Well that was all I needed on a Saturday afternoon when all I wanted was to go home!

From Auroa to Inglewood is approx 40km so I had time to re-arrange the gearbox to my liking and to anticipate the job. I could approach the job angry and balls it up or cool down and approach the job with confidence, I chose the latter.

I arrived at the farm to be 'greeted' by a somewhat irate lady. Well that's all I needed. She said that I was one day late so I replied that I would be one day early if she lived in Texas. She gave me a funny look and I could not be bothered explaining the scientific or sarcastic reasoning.

"What do you know about horses and training tracks" she said. My inside brain said "nothing" but my outside brain said that this lady was not going to beat me. "Horses" I said, "have been my lifetime" well that was bullshit, but I was so pissed off I decided to talk bullshit. The only thing I had had to do with horses was a two dollar sweepstake on the Melbourne Cup. I told this lady how horses had evolved into one toed animals called ungulates – unique in the animal kingdom such as zebras, wild asses and of course pizwalskis horses which are the only true surviving wild horses — still roaming wild on the Russian Steppes and Mongolia. 'I've had a lot to do with Eques Caballus" I said, quoting its scientific name with ease but admittedly I was rather nervous about this sudden burst of information. I knew I was right of course, not about horses as such but because I read a lot of books. I needed a pee. The lady was rather subdued and seemed surprised that I knew so much about horses.

I was basically stalling for time to figure out how I was going to spread the metal evenly in a dump truck that I had never driven before. I knew as much about the truck as I did about horses – Bugger all!!

'How far back does your association with horses go?" she asked. My approach to the job was working, I had a happy customer and I had not even done the job. I felt a bit more relaxed but still needed a pee.

I thought I may as well go for the trifecta whilst my luck was in, "horses" I said quite confidently, "I pissed into Gene Autreys saddle bags, my cousin rode Cardigan Bay to school before it went into track-work and started towing sulkies. Champagne Lady was trained at the Pihama Racecourse next to where I live and she won the Wellington Cup." I went on to explain how I had ridden a horse that once ran in the Melbourne Cup.

The lady thought that my imagination was over-ruling my nerves about this claim to fame. But the story is true – the old horse called Jake nowadays is taking tourists for horse treks up the Waitara River along with horses that have also never won a race. In fact Jake ran last but I told the lady that running last in the Melbourne Cup is better than winning the third race at Otaki. I don't know why I said that. I needed a pee more than ever now.

Old Jake is as old as me and probably just as cunning but he can piss where he likes — and whenever.

"Shall we spread the metal" she said, I was dreading that question. I went around to the back of the truck to set the chains on the tail-gate and to figure out what gear to use to maintain a steady spread. 'Have you got a problem back there" she asked. Jesus lady!! Give me a break. "No problems" I said, "I was just looking at that fine chestnut there."

"I like chestnuts too" she said.

But I was thinking of a different chestnut.

Bugger it, I thought, I'll blow the rest of my knowledge about horses while I'm on a roll.

"Chestnuts are prominent in Australia; my Great Grandfather lived in South Australia – Victoria borderline next to the Kelly family (yes the infamous Ned Kelly). When young Ned was around 14 years old he “borrowed” one of Mr Evans horses to go into town, he returned the horse some weeks later. The horse settled down but young Ned went on to 'stardom' for more notorious consequences." (true story) I could have said anything by now as this lady had changed her attitude to me, it was quite scary. It was quite scary how much I remembered.

Well we got into the truck and I couldn't bullshit anymore. The job had to be done, so I set the chains on 10 links and decided to use low second for the gearbox the only gear I had not used, 'why not.'

Anyway I go and surprisingly out came the metal, nice and slow and even — I couldn't believe it. I've spread metal before on farm tracks where the tolerance is not so marginal — but here, after all my bullshit, the job was working out good. I was lifting and lowering the hoist as was required, I couldn't believe it was coming out so good but I didn't show any relief because I wanted to maintain my authority and confidence. I should have been at Rugby Park watching Taranaki play North Harbour.

The lady was happy, I was happy, we went around the training track three or four times. That's exactly how you spread metal on a training track — around and around and around, nice and even.

For a brief moment she changed the subject and asked about the weather and asked about the metal — no horse talk? I had won. We finished spreading and parked the truck up to have a look at the job. She agreed it was well done, I also agreed, busting for a piss. "Hop on the motorbike" she said "and we'll go around the track to check it out." "No way will I ride a motorbike around a horse training track" I said, with too much confidence "we'll take that chestnut over there and try it out" hoping she'd say No. "I'm sorry; I've got no horses saddled up at the moment" she said. "Saddles, I've never used a saddle, bareback for me.

Shit when I went for a working holiday out the back of Koolyanobbing towards the Simpson Desert in Western Aussie we never used saddles, we would kill a sheep or wild goat and use the hide and wool for a saddle and eat the meal for tea." I was confounding myself with stories now but she was hypnotised so why stop now. I wondered if she was single, I am so she might be, even for one night maybe.

We went for a walk around the track and she remarked that I had put too much metal on the corners, the reason was that I had to slow the truck down with the hoist right up but I was not going to let her win so I said "I did that for a reason." "Why did you do that?" she asked.

Jesus I was running out of answers, it was four o'clock on Saturday I wanted to go home and take my boots off, have a tui, ring the G-Spot and read the paper. "Well it goes like this," I said "I put more metal on the corners so when the horse comes off the straight and hits a bit more heavy going on the corner he will dig in that little bit more – it builds up stamina and strength. But when your horse is in a race proper the track is always even but your horse thinks the corners are harder and consequently digs in – enough to have the advantage coming into the home straight."

  You know I've read Stephen Hawkings 'A Brief History of Time' and 'Einstein's Universe' and I know avagadros number but even that theory about horses had me buggered. But I was a winner without going to the tote. I wanted to cash my ticket before the inquiry, before the siren went. My pee could wait; it's a mental thing from now on. She took a horse out of the stable to walk around the track. The horse wanted to roll around in the fresh metal – as animals do. I should have got into the truck and come home but I couldn't resist it. "Nice horse," I said. They all looked the same apart from the colour. "But that horse won't live for long." Rather shocked she asked "why?" "Why," I said "is because he is rolling around and he will twist his guts. A horse will die when he twists his guts by rolling around; the horse is having fun but unfortunately its bad news. When I was mustering in the McKenzie Country we couldn't afford to lose good horses so we trained them to roll only one way so as not to twist their gut." I said it was an old aboriginal trick they used in the Nullabors. I started to explain the anatomy of a horses gut whilst trying to fill out my log book on a three axle Hino Dump Truck. I knew bugger all about each and still wanted a pee. Get home quick.

