Elaine Forrestal conducting a writing workshop at St Mary’s Anglican Girl’s School
On Saturday the annual Award Ceremony for the Young Writer’s Contest took place at St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School. It is always fascinating for me to go along and see those excited young writers, whose ages range from Kindergarten to Year 12, walking up onto the stage to receive their prize in front of the whole audience in the Theatre at the Performing Arts Centre. Having read and agonised over their anonymous work during the judging process, I love to finally be able to match the real person to their story or poem. This year one of the prize winners in the youngest age group, K-Yr2, is a girl from a Kindergarten class. She looked so tiny and fragile, walking up onto that enormous stage, but what a strong young writer! She is definitely someone to watch out for and hopefully has a long writing career ahead of her.
Sadly, just over a year ago, Eric Carlin died. Eric was essentially the father of the Young Writer’s Contest, having gone to The West Australian and Channel 7 with the idea back in 1976, then passionately supported and guided the competition through a succession of changes. While others fell by the wayside, The West Australian has always remained a loyal sponsor and, these days, promotes the contest through its Newspapers in Education ED! Magazine. Several years ago, when Hawaiian and Fremantle Press joined the list of sponsors, Eric was delighted. He had always maintained that the winners should receive money prizes because he felt it added legitimacy to the competition. I’m glad that he lived to see the day when Hawaiian not only agreed to continue that tradition, but doubled the prize money!
The Young Writers Contest is the longest running competition of its type in Australia and for many years now one of the highlights of the Award Ceremony has been Eric’s reading of the Michael Rosen poem, ‘The Chocolate Cake’. With his wicked chuckle and lots of expressive lip-licking and cake-eating sounds, Eric has entertained us with this poem, which is so evocative of childhood memories, while presenting the Eric Carlin Award to the Secondary School that is judged to have made the biggest contribution to the competition in terms of quality writing from its students. As this years ceremony approached our usual anticipation was tinged with sadness, not only because of the loss of Eric, but because we thought that we would never again hear the ‘The Chocolate Cake’ read out during the presentations.
Then along came a knight in shining armour. Paul Donovan, son of Syd Donovan who, as a journalist with The West Australian, championed the competition idea from the beginning, volunteered to read the ‘The Chocolate Cake’ at this year’s ceremony, as a tribute to Eric. it was a brave offer. Eric’s shoes were big and difficult to fill. But to his enormous credit Paul, who is not unlike Eric in some ways, channeled his predecessor perfectly. The lovely tradition which has developed around the presentation of the Eric Carlin Award can now continue.
Thank you, Paul. I’m sure that Eric is having a good chuckle, with the rest of us, whilst admiring your skill and courage.