Congratulations to Year 11 student Cliona Ingram, one of 24 students from across the state to have earnt the Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize.
Now in its 17th year, the Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon the spirit of the Australians who fought for their country and the impact of war on our society. This year entrants were able to select from one of three topics; perspectives and experiences of Australians in war, the changing role of women in Australian society and how communities commemorate those who have fought for Australia by submitting a written essay. Submissions could be presented in the form of an essay, poem, audio and/or video presentation, musical composition, webpage or artwork.
Cliona’s submitted a written entry (published below), which reflects on the Australian experience of war, homecoming and the legacy of Anzac.
While the winners would usually go on an oversea study tour, due to COVID-19 restrictions recipients, have instead be awarded scholarships of $3000 to support their future educational opportunities.
This recent prize adds to a growing list of Cliona’s achievements having earnt ICAS Writing medals in both 2018 and 2019. Cliona was also shortlisted in the 2020 Furphy Literary Youth Poetry Award.
For Who Would Bear the Whips and Scorns of Time?
Twigs snapped and dead, dry leaves crunched and crackled underfoot. The lingering aroma of fresh water and dirt from rainfall the previous night teased his tastebuds, particles dancing on his tongue. His shoulders, calves and thighs ache, tenseness embedding into his muscles. His bones become more brittle with every passing day. His ribs now poke though his threadbare shirt. He can feel the vertebrae of his spine sticking out of his back, baring to the world their prominence. His knees creak and his elbows jut awkwardly. His eyes are bruised, sore, red and sunken; teeth yellow and furry. The last time he ate was… last night? A stale cracker or two.
Malnutrition seeps deep into his body, tucking itself into every joint, ligament and everything in-between. His stomach begs for a crumb, for anything at all to end this god forsaken pain. It wails and gurgles, curling inwards on itself. With each step he takes, his entire body screams in protest for rest, please one minute to catch my breath–
A sharp command from one of the Japs had him shooting up, spine straightening subconsciously.
He had no idea what the man had said, but he certainly could take a guess. The Jap furrowed his brow and aimed his rifle at another prisoner – he knew not his name. He had seen him before though, once or twice. Part of a new shipment, having only come in less than a month ago. He was young; younger than himself, but by no more than a couple years. His blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears, and his voice scratchy and hoarse with neglect. He had heard him crying late into the night, calling for his mother. The prisoner looked no worse than he felt, but he still felt a pang of empathy. His fellow prisoner was begging desperately;
“Please, water, rest, please-“
The Jap curled his lip in distaste. His uniform indicated he was a general. Though he knew the Jap probably didn’t understand what the prisoner had said, he was sure the general could guess. He backhanded the prisoner, sudden and sharp, and smacked the base of his rifle into his gut. The prisoner bent double, moaning pitifully. The Jap barked another order; loud, stern. No room to argue. The general’s men shouldered their guns and aimed them at the throng of prisoners.
Dear God, if I am to die like this, please, make it quick.
He didn’t believe in God. He knew other soldiers did, and those that didn’t simply sought the comfort they yearned the only place they knew.
It seemed death is not the Japs’ intent. They stepped forward, gesticulating with their guns, and the march continued deeper into the forest.
The consistent thudding of the prisoners’ feet was the saddest melody he had heard. It was the sound of hopelessness, fear and despair. It was the sound of defeat.
A loud rumble echoed overhead. The damp rainforest dimmed incrementally. Rain, he processed dully.
The Japs paid no mind to the change in weather, snapping harshly in English;
He was well aware that time was passing, but the seconds blend into minutes which blur into hours. Everything looked the same, greens and browns swirling together and creating incomprehensible shapes in his state of hunger, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
The temperature dropped suddenly – the only warning before a wet droplet splattered into his face. He flinched involuntarily at the intrusion, being thrust back to reality from his mind-numbing stupor.
He laughed, stupidly elated at the cool, fresh water. He tilted his head back to grin at the sky, giggling as water fell into his eyes and mouth. He was unaware he had stopped moving until a sharp pain exploded in his skull.
He staggered forward, gasping in shock. With his head down, he could see the green trouser of a Jap. He didn’t dare look up.
His head throbbed from the force of which the rifle slammed, and he blinked back tears.
Soldiers do not cry. Do not show weakness. Don’t let them win.
The Japanese general’s face was flushed with rage, teeth bared as he snarled. The words were snappy and clipped, and the officer radiated power. It was a while before the general heaved a large breath, and he lifted his head hesitantly. They made eye contact, and the general’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
Dread washed over him, numbing him from head to foot. Trepidation danced beneath his skin. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid –
His thoughts screeched to a halt as an abrupt sting forced his head to whip left. Heat exploded like fireworks underneath his cheek, tingles dancing and a flush spreading over his face and creeping down his neck. Humiliation embedded itself into every corner and crevice of his being, ashamed of being ridiculed in front of his own comrades.
It was silent. The sound of cicadas was paramount, almost deafening. The general turned to the Jap closest to him and murmured lowly. The soldier nodded, and hefted his gun into position. The general gave a cracking order, and the prisoners were jostled into movement again.
The rain only fell harder. On and on they marched, shuffling mindlessly like lamb to slaughter.
Minutes, hours passed before the rain began to lighten to a dreary drizzle. The sky was darkening, a hazy dusk setting over them as the evening chill began to creep in. The mud thickened and was slippery, squelching underfoot. It took him a moment to realise the greenery was darkening and thinning, and he could actually see his surroundings.
He wished he couldn’t.
His gut dropped as they reached a trodden path, a sloppily assembled camp laying before them. Inside were other prisoners, conversing quietly as they lounge in tents, eyeing Japanese soldiers wearily. He could hear the grunts and metallic clanging of manual labour. A chill ran down his spine.
They marched inside.