 I stopped down at the road gate next to a big macrocarpa to have my pee – in peace, next thing this lady turns up asking if everything is alright. By this time I had had enough, the rugby was all over, I had driven three different trucks that day; hadn't paid my child support; one of Van Morrison's tapes had screwed up; my cat had dug up and shit on my new veggie plants; I was probably going to have fish and chips alone for tea and ring the G-spot half pissed at 11.03 pm.

"No worries," I said, "by the way - that donkey over there?" "Oh no, that's not mine" she said. Thank goodness for that and I left for home. Half way home I started to laugh and it reminded me of a story about a famous horse and its owner.

One night Tonto woke up the Lone Ranger whilst they were camping out in the desert.

"Kemo Sabey," said Tonto "what do you see?" The Lone Ranger sat up in his bed roll and said "I see the Milky Way, the constellations, the quasers, nebulae, dwarf stars and giant red stars. I see Alpha Centuri the closest star, 4.3 light years away, and Betelguese and the Southern Cross. I see the wonders our Creator has made.

 "Tell me Tonto, what do you see?" "Kemo Sabey, I see some bugger has stolen our tent!!."



Highly Commended

 Back Country Drama

Written by Maureen Armstrong

I blew a strand of hair off my forehead as I lifted the tray of biscuits out of the oven. I had been baking for the school fund-raiser all morning. Tipping the biscuits out to cool, I stood back to survey the fruits of my labours.


"That will be enough, I think, eh, Puss?" I commented to the cat, watching from the windowsill in the watery winter sunshine. Something moved beyond the cat and I frowned as I peered out. Then I dropped the baking tray with a clatter and ran outside. I knew something was badly wrong. Mike's horse, Major, lathered and muddy, minus Mike and his saddle, limped across the paddock and came to a halt at the fence beside me. One rein dangled, the other had snapped off at the bit ring. I took the dangling rein and led him to the pen by the barn, my mind frantically darting over the possibilities.


Mike and the two shepherds left before daybreak to muster the back paddocks, five miles away up by the bushline. It was steep, rugged country in the eastern Taranaki hills, only accessible by horse. I shaded my eyes and stared up the valley, looking for any movement. There was nothing. Calling my mare, Jenny, from the far side of the paddock, I tended Major while I waited for her. His knees were cut and bleeding, and he was twitching with nerves. What had happened?


Jenny arrived and I saddled her, snatched a pack from a peg in the barn, and ran back to the house. A couple of blankets, the First Aid kit, a bottle of water, all hastily stowed in the pack, I pulled on riding gear and paused at the door, wondering if I'd forgotten anything important. Then I ran back to the phone and called our neighbour. John was the leader of the local Search and Rescue team, and I prayed that he would be home. He was.


"John," I broke in on his greeting. "Something's happened to Mike. Major has just come home without him. They were mustering the backs this morning. I'm going up now. Can you get your team on stand-by, just in case? As you know, there's no cellphone coverage up there."

"Was he alone, Peg?"

"Joe and Sandy went with him, but they would have split up at the gates, and they may not know anything's wrong yet."

"Okay, I'll call the team and then come up with my radio telephone. You be careful, eh."


"Yep. See you." I ran for my horse. My urgency transmitted to her and she set off at a great clip. I slowed her down – I might need her energy later, and there was no point in risking a fall myself. My mind full of lurid pictures, I tried to keep calm as we hurried along the track, climbing and winding through the hills.


At last we arrived at the gates – the point where the three huge back paddocks met and the proper track ended. All three gates were propped open, as I expected, but I needed to know which paddock Mike had taken. I listened, and could hear distant barking, whistling, and baa-ing. Trying to be patient, I scanned the rugged hillsides and at last caught sight of movement up high in the middle paddock. A string of sheep came around a fold in the hills and started trekking down towards me. Okay, that was one. Which of the other two was Mike's? I tried to pick where the noise was coming from, but the sounds bounced around the hills. Then I saw something dangling from the fence beside the left hand gate. It was the missing rein. Major must have jumped the fence and the rein had caught in the wire and snapped off. Why he had jumped the fence instead of running through the open gate I didn't want to think.


I urged Jenny up the central ridge. Heart pounding, I pushed the mare as fast as I dared, my mind running over the situation, knowing Mike had been in trouble for at least four hours already. Not good.


We rounded a large boulder jutting out at the top of the first slope, which opened out into a plateau, and the mare shied and jerked to a quivering standstill. My fearful eyes scanned the plateau and froze on a spot a few yards away.


"Oh, no!" I gasped. "Oh, no! Jess!" Mike's little huntaway, Jess lay, a mangled, bloodied mess on the trampled ground, her sightless eyes gazing straight at me. I knew, as soon as I saw the terrible wounds, what had happened and I gazed fearfully around again. Nothing moved. I looked down at the pugmarks in the muddy ground. Wild boar. Mike must have come on him suddenly and Major would have reared in fright. That must have been when the saddle came adrift. So where was Mike?


I patted the mare, whose ears were flicking back and forth, eyes rolling, skin twitching, and urged her forward. Reluctantly she moved, stepping nervously around Jess's still form, past a clump of fern, and I saw Mike's old hat lying in the churned mud. I looked down the steep slope. There was the saddle, near the bottom. I nudged Jenny again. Two steps further, past a clump of punga, and there was Mike, half way down the slope, sprawled awkwardly against a large boulder.


"Oh, Mike!" I wailed, almost falling out of the saddle in my haste to get to him. I dropped the mare's reins over a branch and slithered down. He looked terrible, grey-faced and bloodied, and his leg was badly broken – I could see bone shining through the dried blood. With shaking hands I felt for a pulse ... and moaned with relief when I felt it, fluttering, but still there. There was a whimper beside me and I realised that Sam, Mike's other dog, was lying beside him, half hidden under the flap of his oilskin coat. Sam, too, was wounded – a long gash across his ribs. I patted his head.


