Finest 500 Writing Prize 2023 – 4

The Finest 500 is an annual competition for Geelong Writers’ members. This year, writers were invited to submit prose or poetry to 500 words in response to the theme: Remnants. Read five of the longlisted pieces below.


LONGLISTED: ‘Traces’ by Gail Griffin

Rachael made her way to the car park, texting her boyfriend, Blake: Meet me at Nanna’s when you finish work. Bring your trailer. Urgent. With two hours up her sleeve, Rachael drove to her Nanna’s already semi-demolished former home, and immediately set about salvaging what she could from the once prizewinning garden. By the time Blake arrived she’d amassed a mound of rescued garden ornaments, plants, furniture, decorative pots, miscellaneous treasures and hand tools.

‘What’s up?’ asked Blake.

‘Help me put all this up on your trailer. I’ll tell you about it on the way back to Nanna’s.’

Still confused, Blake nevertheless pitched in, and before long, the pair had finished loading up the foraged items and were on their way. During the drive Rachael rattled off a recount of her Nanna’s distressed and homesick state, when she’d visited her earlier in the day, in her downsized villa.

Arriving, Rachael and Blake lugged the trailer’s contents into the bare courtyard adjoining Nanna’s. Together, they settled on the placement of the   bird bath, the grafted lemon tree and potted plants, and the grouping of the garden furniture and eclectic accessories. To soften the bare walls, they bowered them with several deciduous wisteria climbers to provide sunshine in winter and shade in summer.

Almost finished, they were interrupted, as the sliding door to the transformed space was opened and Nanna appeared, saying, ‘What’s going on out here?’ Then, awestruck, wide-eyed and open-mouthed she turned full circle, taking in her new haven. Her eyes filled with tears.

‘Is she okay?’ whispered Blake, leaning in.

‘She’s overwhelmed, that’s all. Nanna.’


‘Do you like it?’

Blinking, and turning to answer, Nanna enthused, ‘Like? No. I love, love it and I love you,’ as she clapped her hands then wrapped her arms around both Blake and Rachael, hugging them.

‘Do you recognise the plants?’ asked Rachael.

‘Of course! What a silly question. I’m not that dotty yet. Still got traces of some grey matter left. Thank goodness,’ she laughed, tapping her temple.  ‘Walk with me.’ And together, arm-in-arm, the trio meandered along the bent, narrow path that wound its way to the retrieved garden bench and sat down.

‘Do you like the view from here?’ Blake ventured.

‘It’s perfect. Sitting here I can see my bird bath, my bee hotel and my garden fairy. I thought I’d never see all these knick-knacks again. Thank you, my darlings.’

At that very moment a hint of a breeze made its way through the bamboo wind chimes hanging from the lemon tree, making them emit a clacking sound.

Casting her eyes to the heavens, Nanna said reverently, ‘I hear you, Frank.’

‘Granddad?’ Rachael asked.

‘Yes, he’s telling me I belong here. He’s giving me his approval. He’s always with me.’

Nonplussed, exchanging a puzzled look with Blake, Rachael shrugged and begged, ‘Promise us you’ll come outdoors and spend time here, Nanna.’

‘Absolutely I will. Every day.’


LONGLISTED: ‘Of the Past’ by Paul Bucci

She waited, hidden behind the hedge, a hammer in her hand. And she thought about the last twenty-three years. About the agony, the anguish, the anger,. About the hope that she would find herself in this position, ready to take revenge. To match pain with pain. To settle the score.

So she waited.

She thought back to the day, to the days. Such an innocent kid, so trusting, so faithful. So young, so vulnerable.

And she thought about him. And she thought about him as she had done pretty well every day since. So charismatic, so relaxed, so powerful, so charming. So creepy. So old.

She often wondered how old. At the time he must have been in his fifties. Four times her thirteen.  And now? Well into his seventies. So vulnerable perhaps. Easy prey.

So she waited. In no hurry. It had taken her many years to make the decision and many months to track him down. So she was in no hurry. She would wait all day, all week if necessary.

