Established back in 1992 to support Shepparton writers, The Furphy Literary Award decided to expand its reach in 2020, opening its doors to unpublished short stories from writers across Australia.
Inspired by Joseph Furphy, author of Australian classic Such Is Life, and the yarns told around his brother’s foundry, writers are encouraged to offer up a little slice of Aussie life. With a hefty prize of $15,000 for the overall winner, plus publication in the Furphy Anthology, it’s no wonder that the award attracts both established and emerging writers alike.
The 2020 anthology is no exception, featuring work from the likes of Mira Robertson, Jenni Mazarki, and Cate Kennedy, and with Ruby Todd taking home the main prize for “Awakening”. It’s a well deserved win, showcasing a gentle yet heartbreaking examination of love, loss, and what might have been, set against the backdrop of the Melbourne-Voyager collision in 1964.
Reading through the sixteen stories that made it through to the anthology, one doesn’t envy the judges’ difficult job. Whittled down from some eight hundred plus entries, the chosen work runs the gamut of Australian life; from bucks parties and fishing trips, to catastrophic bushfires and broken Vietnam vets.
Stand outs include Ya Reeves‘ gut-wrenching “Pub Raffle”, telling the tale of a town surrounded by bushfires; Luke Martin‘s “The Fish”, a distinctly Aussie version of The Old Man and the Sea; the unexpected and delightful twists of Lee Macefield‘s “The Tailor of Gilgiddy Sidings”; and Gillian Turner‘s musings on true love, family, and beekeeping in “The Telling of the Bees”.
It’s perhaps a little telling that so many of the stories lean into drinking and alcoholism as a narrative device. Deeply ingrained in the Australian culture, most stories feature at least beer or two, and plenty dive further into the dangers of addiction. It’s repetitive after a while, but that’s not anyone’s fault particularly. When tasked to write about Aussie life, there’s just some things that are hard to avoid.
Overall, the Furphy Anthology offers an exciting glimpse into the Australian literary scene. Covering a broad range of genres, locations, and themes, there’s something here for every reader. As well as inspiration for any writer looking to make it into the next one!
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Furphy Literary Award runs an open short story competition every year. Entries for the 2021 contest have now closed, but keep an eye on the website (HERE) for future updates.