"Oh, Sam, you brave boy," I murmured. "You and Jess fought the pig, didn't you?" He licked my hand and then Mike groaned and my mind came back to necessities. I checked him as best I could and discovered a lump like a tennis ball on the side of his head where he'd hit the rock.


'Concussion,' I thought, 'and probably hyperthermia as well.' I scrambled back up to Jenny and grabbed the pack, hurrying back to cover Mike with the blankets. I took off my coat and put that over him, too, and left Sam lying against him helping to keep Mike a little warmer than he would otherwise have been. Time! How could I save time? I couldn't leave Mike in case the pig came back, but I needed to contact John to get the rescue helicopter on its way. A burst of barking drifted across the ridge. The men! How to attract their attention from here? For a moment I was stumped, then I heard them whistling. Mike's whistle! I carefully lifted the string over his head, then scrambled back up the ridge and ran across to the edge of the plateau.


Praying that, for once, I could blow it properly, I put the shepherd's whistle to my lips and blew hard. It warbled and hissed a bit. I remembered Mike had said not to blow too hard. I tried again and this time it made a reasonable noise. I saw a dog come over the ridge on the middle paddock and pause to look my way. I blew again, and this time it came out in a single long loud blast. As I drew a breath to blow a third time, Joe rode up onto the ridge.

The third blast from the whistle stopped him in his tracks and I waved my arms. I saw him gesture to his dogs, who dropped flat at once. Then he nudged his horse hurtled head first down the steep slope, leaped the fence at the bottom, and started up towards me.


"Missus!" he exclaimed as he breasted the rise. "What's up? What are you doing up here?" Then as he glanced around: "Cripes almighty! Jess!"


"Joe, Mike's hurt. John is coming up with his radio. Please, ride down to meet him. Tell him we need the chopper asap. Mike's got a broken leg and a head injury and I don't know what else."


"Okay, Missus, I'm off!" and he wheeled his horse and raced down towards the gates. I breathed a sigh of relief. If he didn't break his neck first he would reach John very soon. I looked across the gully again and saw Sandy on the far ridge and waved my arms. Sandy was older and more cautious than Joe — he picked his way down to the gates and back up. I was sitting holding Mike's hand and talking to him, which he probably couldn't hear, but it was comforting to me, when I heard Sandy's exclamation as he came on the scene above. Moments later he slid to a halt beside me.


"Wild pig?" he queried. I nodded.


"Looks like it," I agreed.


"How bad is the Boss?"


"Pretty bad," my voice wavered a bit and a big hand patted my shoulder awkwardly.


"He'll be okay, Missus. He's tough." I nodded again but couldn't speak. Then Sandy saw Sam and checked his wound, lips pursed in a silent whistle.


"He'll do, Missus. Don't think there's any serious damage. He'll help keep the Boss warm." He stood up. "I’ll see to Jess. We'll take her home," he said as he turned away, and I nodded again, feeling the tears sliding down my cheeks at the thought of Jess, who would never again set off with Mike, bushy tail wagging, eyes bright, mouth wide in a happy grin.


It seemed like hours later when I finally heard voices and horses, and John and Joe arrived beside me. John nodded at me.


"You okay, Peg?"


"I ... I'm fine," I nodded. "Mike's ... not too good. He ... he groans every now and then. His leg is badly broken, and he's got a lump on his head.'


"Okay. I'll check him, then we'll splint his leg and get him ready for pick-up. The chopper's on the way. I've put out markers for them. I think they'll be able to land on the plateau."


Sandy disappeared uphill and we could hear a chopping noise from up there while John was making his examination. He carefully straightened the broken leg so it could be splinted. Sandy arrived back with a couple of lancewood poles.


"Splints," he said. John nodded and began strapping the leg to them with the bandages.


"Better shift the horses – they won’t like the chopper." The men took the horses further up the ridge, and when they came back Joe said he could hear the chopper.

"Good. They've made good time. Can one of you take old Sam out of the way, please?"


The helicopter homed in on John's markers, and suddenly it was there and Mike was being lifted on board on a stretcher and there was hustle and orderly bustle. John helped me to climb on board.


"The kids!" I exclaimed. "They'll be home from school ..."Don't worry, I’ll take them home with me," said John. "Connie and I will look after them."


"We'll look after the homestead, Missus. Don't you worry," called Sandy, and then we were off. I sank back in my cramped seat and relaxed for the first time in what seemed like a century. The tears began to flow as I thought how lucky Mike was that the dogs had hunted the pig away, and that there was a rescue chopper. Mike would be in hospital in New Plymouth in twenty minutes.         



Highly Commended

Beached As

Written by Kirsten Corrigan

Stillness outside. An unusual feeling of lightness for an overcast day. No sou'-westerly blustering through pohutukawa trees. On the cards though. After all it’s South Taranaki and Spring; changeable and wind seems to blow all the time. There are days when ears sting and faces are sandpapered even when sheltered by hats and scarves.


Today's good for a walk and I live near a beach, mostly a colony of rock. A mix of well settled boulders and rock pools, midst nomadic stones which change location drastically with each tide.


The Nomads are numerous.

 Here's a local greeting.


"It's a nice day!"


And a local reply.


"Don't break your ankle!"


Stroll along this beach, blobbing out mindlessly with your thoughts, and more than likely you'll end up with a sprain and a trip to the A & E.


Ohawe a bit of a beauty and a beast.


The shore's sandy stage is strewn with debris. Nature and plastic entwining each other. Driftwood sculptured into tee-pees by children and pyres by teenagers. Adults do both.


There are white-baiters, the odd local surfer, fishermen and the solitary lady with long grey hair. She swims all year, STORMS INCLUDED. Immersing herself in freezing salty water. Day after day, after delivering the daily newspaper.


The Dog and I walk past as she rinses off under the outside shower, salty water mixing with the puddle of mud at her feet... ... merging in cold ... swimming in the month of November, going into the northern winter. No wet suit, just a layer of natural fat. Same as the newspaper lady. Walking back from the tiny sandpit of a beach, Beanbane, over the farmer's fields and along cow tracks, up to the main road to Ballintaggart, the stone hostel where I'm working. Feeling so alive having just had my breath and the feeling in my legs taken away by cold water.


I realise. I've lapsed into the past. Check to see if my ankles are alright. In case pain hasn't registered in the consciousness. No damage done.


