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Indigenous poet wins Australia’s richest poetry prize

[by Elissa Blake]


Associate Professor Jeanine Leane has won the 2023 David Harold Tribe Poetry Award. Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Mark Scott announced the winner at a ceremony held at the University of Sydney recently.


Presented by the Discipline of English in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the David Harold Tribe Poetry Award is the wealthiest poetry prize in Australia, offering $20,000 for an original, unpublished poem on any theme.

A record of 522 poems were submitted for the award this year. The poem Water under the bridge by Wiradjuri poet Associate Professor Jeanine Leane was chosen by judges Toby Fitch, Ellen van Neerven and John Kinsella from their shortlist of seven:

  • Anne Elvey: Collections: a catalogue

  • Jake Goetz: By a drowned valley estuary: three tracings

  • Daniel Holmes: Open corpuscles of soil

  • Jeanine Leane: Water under the bridge

  • Tim Loveday: [e]state[ment]

  • Gareth Morgan: Poetry

  • Dominic Symes: Passing Time


“The seven shortlisted poems represent a snapshot of the varied and urgent poetry currently being written in Australia,” said Dr Toby Fitch, who teaches Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. The judges praised ‘Water under the bridge’ as a taut, layered and lyrical poem about legacy and inheritance.


The judges’ citation said: “Its tracing of the intergenerational narratives and traumas of Indigenous women and a particular kind of racial discrimination – not appearing Black enough – is rendered poignant and aching by the total control over line and word.”


“The importance of this award cannot be underestimated,” said Dr Beth Yahp, Director of the University’s Master of Creative Writing degree. “For a poet, it could mean the difference between honing your craft and creating new work, and not writing at all. David Harold Tribe seems visionary now in his recognition and support of undervalued artforms such as poetry, which still pays poorly or not at all, and yet has the power to ignite imaginations and change lives.”

Associate Professor Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri writer, teacher and academic from southwest New South Wales. After a long teaching career, she completed a doctorate in Australian literature and Aboriginal representation and lectures at the University of Melbourne.


According to Associate Professor Leane, the David Harold Tribe Award inspired her to experiment with a longer lyric narrative piece to tell a story through a poem. On winning the award, she said "It's a tremendous honour to win this prize, which is generous in the space it offers poets to tell their stories and the prize money offered in recognition of the power of poetry to tell a story. ‘Water under the bridge’ lays bare the intergenerational traumas and ongoing resilience of Aboriginal women through a nonfiction narrative poem that was both difficult and cathartic to write. Thank you for recognising this important and under-told story of First Nations experience and ever-present history."

In 2005, David Harold Tribe initiated the University of Sydney’s David Harold Tribe Awards Program in fiction, poetry, philosophy, sculpture and symphony. The award rotates across the five categories, with the Poetry award held every five years to encourage interest and excellence in poetry.

Based on a broad-ranging interest in the arts, Mr Tribe selected the categories because he felt certain arts areas were not equally supported through awards.

“I wanted to foster excellence in artistic fields that have hitherto been neglected to support creative individuals who wouldn't normally get a sum like that,” he said of the awards program. Mr Tribe died in 2017.

Valued at $20,000, the award is Australia’s richest poetry prize for an original unpublished poem up to 100 lines in length.


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