It was a big house, belonging to the church she imagined. Nothing but the best for the old boys, the servants of the lord, the faithful servants of the lord. A huge garden too. And it was a pleasant day so she was happy waiting, anticipating the reunion.

And remembering the last time she’d seen him, three days before she’d run away from home, before she’d become part of society’s detritus. Homeless, helpless trash. Twenty-three years ago. And now she was ready to make her mark. On his fucking head.

The day drifted on. The house remained quiet. She took his photograph out again – she really didn’t want to attack the wrong bloke. She wondered how many of the lord’s faithful servants lived there, how much common history they had, common interests perhaps. How much difference it would make in the big picture if she did attack the wrong bloke. Who would know or care? Apart from her of course. And him.

And then a car pulled up outside. Some goodbyes, a thank you. And the gate opened. And she could see through the hedge that it was him. Her history personified. Her future. And the hammer was her present – to him.

She stepped out from behind the hedge, calling his name. He looked round, saw the raised hammer and fell to the ground before she could hit him. He cried, a sniveling mess lying before her, vulnerable at last and as she raised the hammer again he called her name. She recoiled in shock. How? How could he know? She dropped the hammer on the grass, took a step backwards. Stared at him as he lay there. She was numbed, frozen, astonished.

And then she kicked him. Hard. As hard as she could in the balls and then she kicked him again. And again.

And then she fled. Crying. Again.


LONGLISTED: ‘Weatherboards’ by Ray Watson

I gasped at what I saw. An omen of oblivion! The bare dirt of that tiny desolate allotment leapt out at me from a startlingly odd gap amidst an otherwise unbroken array of old houses lining the street. I recognised the metre wide paved walkway running between the small allotment and the windowless weatherboard wall of a house which I had known in my childhood as next door’s.

On hot summer days, that walkway had been the private cricket pitch where our alter egos, Miller and Lindwall, spent many an hour. Even then, the cream painted weatherboards of our house, the walkway’s other border, were already showing the effects of a quarter of a century’s exposure to the elements. A decade later, the oil paint coating on those weatherboards had worsened: smooth thick paint here and powdery thin paint there; crocodiled, cracked, peeling paint; some bare patches.

It was then I got the job of repainting the exterior of our house. But first, I had to strip back what remained of the existing paint. Under tinder-dry mid-summer heat I judged that using a naked blow torch flame and hand scraper would be risky. So I searched for an alternative and settled on a seemingly safer electric appliance with a metal grille which shielded its red hot coils from direct contact with the weatherboards.

With both skill and brawn, in two metre sections, working downwards from the top to the bottom, I toiled away for days under the summer sun. Mostly, each weatherboard surface required three slow sweeps, two across its width and one below. But where paint was thickest, up to six sweeps were needed.

Soon, I started to notice patterns of artistry. At first, the chalky, hardened, old cream paint would dissolve into globules which then turned a pussy yellow. Next, they bulked up and tanned before falling, joining a remnant line which bubbled down groundwards.

Occasionally, when a paint globule lingered on the scraper, it would overheat and flare up. Alarmed at this confirmation of my dread of setting the boards alight, I would hastily shake free the flaming morsel.  This would embellish the otherwise tan, tumbling, remnant stream with a glowing ember which finally grounded as a black blob. Eventually, when I had stripped the wall bare without setting alight any of  the old boards, I could breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Compared with stripping, it was comparatively easy to quickly brush out the primer, undercoat, and gloss coats before they dried under the summer sun. How proud I was, standing back observing the now glossy pale green weatherboards topped by equally gleaming white guttering. Because no latter-day would-be cricketers appeared to batter those weatherboards anew, my walls still sparkled when the house was sold more than a decade later.

But some years afterwards, fire engulfed the house creating the sight now before me. No weatherboards, just remnant memories bouncing off the bare earth of a tiny allotment patch.