I never caught a cold in Ireland. Even when surrounded by others who stayed snug, warm, eased by cozy fire but dis-eased by virus.

The icy dip an elixir for a strong immunity.


Fungi was motivation too.

Not athlete's foot although I'd heard the sea was sure to be a good cure.

Fungi was, still is, a male bottle-nosed dolphin, who had mushroomed in size, apparently not from fishermen slash tourist operators feeding him fish, motoring around Dingle Bay on the west coast.


More particularly, the big fella hung around:

Trevor; an Englishman with long thick dreadlocks. He wore a dry suit and could deep dive on his own breath, without scuba gear.

John; a gay Irish chef who swam in a wet suit.

And occasionally:

myself and friend Aishling; amateur snorkellers, in our togs.


Time paused when Fungi's head slipped out of the water at my shoulder. His dolphin's eye sussing me out. Mammal to mammal like.


The southern coast of Taranaki has a cetacean too. A solitary beaked whale, way out, not playground-tourist material, nor reliably here in residence. More like an annual event.


The bay is not so sheltered either. Waves end in foamy fingers that spread amongst piles of seaweed, left by Stormy Night & High Tide, two creatures of darkness. The rapidly disappearing shore and encroaching tide herding anything in its path against the Great Crumbly Cliffs.


Spray flies off the crest of waves in a breeze with flair, grace and energy of the unfettered.


Frost covers black iron sand.

Once the sand was so puckered, at the base of the concrete boat ramp, I'd imagined Noah,at the camping ground a little way up the hill, with his beached as ark, lowering the tarred gopher door, letting all the animals pour out, moas first. The tracks and footsteps churning up the sand and frost like the valleys and mountain crests of the Himalayas as seen on Intrepid Journeys.


But today there were no Himalayas. Just me and The Dog. For the past 12 weeks I've had him on the lead for the first 150 m south-east. You see there is something. Unpleasant.



Raw and red.


Beached As.


12 weeks and no signs of going elsewhere.

Become half-pickled in the brine of 168 high tides.


I try to look towards the sea. Away.

But my head cranes toward the cliff, enough for my eyes to swivel left and see that she's still there.


I let out a sigh. Hope gone. The dog has feasted before today, at the hole that once held a tail and returned with a breath that makes me retch.


At first I was angry. Appalled. This was not the work of The Crumbling Cliffs. Seen that before. Fallen creatures. They fall with their skin on, ear tags included, are claimed and taken away, sometimes by the tide.


There's something about the way her skin is skinned.


It was a deliberate act. An already dead animal put into the river and left to float down to the sea. She returned to the beach like spilled sewage. Untouchable.


This is what I did.

Notify the council. Not.

Notify the Iwi. Not.

Write to The Editor in the local paper. Not.

Make a clang and bang about it. Not. Not.

Action. Not.

Just let it rot inside me too.

Beached As.


My walks continue, as does life.


And in spite of it all there are good days on the coast.


A little seal pup, on the second anniversary of my Mum's Passing. I thought maybe she'd sent him. A present for something lost.




Weeing with force! On a backwards sloping rock.

Rocking down the stones like cousin Bob with his polio-leg.

A sleepy velvety log on the beach.

No worries.

Stationed at the end of the bay. Far enough away from it all.


It's just that first block of sand. Today and tomorrow and the next, until Christmas....... ? That's when the General Populace of South Taranaki will start to make tracks down here. That's when they'll see corned beef, boiled in the sun , trapped in the crockpot of Ohawe.


It's like she's not dead. The Cow. Unable to die. The red sinews give her the burnt-victim appearance seen on horror films and reality T.V. Bizarre. Naked. Needing the definition of skin. The sand starting to stick to her thin dried casing, like a new beard; bristly and rough on the smooth.


The season slowly turns. Today's another good one, sunnier too. Gulls circle a lone kayak out with his long line 400 odd metres offshore. He paddles slowly, picking his spot, the feathered entourage lose their patience to wait for food, and have returned to the cliff to catch the updrafts that can't be seen or felt. A cluster of seven have congregated near the water's edge undecided. Jacky has seen them and with a TH­WUMP has dropped his dead dogfish to go rev up the gulls. He has no chance. Thank goodness.


Dead animals are beginning to depress me.


I had let Jacky off the leash only to discover the dead dogfish is times three. His mutty taste buds were in a predicament — SE to newly deadheaded shark or NW to old denuded bovine.


Unlike the cow the dogfish have been hooked. But the perpetrator is still an Anonymous Bugger. At least the tide should take them out.

My car stinks of dog's dogfish breath on the way home. The journey's short and done hastily.


This beach is becoming Beached As.

She can't remove what shouldn't be there.


I go again to the shore, late this time, this perfect day which has of course turned up the volume on the wind at night. Collecting driftwood for children to use in sculpture at school tomorrow. Now in the dark-past-twilight gulls screech and the driftwood becomes gnarled tree skeletons lying a sandy graveyard. The Kupe platform, a Tinkerbell light on the horizon of the dark sea, fails to comfort me. It's QUIET. Too quiet. Spirits, old ones, are brewing around the sea. Unhappy with the unhappiness on the beach. I start to freak. Gather my stuff quickly and head up the boat ramp walking on



painted in decaying white, at the lip, which I can't see in the faded light. Scramble up the bank to the car. The idiot dog won’t hop in the boot. He's turned heavy and stubborn. Flicking lights on after starting up the motor I see two heads bobbing along the crest of the dune, coming nigh. Wind suddenly wooing the long grass in the dunes and the power lines above.


I should have screamed had I met the fishermen coming up in the dark, but I picture my mouth a gaping hole. Imagination gone rampant.

Relief floods over me when I see who they are but I just want out and accelerate up the hill , winding my way back home.


The next day the Front Page of the weekly newspaper reports the continuing saga of The Garden of Tutunui; a whale rib-bone sculpture, man-made. Finally it's to be Beached As in Patea. Home of Poi E and Closed Freezing Works. The new sculpture, like old houses, has it's own tale to tell. It's controversial enough to be talked about. Big enough for people to Take Notice.

It looks clean, from the photo in the newspaper, there's no rotting flesh trapped inside a toughened integument. No aroma of decay. Apparently it lights up and has a swing attached. Robust. Such ingenuity.


