Writing for the Environment Award 2023

2023 Winners Announced

Through the RD Walshe Memorial Writing for the Environment Prize, SSEC continues to value the role and place of writing in helping to shape a sustainable world.

The 2023 competition was entitled, Future, what Future? It asked writers to put themselves in their fictional future whilst considering the environment and broader sustainability concepts.  From the media release: 

Every day in the media, there are cautions and warnings and predictions about the future of humanity in a rapidly changing world with an increasingly degraded environment. The intention of this year’s competition was to invite people to think about the future and their place in it. In doing so, writers considered possible, preferable and probable futures.  

This year’s national competition attracted almost 100 entries. They came from almost all States and Territories. For the first time in this annual competition, judging was conducted separately for each of the age categories. For the Under 19 submissions, Laura Kirk, a teacher at Queenwood Girls College School established a team of judges. For the 19 -26 and Over 60 category submissions, Phil Smith and Alex Talbot worked with small teams of their own. 

Here are the results:

Up to and including 18 year old writers

In August this year, a group of diligent, Year 10 Queenwood Girls was given the amazing opportunity to judge the Under 19 category of the national RD Walshe Writing for the Environment competition.  With over 50 entries in this category, their task to nominate the top 4 winners was no small challenge. However, the impressive range of entries – each unique in form, style, and conceptual approach – were eye-opening and engaging for our youth judges. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the process and couldn’t stop talking about the breadth and quality of ideas.   

Once the top 8 were selected, the judges set about finding the top 4. They focused on such elements as: 

  • author insights and engagement with the competition topic 
  • writing skills 
  • impact on the reader. 

The judges’ summative comments included:  

  • all the pieces were skilfully crafted, inventive, and thought-provoking 
  • all stories raised awareness about the mistreatment of the earth and, thankfully, also offered hope for a more sustainable future.  

I believe the conversations that took place amongst the judges worked to improve the writing skills of the judges themselves.  

Laura Kirk,  

Teacher, Queenwood School for Girls 

First place PRIZE $500 

This is the way the world ends, by Charlee Rose Murtough-Coombes (NSW) 

Despite varying favourites across the finalists, there was a clear consensus for the winning entry, This is the way the world ends, due to its thoughtful representation of the consequences of industrialisation that provoked awareness and raised the necessary questions for the upcoming generation.  

Read this story.

An important and wonderful note here:  Charlee Rose won the inaugural Pat Strong Award in 2020, an encouragement award from Sutherland Writers Group.  

Second place $250 

The Birth of the Insect Manifesto, by Bruce Ru (NSW) 

This story was, to directly quote a judge’s passionate remarks, ‘brilliantly clever and such a unique interpretation of the theme’. Its poignant take on the Humanist Manifestos was beautifully and powerfully written.  

Read this story.

Third place $100 

Bare your teeth, I beg, by Jessica Gough (NSW) 

Third place is awarded to Jessica Gough for her sophisticated narrative that cleverly utilised figurative language to demonstrate the brutal consequences of mistreating the earth.  

Read this story.

The Pat Strong Award for a Young Writer $100 

This award honours one of the Sutherland Writers Group’s foundation members. 

Future, What Future?, by Alex Mason (Vic) 

A well-written piece that successfully incorporates visual imagery to create a thought-provoking depiction of the future. It cleverly covers the theme, addressing not only physical changes but also mental changes needed to counteract the negative effects of climate change. The story finishes with some hope. 

Read this story.

For the 19-26 year old writers

Ten judges provided comments and scores on the pieces in this age category. Judges young and old and from different countries and cultures. 

Eighteen entries were received in this group. The initial process was to find the best 8. The judges then ranked from there.  

Judges said the pieces were well-written and creative; they were inventive and thought-provoking; all stories offered the reader mental and emotional challenges. 

For many writers, this competition seemed to give breath to their courage. Writers found and created futures by extrapolating from current trends and scientific and sociological evidence, as well as taking the internal stuff, the human stuff, the personal stuff to an extreme. All touched some raw truths about our world as it is.  

First place $500 

Generation Beta, by Ingrid Coran (Vic) 

This piece explored a future tarnished by choices made in the past – that is, today. It considered the sensitive description of the conflict around whether or not to bring children into a shattered, dysfunctional world. The ending was powerful: “My 35 year old self kisses her sleeping girl’s forehead, whispering a soft apology for what she has done.” 

Read this story.

Second place $250 

First Snow, Again, by Zoe Davidson (Tas) 

The judges welcomed the emphasis on a futuristic relationship and how climate change can change everything. The powerful human angle is engaging.  It was less alarmist than other pieces about climate, and it gave hope for societal improvements. At the same time, the barren mother may be a symbolic representation of the likelihood of civilisation’s failure. 

Read this story.

Joint Third Place $100 

Apocalypse, by Than Mai Nguyen (SA) 


But That’s Not How the World Works, by Chidinma Nwankwo (Vic) 

Apocalypse is the detailed description of the gradual death of a civilisation. The gulping down of the last of the water typifies our civilisation’s attitude to climate change. The message, ‘If only’, is a powerful reminder to consider the ‘if only’ situations today.

Read this story

But that’s not how the world works has a real sci-fi feel to it. It offers a view of exactly how the world might work after the fall when those who could escape to other worlds did so and left the mess to those who couldn’t. The conversations bring the story back to earth and make us ask if this is the direction humans will take. 

Read this story.

For the over 60 year old writers

It was a joy to read the entries for the over-60 category for our competition, but a difficult task to rank them. So many of the pieces were beautifully written and of publishable quality. I was moved by many of the stories, tickled by occasional wry humour and struck by how many writers managed to successfully blend a practical view of our future in a climate crisis with a drop of optimism. All three pieces showed tremendous creative thinking, quick wit and a thoughtful view of our future. 

Anecdotally, a lot of stories featured grandchildren and teenagers, with a collective acknowledgement that young people will be next to take up the fight for a better future, aided by the passion of the generations who have seen the world change. 

Alex Talbot 

In the end, three stories rose to the top in the eyes of the judges. 

First place $500 

Future Scents, by  J S Sholtz (NSW) 

Future Scents by J. S. Scholz took out the top prize, a story that was wickedly funny and touching in equal measure, the humour and quality of writing gave it the edge for the judges.  

Read this story.

Second place $100 

Good Morning 2121, by Euan Tovey (NSW) 

Following very closely behind first place was the delightfully quirky Good Morning, 2121. 

Read this story.

Highly commended 

The Dry, by Jenny England (NSW) 

The Dry is a moving portrait of a woman and her grandson.  

Read this story.


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