Linda Cuttriss has won the 2020 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction.

BASS Coast writer Linda Cuttriss has won the 2020 Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction with At Screw Creek, part true detective story, part local history, part family history.

The judges commented that this was local history at its best – not just a succession of dates and events but an engaging story with a narrative drive and a search for understanding.

Second prize has gone to Drouin writer Jeannie Haughton for Who Speaks for the Trees and Creeks? Part memoir, part polemic, this is a powerful piece of writing, concluding with an urgent call to action and a plea not to give in to despair.

Equal third prize went to Lucinda Bain of Eltham for Paper Thin and Max Hayward of North Melbourne for Sometimes Nothing Can Happen But Fire.

There were also four Highly Commended awards: Karen Bateman, of Inverloch for No Place Like Home; Jillian Durance, of Moyarra, for Nothing We Liked Better; Lauren Burns, of Inverloch, for Cape Connection; and Fiona Power, of Glen Iris, for On the Shore of the Wide World.

The Bass Coast Prize for Non-Fiction is one of the richest non-fiction prizes in Australia, with $10,000 in prize money.

This year’s competition was brought forward to provide an outlet for housebound writers during the COVID lockdowns.

Sponsor Phyllis Papps, who established the prize to encourage Gippsland writers, said she was thrilled with the number of entries and the quality of the writing.

In its second year, it drew 44 entries from Bass Coast, Baw Baw, Latrobe, East Gippsland and South Gippsland.

Judges Geoff Ellis, Anne Heath Mennell and Catherine Watson were impressed by the standard of entries and the breadth of topics. The winners tackled some meaty issues and topics – climate change, the bush fires, COVID–19 in an engaging manner.

With the prize now well established on the local writing scene, the team behind the prize will seek sponsorship and hope to run it again in 2021.

The winning entries will be published in the Bass Coast Post at www.basscoastpost.com.

Judges’ comments

First: Linda Cuttriss: At Screw Creek

Local history at its best – not just a succession of dates and events but merged with a family history, a detective story and a search for understanding. At 9000 words, it has plenty of heft but it’s engaging and the story moves along. The judges were impressed by the way she sought understanding of the pre-European history of the land that five generations of her family have called home.

Second: Jeannie Haughton Who Speaks for the Trees and Creeks? or RUN If You Hear The Word Peri Urban. The author mourns the loss of a beloved avenue of old trees and embarks on an investigation in which she discovers the Kafkaesque world of environmental law where native vegetation can be listed on a Register of Protected Trees – and still be chain-sawed for one more suburban estate. The story is familiar but she builds a powerful narrative: heartfelt, persuasive, illuminating. This is a polemic but a restrained one, concluding with an urgent call to action.

Third equal: Lucinda Bain: Paper Thin

From the first line we see a real writer at work: “I thought I knew something of death. Until, on the 20th of May 2016 – my 34th birthday – I found myself breastfeeding my third baby in the same room as my dead grandfather.” A slice of memoir becomes a meditation on the trajectories of births and deaths, from breath to breath. Beautifully written.

Third equal: Max Hayward: Sometimes nothing can happen but fire

The author calls this “a personal essay”. It combines family memoir with recent history – the 2919-20 bushfires – and a persuasive argument to rein in the European determination to dominate the landscape and to learn from indigenous land management practices. Well researched and engagingly written. There is wry humour: (“My family are beachcombers and fast walkers. We are indoctrinated early on by our mothers …”) and insight (“Indigenous people of Australia are already living in a post-apocalyptic world.”)

Highly Commended

Karen Bateman: No place like home

An exploration of home. Can we ever know a place that we didn’t grow up in, or do we need the stories and traditions we grow up with? The author wrestles with a sense of alienation and the conundrum of knowing that to her children this IS home. She broadens it by including other people’s experiences, a friend who is a third generation Bass Coaster and a Bunurong elder who gives her some sage advice. Amusing and thought-provoking.

Jillian Durance: Nothing We Liked Better

The story of a house and its inhabitants, anchored by two old trees: a pine and a pear. It weaves memoir, local history and natural history. A great feat of imagination and beautifully written.

Lauren Burns: Cape Connection

Impressive memoir interweaving a personal journey of discovery with a “coming home” to Bass Coast. Lovely use of language: “I began to frequent the beach for a daily lesson in change.” The writing is fresh, with no cliches, struggling successfully to describe a very unusual situation and to answer important and novel questions.

Fiona Power: On the Shore of the Wide World

Engaging, wryly humorous memoir of a childhood in Bass, cleverly merged with local history.

For more information, contact Catherine Watson on 0401 817 796 or editor@basscoastpost.com