There's no electric lights or swings for my skinned cow.

Just immobility.


Morning's broken and I walk. Ms Moon's still hanging and shining strongly, beautiful and full of herself; between horizon and heaven, back-dropped by cool blue sky. Below her the atmosphere mists into a pale yellow glowing, as rays emerge from the sun, meeting the wavered surface of the sea. Ultimately my walks on the beach are under her control as she turns the neck of the tides, under the influence of gravity.


I look back on the solidity of the boulders. A calm stillness reigns as the waves caress their backs, a silent herd of elephants having a bath. As I look up, birds the size of Starlings appear over the cliffs edge swooping out over the sea and then south, down the coastline. With my back turned to the sea, looking at cliffs, I hear air fizzing out of the waves, the pitch rising higher and softer as oxygen escapes.


Spotting a log the length of a man, a convenient sofa, I sit. Listen.


This morning there is silence in the waves. The Force from the Deep inhales, holds its breath a moment, before the collapse and satisfying crash it craves.


Ms Moon, La Lune, persuader of the tides. Can you help?

Take the cow off this beach, off this planet. Give her some rest. Me too.


We head home, puffing up the boat ramp and hill that leads north-east into the village. The Mayor's friesian calves stand at the gateway near the top of the rise. Jacky's ears prick.

A crack of waves behind us.


Walking down our road the smell of burning macrocarpa wafts into the air as though 'we have entered an invisible door. And then, just as easily, we've stepped through another, the smoke completely gone. The dog strains on the leash to lap fresh rainwater out of a pothole.


I see the girl at no.21. My son told me she actually doesn't have much lunch at school because she feeds it to the ponies, Peanut & Sunny, who graze the empty section opposite the school bus stop. Her mother would do her nut. If she knew.


I wave. Hello.


Jacky dog-stares at the moon, reflected in the pothole, and laughs.




Highly Commended

A Going Concern

Written by Jacqueline Wagstaff

Good afternoon. This is Radio New Zealand News. The time is two o'clock. A top dressing aircraft is missing in the South Taranaki back country. It failed to return from a routine super‑phosphate drop over hill country near Eltham. No further details are available.


The Fletcher lands on the narrow strip of grass that serves as airstrip. It pivots on a small axis and taxis to a brief standstill while the next run of super is loaded. The white dust rises in sulphurous clouds, lining the throat of anyone standing too close.


The aircraft is immediately ready to take off; accelerating down the strip and lurching into the heat haze. It appears to dwell for an instant in mid air before gathering enough horsepower to continue; the density of air being what it is on such a hot day. It's almost mid-day, and the sun is right overhead as the pilot banks and heads for his target. The wind sock at the end of the runway hangs lifeless and flaccid, not a breath of wind to get behind it.


Joseph swings the scrub slasher half heartedly as he watches the plane take off. Chipping at the few bits of knee high scrub still clinging to the hillside. A wave of nausea washes over him. He pauses, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the crook of his elbow, leaning on the handle of the slasher for support.


A few persistent grass flies gather, attracted by the sweat. He swats them away half–heartedly. For days now he has been going up to the big house after dinner so that Bruce's wife can dress his abscessed wound. All day it oozes puss into the clean dressing. Some of the other fellas go with him up to the big house, to drink beers with Bruce, and laugh and joke till it's time to wander back down the track in the dark. To the shearer's quarters where the scrub cutters live for the few months they are employed over the summer. Where they become accustomed to the moldering smell of damp particle board and corned beef. Some of the fellas sing as they walk back down the track, cheerful with a belly full of the boss' booze. For five summers now Joseph has been coming here for the scrub cutting. He and the boys in the gang have cleared acres of manuka and yellow flowering gorse from the hills. Year by year converting them to the generating of profit.


"Hawera traffic, this is Charlie Echo Yankee. Charlie Echo Yankee is VFR, five miles north east at 3,000 feet, letting down to join standard region." Emily shifts in her seat as she radios in her position. Soon they'll send Bruce out in the Landy to chase the sheep off the airstrip.


"Hawera traffic, this is Charlie Echo Yankee, Charlie Echo Yankee is overhead at 1500 feet, joining standard region." She watches the sheep scatter in all directions as the vehicle moves slowly up the paddock.


"Hawera traffic, this is Charlie Echo Yankee. Charlie Echo Yankee is down wind for runway 270." The Land Rover rotates 180 degrees at the end of the runway and makes its way back to the club house.

"Hawera traffic, Charlie Echo Yankee is on final." The engine throttles back as she coasts over the hedge dividing the airstrip from the neighbouring paddock. Emily anticipates the jolt as the wheels touchdown, and she taxis to the edge of the field. The small aircraft comes to a standstill outside the club house and Emily kills the engine. She jumps out of the cockpit, slamming the door shut, easing the stiffness from her hip joints. Bloody uncomfortable after about half an hour strapped in to the seat. She just wants to get moving again. She brushes aside a stray bit of red hair and pats her shirt pocket, checking for cigarettes. She's a contradiction of rounded private school vowels with weathered face and no makeup. She's heard people describe her as wirey, which makes her laugh and think of fox terriers. She supposes it's an adequate description. Her limp isn't as pronounced as it was. The rolling gait is barely noticeable now. The crumbling, necrosed bone in her hips has long since reformed into an ill fitting and badly articulating compromise.


Bruce watches from the cracked windscreen of the Land Rover as his sister dismounts the Cessna. Pre-occupied and anxious, he taps his fingers on the steering wheel and waits; appreciating the tactile reassurance of the familiar finger grooves. He resists the temptation to light another smoke.

He's been trying to cut down to just a few a day. Promised, the Missus he would anyway.


"Gidday Bruce." Emily jerks open the Land Rover door and lifts it noisily on its hinge to allow it to open fully. "I hear there's a top dresser gone down." She hauls herself into the passenger seat and brushes the dried mud - dust off her moleskins. Large clumps of it settle on the floor around her feet. The dogs in the back clatter about, bumping into each other in their excitement to greet her; claws rasping against the metal floor as they lose their footing. Turning to face Bruce in the driver's seat, she squints into the sun and pulls the cigarette pack from her shirt pocket. She offers one to Bruce in a well practiced ritual of mate-ship. He accepts the offer. Bugger the Missus.