LONGLISTED: ‘Waves of Love’ by Toni Wilson

Can a wave love? A bird’s eye view over the ocean shows waves on the sea, rising and dipping in time.  The wave is the same substance as the sea.  I have been formed mysteriously from the substance of my dad.  The essence of his blood, slops through my veins. Imprints of his caring and angry temperament have risen and fallen through my experience up and down on the sea of time connecting us.

In Dad’s suburban house it is a dull cold Canberra morning. Sipping cups of coffee and reading different sections of the same newspaper Dad and I are bantering away.

He is 83. Standing in front of a tidy worn 80’s cream laminate bench, he swings both arms back and forth above his shoulder, as he relives throwing hammocks around on a ship in his navy days. His coffee, stained teeth shine with a latitudinous smile.

I gaze at my dad with love basking in this momentary glow of laughter as he entertains me with a serious moment in Australian Naval History. We are both naval veterans. I am my father’s daughter.

On 14 September 1960, a High explosive shell Fired by HMAS ANZAC in a gunnery exercise off Jarvis Bay hit HMAS Tobruk. No one was injured in the blast.

Dad had just come off watch at 8 am and he was asleep on a bench below decks.

BOOM! 3400 tonnes of steel lurched sideways.

Jumping up right away to action Dad started throwing hammocks up to a sailor a standing on the deck above. The sailor catching the hammocks shoved the soft soggy swelling material into the hole to stop the deluge of water gushing through.

Dad chuckled as he recalled what happened next.

Instead of throwing all the hammocks up to the sailor Dad’s own hammock would stay below decks.

The Gunner officer on HMAS ANZAC made an error forgetting to apply an off-set so the ship dad was on was hit.  An off-set is a technical term for rotating the gun so it misses its target in peacetime.

HMAS Tobruk was hit in peacetime. This ship was sent to an early grave.

In Dad’s own retelling 63 years later his gaze softened, as he thought back to how upset the young sea-cadets were that day. That softened gaze as he thinks about concern for others I know well now.  He is the full-time carer for his first son, another veteran who has suffered through traumatic times.

There are other stories to tell. For that one magic morning though, rising on that momentary wave of love in the sea of time with my dad was enough, perfect, and enough.


LONGLISTED: ‘The War of the Daffodil’ by Kimberley Rance

Seven years ago today, we said goodbye to you, Mum, forever. It wasn’t cold or stormy; it was just a regular autumn day.

Your shallow breath was disconcerting, your eyes were closed, slowly losing yourself to the tumour overtaking your head.

I attempted to absorb the memories of your face and our lives together in the fragmented time we had left.

I never wanted to part away from you…

Your time ended too soon.


The day we found out you were gone, I was failing to sleep. It was 4 a.m., and I felt your energy surround me, I was afraid of and comforted by this energy.

Then it disappeared,

And I knew I wouldn’t see you ever again.

In the morning, I was a year older, your last birthday gift was a last embrace.

… Happy Birthday to me…

We attempted to celebrate; I wish we didn’t. I felt we all wished to be miserable instead, we pretended happiness.


On the day of the funeral, I was told while dripping, rain at a funeral means a happy soul.

I am reminded of the day we lost you, the 17th of April, the same on my birth certificate.

Even now, I cannot bring myself to visit your grave… It’s too much of a reminder of loss, I cannot survive.

Feelings are unspoken in my family, we push down the feelings into the pits of our hearts, where they decay and ache. Unable to decipher our emotions left within your grave.


I have lost my best friend; you led the battle as a noble knight, fighting the long war of the Daffodil with dreaded cancer as your foe. I watched you fight for many years, and the battle ended. There was a feeling of relief, then guilt.

I found myself in my own battle. The battle of the self. I went M.I.A, unable to come out of my battle. fighting as the page missing her mentor.

I lost myself within the debris of war, shellshocked and hurting, hurting others in the aftershock. I couldn’t be a noble knight like you. Not anymore.


I eventually won my battle, finally eager to embrace changes in my life, I planted all my feelings in a keepsake box, ready to explore its contents; those memories are too painful to keep reminiscing, but a noble knight is willing to encounter the biggest challenges, no matter how many battle wounds are obtained in the process.


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