New Writing at Write Around the Murray – competition winners and a play reading

Tony Birch

Tony Birch

Special guest and short story judge for this year’s festival, Tony Birch takes every opportunity to tell a story.

Before announcing the winners of the 2013 AlburyCity Short Story competition, Tony related the tale of how his train trip to attend the festival brought to mind the last time he travelled ‘on that piece of track’.

It was fifty years ago and he was six years old when his mother put him on the train to travel to Albury en route to a farm near Rand where he would spend the Christmas holidays.

‘I remember getting out at Albury station and thinking this must be the longest platform in the world.’

Tony alighted the train with a suitcase almost as big as him (I was the runt of the litter) was left standing on the platform and was beginning to worry that he had been forgotten, when he saw a farmer.

‘Well he had on a checked shirt and boots, a hat and had a piece of straw hanging out of his mouth, so I guessed he was a farmer and there to collect me.’

Tony said the man was a bit surprised to see a small boy. ‘I think he was expecting a 16 year old who could help on the farm.’

They drove to just near Rand and the farmer’s wife decided he was too small to work and so he spent his Christmas holiday in the company of the couple’s two girls aged five and seven.

‘I remember the Billabong Creek ran through the property and the other thing I remember is driving the car through a paddock. I remember I looked back to a curved track that marked where I had driven the car.’

Tony’s Miles Franklin Award longlisted book, Blood is the book of the festival and he will be in conversation with The Age literary editor and ABC Book Club regular, Jason Steger at 3pm, Sunday 7 September at the Albury LibraryMuseum.

Short Story Entries

Tony said it had been wonderful to judge the short story competition.

One of three judges for the 2013 Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story competition, he said he thought it would be relatively easy to judge the fifteen final entries in the AburyCity competition.

‘But it was very difficult. The standard was remarkably high and very even and any of the final five could have won. I was staggered, but really I should have expected this standard.’

Tony said the stories were wonderful and passionate stories about engagement with community, family and place.

‘I write and publish and teach in the form and it’s not easy to hold the reader’s attention by getting the story pitch perfect and tight as a drum.’

‘As a reader the stories gave me great enjoyment.’

Winner of the $1,000 prize was Julie Chilver from Queensland, with Yackandandah’s Kelli Beer and Sydney’s Julie Monaghan being highly commended and Sydney’s Darcy-Lee Tindale and Susie Menda receiving commendation for their stories.

In the Nano story contest section winners were Jessica Lowry, 12 (primary, years 5-6); Simone Brewer, 13 (secondary); Mattea Little, 9 (primary years 3-4) and Anne Dobson (open).

Then  …. New Words on Stage: A reading of The Pyjama Girl 

I have to say that one of the things I really do miss living away from Albury Wodonga is getting along to the productions at HotHouse Theatre. I’ve long been an advocate and supported it in any way I could, so was very keen to get along to the play reading for the production of The Pyjama Girl that will premiere next month.

The  Pyjama Girl murder made headlines locally and nationally with as much speculation surrounding the case as the Azaria Chamberlain and Princess Diana’s deaths. Ten years after the badly burnt body was found in a culvert by the side of the Howlong Road, eight kilometres west of Albury, it was identified as Melbourne’s Linda Agostini. Her husband, Tony Agostini confessed to her murder. He was charged and tried on that count, but was acquitted of murder and found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

In 2004 the release of Richard Evans’ book, The Pyjama Girl Mystery, cast doubt on the identity of the Pyjama Girl. During his research, Evans (a Write around the Murray guest in 2008) found among other things that the body had a different bust size and nose shape to Agostini.

For Kiewa (near Wodonga) born playwright, Emma Gibson, the case was something she overheard her parents talk about and that has always piqued her interest. Evans’ book documenting the discrepancies in the evidence set her on the path of writing a play investigating the case that occupied the hearts and minds, and sprouted suspicion, in what was then a very close knit community.

Introducing the reading, artistic director, Jon Halpin, said HotHouse was very excited to be presenting the play and last night’s reading was the last opportunity the public would have to ‘hear’ the play before its premiere on October 25.

Jon said the reading was a great opportunity to explode the myth of the playwright being the only creator of a production.

‘This is not how it occurs. Before the rehearsal proper begins there is a lot of discussion. The play is pulled apart and there are discussions (and sometimes arguments) with the playwright, the director and the dramaturge,’ he said.

Jon said last night’s reading and an earlier reading helped to understand what is working and what’s not.

Following the reading, writer and Write around the Murray committee member, Jenni Munday, facilitated a Q & A with Emma; director, Travis Dowling; Jon; respected Albury historian, Dr Bruce Pennay; musical director, Amos Wiksche and HotHouse Studio Ensemble member, Brendan McFarlane.

The panel discussion highlighted the research involved in the development of the play and the process that has resulted in a shift in its presentation via ‘verbatim’ storytelling based on transcripts and the gossip and myth surrounding the case through to its current very theatrical presentation the audience will see when it premieres next month.

Audience feedback highlighted the continuing impact of the case on the community with one audience member mentioning a family that had been implicated (and subsequently cleared) had suffered immensely during the case.

The Pyjama Girl has its world premiere on Friday, October 25, 2013. For details and bookings click

The Write around the Murray Festival program can be downloaded here.

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About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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