"Yeah. It's Ian," he says. "Bloody hell! I didn't realize you had him up there today." Emily lights the cigarette arid draws it in deeply, leaning back against the cracked fabric of the seat. "Yeah. Trying to get those flats done before the front comes through tomorrow." "How long's he been missing? "Took off about half eleven, and we haven't seen him since."


Emily looks at her watch and calculates the time elapsed. She mentally maps out the geography of the property they have owned together since the early seventies. Built into the going concern it is now with the help of "seat of the pants" operators like Ian. Sheep and beef country. All bluffs and ridges. You had to take the risks to get the pay offs. Her mind's eye seeks out the familiar gullies and crevasses, forming possible scenarios for the downing of a fully laden aircraft. She wonders whether he had time and enough warning to dump the load.

Bruce's voice cuts across her train of thought.


"Kevin and the local cop are out looking for him now. We need to get out there too." He turns the key and the engine reluctantly coughs and starts. He crunches it into gear without too much assistance from the synchro.

"Yeah - speaking of Kevin; he reckons Joseph's been in the pub again hitting up the locals about sponsorship. I was talking to that Irish vet the other day when he was out spaying the heifers. He reckons Joseph's desperate to stay."


Joseph stops to rest again. His thinking is clouded and he is no longer sure of his surroundings. He notices a gathering apparition of smoke which appears to be snaking its way above the horizon. It can't be far away, just over the next ridge. Staggering towards the haze, again he relies on the slasher handle for support. The wound in his leg throbs; the bandages have slipped down, revealing the deep purple of partially granulated tissue on dark skin. Joseph no longer notices.


In the cockpit of the downed Fletcher, the pilot regains consciousness. His helmet is shattered; fragments of yellow visor litter the floor. His head throbs. He smells smoke. He tastes blood. The aircraft has come to rest on the side of a hill. He pushes back the Perspex hatch with his good arm. The other one hangs at a precarious angle from the elbow. Multiple foci of pain crowd in and overwhelm him briefly. But he gathers himself mentally and physically and hauls himself out of the cockpit. The fuselage of the aircraft is remarkably intact, except that it lies bellied and wingless. He recognizes crumpled and scorched debris from the tail some way off. The charred grass and scrub under foot are evidence of their impact.


Aware that he is capable of co-ordinated movement; he begins his descent off the hillside. His instinct for self preservation is strong, his movements deliberate.


Again he becomes aware of the throbbing and distortion inside his head, and is disorientated by it. Which way is down? Where is the horizon? The temperature begins to drop as twilight approaches the hillside.


Joseph finds he can go no further. Another wave of nausea sweeps over him and he vomits onto the grass. Sitting down, propping himself against a convenient outcrop of earth and scrub, he gives in to the sensation and closes his eyes; slipping into that no-mans land between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is inhabited by dreams.


He sees his young daughter, back home in Fiji, reaching into the side of a huge cattle-beast. Her arm is engulfed.


The murmurs of cattle in the yards by the shearer's quarters become the screams of the distressed animal he sees through his delirium. His daughter smiles at him. He relaxes completely, as sepsis overwhelms his body; as he slips beyond the dreaming.


The pilot is still. Unsure of himself, hoping for some clarity. He rests a moment; sits with head in hands, knees drawn up; breathing rapidly and attempting to suppress the panic. With considerable effort he is able to lift his head up from his knees. It could be smoke from the wreckage; it could be a light mist sweeping into the gully, which happens here at the beginning of autumn. But it is opaque and confusing.


For a moment he fancies he sees a man approaching him out of the fog. A tall, dark man with ancient features and white teeth which are revealed as he smiles. There's the smell of sweat and the buzz of grass flies, and for a moment he gets the acid whiff of fresh vomit. He wonders if it's his own. The dark man extends an arm, helping him to his feet. With relief he finds he can capitalize on the circulating adrenalin, and is able to walk away from the wreckage; the smoke spiraling upward. He appreciates the symmetry of its ascent. A gust of wind captures it; carries it further towards the horizon. At last the horizon.


The old Land Rover climbs almost vertically up the hillside, its suspension accommodating and yielding. Emily hangs on to the leather strap on the door sill as the cliffs engage underneath her. Bruce knows approximately where he should be looking for the Fletcher. The flat plateau way above sea level, difficult to access by any other method than horse or aerial top-dresser. He's worried about the fading light.


They spot the thin wisp of smoke as it emerges over top of the next hill. Emily's relief is palpable as she spots Ian making his way down the hillside towards them. Bruce accelerates, with a sense of urgency that is difficult for the old Land Rover.


This is Radio New Zealand News. The time is six o'clock. The pilot of a top dressing aircraft overdue in South Taranaki has been found alive. Ian Mc Donald walked away from the crash with only moderate injuries. He was found by

Seven Creeks Station owners late this afternoon. Air accident investigators are currently en-route to the scene.




Highly Commended


Written by Linda McIntyre

I can only remember the last two words, I have read this page three times already but it is the last two words that haunt me, volcanic activity.

Volcanic activity is right – I feel like exploding. I don't mean a good long fart either, this is the third time these people have visited our farm, they are so annoying. She sounds like she's got a blocked nose when she talks and he sounds all jolly like Father Christmas.


"George I don't like the colour of this wallpaper in here."


Nor did I, until now, maybe the brightness of the lime green wallpaper will make her go away.


The large shiny FOR SALE sign at 137 Manawapou Road, Hawera, organized by the real estate agents, has turned our place into a railway station and as a 14 year old I feel like I am some sort of tourist attraction. There are colour photos of our farm in the Hawera Star every time I open it and for the hundredth time I wish I was at school, which is not normal for me, I usually love school holidays but I hate all these people wanting to look into where I live. They look at all my stuff, they open cupboards and wander all over the house, they drive all over the farm and they ask stupid questions.


These people that are here now? I like them even less than all of the others who have visited. They all talk about changing it. I do not want any changes to the house, I do not want the gateway widened, or the tanker track moved, in fact I do not like what is happening at all. I grew up here with the creaky floor boards and a big open fire in the lounge. I like the way the milk tanker rattles the house every time it passes by.


"Hello dear, good book is it?"




"That's nice. George dear, do you think I could fit my sewing machine in this room?"


She opens my walk-in wardrobe then screams at the plastic skeleton dangling in the doom.


