Stories from Down Under

I made a discovery yesterday: ABC Radio's Short Story Project

ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The project originates with and is produced by The ABC Radio Regional Production Fund which "commissions documentaries, music series, drama, comedy, serials, short stories, history, poetry, discussion programs or creative broadcast events for ABC Radio and ABC New Media and Digital Services."

The contest was open to Australian residents who lived outside the urban areas of the major capital cities.

The entrants were instructed as follows:

You can write about absolutely anything. Stories should be imaginative but need not necessarily be fiction. We're looking for works with a voice of their own, a skilful use of language, a cleverly realised theme but mostly we're looking for a great yarn that will engage the reader and translate well to radio. In past years, entries have run the gamut from autobiography through science fantasy to historical fiction. They have been scary, sexy, sad and some have been downright hilarious.

"Short stories by ten talented writers from regional Australia have been produced and are now being broadcast on ABC Radio. The winners were selected from a field of 1400 entries. The judges - author Robert Drewe, Radio National presenter Ramona Koval, publisher and editor Bruce Sims and author Sarah Armstrong - agree that, amongst the finalists, the competition was tight."

2006 Winning Short Stories

2006 Finalists

2006 Young Writers

Previous Winning Short Stories
2005 Winning short stories
2004 Winning short stories
2003 Winning short stories

Here's MY pick from the winners:

Farewell Irene
Susan Robinson

Written by Susan Robinson, Woodford, Blue Mountains, NSW.

Susan Robinson enjoyed the writing associated with study and had a few writing lessons over the years to learn about different genres. She joined the Blue Mountains Regional Fellowship of Australian Writers on retirement from teaching to pursue her interest. She likes short writing and has had several Tetractys (a poem of 20 syllables) published. Some other interests are pottering, watching TV, reading, learning to observe birds, surfing the web, aqua-aerobics and more pottering.

Susan would like to thank the ABC for initiating and continuing the Short Story Project and is very pleased to have had her story selected. She has been intrigued by the stories from previous years, and is looking forward to those of 2006.

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Farewell Irene

Betty's chaotic thoughts left no space for sadness. She had made the agreement light-heartedly, thinking Irene might outlive her anyway. Not even a proper promise really - just, 'I'll see what I can do.' Now her friend of 82 years was suddenly gone and she had no ideas. If she did come up with a plan, would Rachel interfere? Perhaps there was something so easy she could do it herself?

'Mother, are you alright?'


Betty's eyes snapped open, focused on her daughter's anxious - or was it impatient - face, then refocused on the coffin. Except it wasn't there. She had missed her friend's final exit. Her gaze drifted back to Rachel. Definite anxiety now, and a mouth about to speak again. Betty got in first.

'Yes, I'm fine. Thank you, just resting my eyes. I missed... never mind, will you come to the tea room?'

Rachel shook her head, waving her arm vaguely at the room. 'It was nice, the celebration. Odd to think of a funeral as a celebration, but that's what you and your friends do, isn't it? Celebrate a life, a friendship? This must be the fourth this year, and very special for you. Dear Irene, so sudden. Are you sure you're all right? I could stay for a while, if you like.'

Rachel's expression relaxed to relief when Betty said, 'No, no, I really am okay. Quite a few people will stay for a cuppa and a chat I'm sure. It was a great idea of yours to book the tearoom here - saves a lot of fuss. I'll put that in my plan I think.'

'Plan? You have a plan for...?' Rachel's whisper trailed off into shocked silence.

'Of course, to save you the bother,' smiled Betty, as she waved and nodded at a group near the door. She turned back to her daughter, who looked slightly shattered.

'The problem is,' she thought, 'Irene's plan is not complete yet. Why did she have to enjoy browsing the Internet so much?'

'Rachel, I'm 86 years old. I hope to go on for a few years yet but, well, Irene and I decided, when we turned 80, that it was time to get organised for the future. We all know what the future is. So we made plans. I would have given you a copy but you know you don't like thinking about...things like that.'

A short walk later, she waved goodbye as a still dazed looking Rachel drove off. Once her daughter had guided the old Mini Cooper S onto the road, Betty headed for the tearoom, sighing gently, her brain putting the dilemma of Irene on hold.

'I wonder if there are genes for a love of old cars and a dislike of unpleasant realities or if Rachel absorbed her ideas from Albert. Amazing how much I miss him after, what is it? Twenty-three years. Still, 40 years together, wonderful memories.'

Betty prepared for bed that night, thinking it was going to take some time to get used to living on her own again and wondering if she remembered how to cook. She drifted off to sleep with phrases from the tearoom chat meandering through her mind.

'... lucky Irene, going so quickly... a real lady, always willing to listen... you'll miss her... lovely sandwiches... need a new secretary now... so active and alert... didn't have any family, did she?...'

It was as Betty climbed into her car the next day after shopping that she noticed the old lady feeding the pigeons and knew at once that her problem was solved. And she wouldn't need Rachel's help, thank goodness.

One month later, on the anniversary of Irene's cremation, Betty mixed her friend's ashes with precisely cut cubes of bread and wild birdseed. She carefully carried the mixture to the paddock not far from her home. There she walked in a large circle, scattering as she went. Then she waited until the sulphur-crested cockatoos resettled to their augmented breakfast.

'Not exactly the Tibetan Sky Burial that fascinated Irene, but some of her should end up flying high. I think she would be satisfied.'

Farewell Irene audio version read by Monica Maughan.

Farewell Irene ( in RealMedia format ) Requires RealPlayer

Farewell Irene


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