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Sophie Cunningham announced as 2017 Nature Writing Prize Winner

The winner of the fourth biennial Nature Writing Prize was announced last night in Sydney, with Melbourne-based writer Sophie Cunningham receiving the top honour.

Sophie’s essay, Biyala Stories, was judged to be of the highest literary merit, against a field of 98 contenders. Sophie was presented with a $5,000 cheque by McLean Foundation trustee Paula McLean, with a multimedia version published online at griffithreview.com (now available to view).

There are so many reasons why nature writing is important, not least because the evocation of our natural world conveys and honours our world, in all its richness. Done well it can bring joy to the reader.

2017 Nature Writing Prize winner

The Nature Conservancy Australia’s Nature Writing Prize calls for writers Australia-wide to submit an essay of between 3,000 and 5,000 words in the genre of ‘Writing of Place’. Judges for the 2017 competition were award-winning journalist, author and editor Jo Chandler and novelist and critic James Bradley, whose task it was to agree on the entry that best explores the writer’s relationship and interaction with some aspect of the Australian landscape.

Of Biyala Stories, James Bradley commented, “Ostensibly an account of the natural and social history of the red gums and waterways of Melbourne’s landscape, Biyala Stories uses the stories of those trees to illustrate the degree to which the centuries-long lifespans of the trees allows them to serve as custodians of the histories of loss and dispossession written into the seemingly entirely urban landscape of central Melbourne. Dense with information about the trees, alert to the absences hidden in our understanding of the landscape and the harbingers of climate change’s convulsions, it offers an eloquent reminder of the degree to which the survival of the trees and the rivers is connected to our own.”

Sophie Cunningham has been on the publishing scene in Australia for thirty years. She is a former editor of Meanjin and was Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council from 2011 to 2014. She is a founding and current board member of The Stella Prize, the author of two novels, Geography (2004) and Bird (2008) and two books of non-fiction, Melbourne (2011) and Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy (2014). Sophie is an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University in the School of Media and Communication in the College of Design and Social Context.

Kelley Mether’s Wittenoom was awarded Highly Commended and other shortlisted writers were Tanya Massy (Grassland), Erica Nathan (Heard Island is a Place) and Georgina Woods (On Time, Myth and Consequence).

Rich Gilmore, The Nature Conservancy Country Director and MC for the evening commented, “The Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize was created to promote and celebrate the art of nature writing in Australia, as well as to encourage a greater appreciation of our magnificent landscapes. We are thrilled it’s grown to the point where we are attracting such an incredible standard of writer, who are all so clearly passionate about nature and its affinity with the arts and literary worlds. Escaping into the pages of well-crafted words gives me the same thrill as escaping into nature, a feeling I am clearly not alone in experiencing. This gives me hope.”

Annamaria Weldon won the inaugural prize for her piece ‘Threshold Country,’ which the judges described as “a marvellously orchestrated, complex meditation on belonging. It is at once assured and yet gently voiced.” The second biennial prize was awarded to Stephen Wright for his essay ‘Bunyip’ which explored the culture and fate of Indigenous communities and early European settlers as they navigated the landscape of south east Queensland. Victorian author Nick Gadd won the third prize for his essay ‘A Landscape of Stories’– a reflection on walking through the industrial landscapes of Melbourne and the fresh ways of seeing an unplanned or unfamiliar route can create.

The prize is made possible thanks to the generous support of the McLean Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organisation dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we focus on getting things done efficiently and with the greatest positive impact for conservation. We’re a trusted organisation working in 72 countries on innovative solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We’re tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Australia, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.