Good, I almost laugh but manage a cough instead. "That's Henry, he's a friend of mine," I volunteer.


"Just hanging around is he?" George laughs at his own joke, dick.


"Oh really George!"


Then the woman turns back to me. "Now you will take him with you when you go, won't you dear?"


"Too right, I'd never leave Henry behind."


A heavy yuk feeling turns my stomach over. While I will be taking Henry I will be leaving behind so many other special things. There's my goal post for practicing to win the World Cup , Dad say's there won't be any space for it where we are going. There's my dog Don, such a loyal mate, looking at me with those big brown eyes. A wonderful border collie, he was Dad's working dog first then when he got too old to work cattle he retired to the back door step. We used to trip over him on dark nights because he was deaf and didn't hear us. Don is in the rose garden under the kitchen window, he will stay at 137 Manawapou Road and we will move to the city. I know where we are going, it's a little white brick house close to the Hospital in New Plymouth, it doesn't have any lawn or trees, it's called low maintenance, it sucks.


I shiver at the thought of leaving Don here, and Pickles my hedgehog, and Piggy the runt of Sally's litter of 19 piglets and Ducky my pet duck who got run over by the tanker, they're all under the lemon tree.


Barnzy my mate has moved heaps of times, his parents sharemilk just down the road and he said the worst part is before it all happens. Once the moving actually starts there is lot's to do and it's not so bad. I hope he's right.


"If we shift the tanker track that lemon tree is in the wrong spot," mused George leaning on my bedroom window sill and gazing outside. His breath left fuzzy marks on the glass.


"No, no, it's in the perfect spot, it has lots of big lemons, it's a good lemon tree," alarm bells are screaming in my head.


"It could be shifted easy."


"No, no, you can't shift it."


"Why ever not?"


"Because, because..."


My 14 year old voice changes again, as it often does, a pain in my throat strangles any chance I have of even the smallest squeak, no sound comes out. I shrug my shoulders and shake my head.


"Bye for now dear," said the woman waving as if she has known me for a long time.

I wave back because home feels like a railway station, so waving is the right thing to do. Now that horrible woman and that dick called George are talking with the land agent and my Mum and Dad, and shaking hands. That is a bad sign.


Why are they walking towards my tree hut? I started building it when I was seven. It took me and the kid next door all summer just to put the floor and walls in. Then he moved and I forgot his name.


I wonder if the kids at school will forget my name when I leave?


Mum, Dad, those horrible people and the real estate agent are all looking at the nuisance tree, I see Mum lean towards Dad and as she talks he looks toward my bedroom window, he leans heavily on his stick and nods but doesn't say anything.


The nuisance tree grew from a seedling Mum planted, when her and Dad first moved to the farm, it was never supposed to be in the vegetable garden, but it grew faster than the vegetables, so the tree stayed and the vegetable garden moved. It shaded the house a bit and dropped all its little helicopter seeds and leaves into the guttering which blocked the drain pipes in the autumn. That's how it became the nuisance tree, though it's real name is sycamore. Because Mum planted it and I built a great tree hut in it, Dad changed his mind about chopping it down. By the look on Mum's face I can see time is up for the nuisance tree.

The lines on Dad's face hang about in bunches around his brows and eyes and mouth, since his tractor accident he looks really old, he says he's OK, but I know things are not right. The farm is too much for him, there are some days when he never leaves the house.


The photo Dad took of me and Barnzy in the tree hut catches my eye. I must get a copy for Barnzy before I move. I will write his name and mine on the back and the date so some day he can show it to his kids and say: "That's your Dad and his best mate." And he'll sneak a look over the back and say my name and remember me.


Yeah, there is a lot to do before we move.



Highly Commended

A Letter of Truth

Written by Scott Murfitt

Since anyone could remember the old home on Bracken Street had been known to tell terrifying tales about its abnormal activities. When Simon Baxter was eleven years of age, his older brother Victor had started his teasing stage toward his younger sibling. On early Saturday mornings, Simon would be seen biking victoriously up and down his cul-de-sac street, each time examining the castle shaped house at the end of it. Simon loved the beautiful work of the pointed rooftops which reached towards the snow coloured, fluffy clouds in the water based sky. He equally loved the scarlet and gold stained glass windows with its countless number of squares. To add size to beauty, the Mount Taranaki outline could be seen perfectly from a front on view of the house. Simon's imaginative thoughts were unfortunately interrupted by Victor as he walked out from behind the gigantic, thirty foot pine tree and started yelling.


"Simon! Hey! Simon!" Victor ran up the street and grabbed his wrist tightly.


"What are you doing?" he hissed.

"Looking at that house," Simon replied, "it's amazing."

Victor did not like that.

"That house is haunted," Victor snarled "didn't you know?"

Simon's eyes lit up. He loved sci-fi, fantasy stories. This made Victor even angrier. "Legend has it, that a poor school cleaner fell in love with the local school teacher who was also the most beautiful girl in New Plymouth. The bad thing was that she was also married. He would spy on her when he was mopping the floor and cleaning the white boards. He would listen to her scratch the correct answers on her pupil's papers and make plans for the next day’s tasks. Some would say he was a bit of a stalker..."


Simon stood as still as a sleeping cat in the dead of night, tensing his hands whilst holding his bike.

"...They then started having an affair and the whole of New Plymouth, and I mean the whole of New Plymouth, was furious. The husband disappeared and a rumour spread and the town thought that the school cleaner was blackmailing the teacher so he disappeared to let the news die down.


"What was the teacher's name?" Simon asked.

"Wha-? Oh, Isabella," Victor replied. "According to a librarian's firsthand experience on the story, a letter was recorded but was unfortunately lost. It was sent to a well known editor to get published for the New Plymouth towns-people to read. But some say it was never sent, some say it was lost and very few people say it was taken and hidden in that house. Victor pointed to the castle home. "...as Theresa and her ex-husband lived there before her affair. What we do know though is that not only was Isabella the most beautiful girl in town with her long, black straw texture hair and hazel puppy dog eyes but she was also the richest.

When the news reached the ears of the New Plymouth town, some residents had to wonder why she had had an affair because the reason for her richness was because of her husband."

"What? They never found the letter? Simon asked. "How come they didn't check the house?"

"No one really cared, they think it's interesting, but fiction." Victor replied and walked off. Simon tried to erase the last IO minutes out of his mind. He had been known to make situations worse, more than they really should.


