Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 Second National Republican Short Story Competition Winner Announced

Helen Bersten and Sean Oliver Ness were each awarded today a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Second National Republican Short Story Competition for their short stories Double Lives and Inauguration Day.

The 2010 theme was ‘Life and Death in an Australian Republic’. Australia’s speculative fiction writers were challenged to speculate on the possible futures of the Australian republic.

The Judging Panel comprising Professor Brian Matthews, Professor John Warhurst and Professor George Williams decided not to award a 2010 First Prize. Instead they have awarded two ‘Highly Commended’ prizes and recommended the prize be jackpotted for 2011. This is not an unusual outcome for literary competitions. Winners will receive $50 each.

Winner of a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Second National Republican Short Story Competition is Helen Bersten. Mrs Bersten is a librarian, who has been working for the last 32 years as Honorary Archivist for the Australian Jewish Historical Society in Sydney. In 2005 she received an OAM for her voluntary service to the historical society. She has also been a voluntary reader on Radio 2RPH (Radio for the Print Handicapped) for the last 6 and a half years. She is an avid writer of letters to newspapers and an amateur poet, who proof-reads others' works and dreams of writing her own magnum opus. She is a wife, mother of 3 and grandmother of 5.

In Double Lives, Mrs Bersten tells dual stories: one set during a Presidential meet’n greet where his new team of advisers, Team PC (People’s Choice), are getting to know each other. At the same time a fictional crime story is being told about the night the Dunbar sank at South Head in Sydney Harbour.

The Judges commented that Double Lives is both imaginative and innovative. The attempt at a dual narrative – one commenting on the other, the past intruding into the present – is ambitious and difficult. They felt the complicated structure, though at times flawed, makes a genuinely ambitious and credible effort to produce a fiction. It is a story that has the required republican provenance but which tries to do other things and go to other places, both physically and psychologically.

Winner of a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Second National Republican Short Story Competition is Sean Oliver Ness. Mr Ness was born in North Queensland but his family moved to Hong Kong when he was young. He lived there until he was 12 returning to Brisbane and later study in Psychology and Information Technology at university. He works in the public service in Canberra. His interests include travelling, participating in Volunteer Emergency Services, following politics and, of course, reading and writing a lot.

In Inauguration Day, Mr Ness tells the story of James Hapeta, an Australian Federal Police Lieutenant assigned to Presidential protection detail with the Inauguration Day Presidential parade. As the Presidential motorcade travels through the streets of Canberra, Hapeta and his security colleagues attention to security is at fever pitch due to a discovered credible threat.

Ness’ sense of humour is evident in his reference to ‘Billies’. As the Presidential motorcade passes through Ainslie "an elderly couple: grey hair, plain clothes, a stiffness that stood out from the happy families [are holding] a poster-size portrait of the Queen [and] a sign that said "THE SECOND RUM REBELLION IS HERE – GOD SAVE US ALL!" Ness explains that in the early days, monarchists took the Rum Rebellion analogy and ran with it; in response, they were uniformly nicknamed Billy Blighs, or just Billies.

The Judges noted as nicely managed the following paragraph in Inauguration Day where Hapeta observes the scene around him:

The big houses faded as they turned a sharp corner onto Antill. On the left, they passed schools and public swimming pools and clusters of shops; on the right, rows of small homes and low-rise apartment blocks. State Policemen were on either side of the street, controlling the crowds. As the motorcade swept down the street, the low murmurs turned into a loud cheer that echoed off the apartment blocks. Streamers were tossed into the air, and confetti rained down like pink snowflakes.

When Hapeta breaks protocol and leaves his post to assist a ‘Statie’ the theme of ‘Life and Death in the Australian Republic’ emerges. The final scene is captured by a bystander with the photo becoming the defining memory of the day.

The two ‘Highly Commended’ entries were published on the Australian Republican Movement website on 6 November 2010.