As the day wore on, Simon couldn't stop thinking about the myth he was told, especially the letter that was never seen again. When it reached towards the end of the afternoon, Simon had made his decision. Even though he was only eleven years of age, he had decided to search the 'abandoned' house. For that piece of paper may hold the necessary answers of what really happened to the school teacher, her husband and the secret lover. His decision had taken some time, as his memory kept replaying one vital piece of the conversation his brother had mentioned.


"... A letter was recorded but was unfortunately lost as it was sent to a well known editor to get published for the New Plymouth towns-people to read but some say it was never sent, some say it was lost and very few people say it was taken and hidden in that house." Simon knew it wouldn't hurt to have a quick glance through the countless number of rooms, hence his sprinting to the front door.


Simon carefully pushed the door and as it creaked open with the sound like an old man's knee joints, light streamed through the silent living room. Simon took note that the room was filled with your basic living room objects and was surprised to see that dust hadn't settled on any of them. The room also felt fairly warm, as though a fire had been lit in the last twenty four hours. Someone was living in this house! Simon called out and his voice echoed through the countless number of rooms. As the sunset shadows waved and quivered throughout the living room, an object stepped out from behind the bookshelf. A lady walking ever so softly towards Simon. Step after step and Simon was staring up the staircase searching for any sign of life. As unaware of the stranger, as a surface is of all the microscopic germs squirming over it. A floorboard creaked which enabled Simon to wake up from his searching and twist his head round bit by bit. At first sight, Simon only saw her snow white dressing gown. As he glanced up though, he saw her hazel puppy dog eyes and long, black straw texture hair. Although there were some small spots of grey and her eyes had lost its sparkling life, she held wrinkles of despair and grief. "Hello Simon, my name is Isabella. You may have heard about me in some stories, but I'm afraid they haven't got all the facts..."


Simon gazed all his attention at her. He was both frightened and amazed. Someone who went missing fifty years ago was now right in front of his own two eyes! "I know this must be a shock to you Simon, bu-..."

"How do you know my name?" interrupted Simon.

"Very understandable, but I thought it would have been obvious. I've lived in this very house for more than fifty years and seen a lot of things. This is how I know your name, Simon, I've been watching you ever since you were born."

"What?! You're a stalker?" Simon alleged angrily.

"No! Not a stalker. A caregiver. I've grown fond of you Simon and seen your brother taunt and fill your mind with unforgettable tales. I have the answers though, all in this letter." Isabella reached into her night gown and pulled out a rather old piece of mattered parchment.

"You!? You have the letter? The one that holds all the answers and the one that has been lost longer than you have been in this house?" Simon glared at her. "Yes, I have the letter. The truth is though, it wasn't sent to a well known editor. It wasn't lost in the mail and it wasn't hidden. I'm the librarian who recorded the story and I want to remember my husband somehow."

"Hang on" Simon stated. "I thought you had an affair?"

"You're catching on Simon. Yes I did have an affair, but a tragic event happened which caused me to regret my decision." Isabella wondered around the room and stared up to the now twilight sky. "What your brother told you, I want you to forget! Well some of it anyway. I will mention what was true and what wasn't..." "Lies, bu-..."

"Yes Simon. lies. I will read from this letter, stating what the actual events were that happened those unfortunate fifty years ago."


"Dear Reader,

It was the 31st of October, Halloween. What I'm about to tell you is true, ok? As you know, I was a teacher, I was married and I had lawfully wedded husband. I was up late at school, marking the Halloween themed spelling test. The cleaner was outside my door sweeping the corridors and I felt like he was watching me but every time I looked up, he was staring towards the ground. It was about 10:00 pm when I left school and the cleaner, Josh was his name, had left half an hour before me. I drove home and saw the final of the trick or treaters walking towards the last of the houses. When I arrived home, this house in fact, I was surprised to see that none of the lights were lit. I took no notice of it though as I was tired and thought my husband had gone to bed early. I had my dinner and entered my room to find blood oozing through the sheets. My husband was dying. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure moving. To much surprise, it was Josh. JOSH HAD KILLED MY HUSBAND!" Isabella screamed and cried these last five words.


"Josh told me he loved me and had to get with me somehow. I punched and punched him, which forced him to walk backwards out of the room. I screamed and shouted which left him stunned and silent. I kicked him and whacked him until he reached the top of that flight of stairs. Josh wasn't sane, I don't think. When he came across those stairs and saw the reaction I had given him, I don't think he was too happy. He fell down those stairs and by the time he reached the bottom, he was lifeless. I had to get rid of the bodies and when the two disappeared, that was when the town started talking. They said my husband had disappeared because he was too ashamed to face the town and the cleaner had left to let the news die down. I got rid of the love of my life that was the most difficult. I grieved for months and months. Sometimes I wouldn't eat for weeks! These wrinkles I have formed aren't from old age, it's from despair. Being in isolation for so long made me go through stages of being sane and insane..."


To whom this letter reaches. Do not let it reach the wrong hands."


Isabella finished reading the letter with tears streaming down her face. Simon tried to comfort his newly found friend but was unsure of what to do.

"I know it must've been hard for you Isabella." Simon whispered. "I don't know how you did it all those years, alone to care for yourself."


"But I'm not alone now Simon, not since you stepped through that front porch." This made Simon stare at her astounded.

"Yes Simon, you are trapped in this house along with I unfortunately." Isabella muttered. "All windows, doors and cracks, are locked from the outside. No matter how much force is put into the escape mechanisms, we are still trapped and I know what you're thinking Simon. The service in this household, even at the topmost tower, is pathetic."

"Isabella, you must be mistaken. How on earth is there perfect reception at my humble abode and no reception here." Simon joked stupidly.

"I'm serious, it's unexplainable I know. Haven't you ever wondered why on earth I haven't left this depressing place? Haven't you ever wondered how I survived for 50 years?"

"Well, yes but..."

"Every second morning I wake up and find the pantry restocked the refrigerator full and the house cleaned. I try to stay awake, but no luck so far. The honey, oh I love my honey, tastes surprisingly sweet and different from when I tasted it fifty years ago."


As Simon heard this, he guessed something, but instead of going on his instincts he sprinted to the front door and started screaming. His mind was racing and his heart was breaking...


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