UPDATE: You can now listen to a recording of Annamaria’s winning essay here.
“This country immerses you, wraps its stories round you, makes you care about them.”
That line comes from Annamaria Weldon’s winning entry to the inaugural Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize. Her essay, entitled “Threshold Country,” tells a story that is at once so deeply personal and sweepingly engaging that it — like the country it lovingly celebrates — can’t help but make you care.
It’s the kind of writing we were hoping to inspire when we launched this new biennial contest roughly a year ago. We solicited essays that celebrated both nature writing and Australia’s landscapes. What we received was an extraordinary mosaic of language that not only describes the magnificence of natural Australia but also makes a compelling case for why conserving our continent is so crucial.
That made picking a winner all the more difficult. When it came time to review submissions, we found that we’d collected 136 entries. Our judges had a tough task ahead of them.
Luckily, they were up to the challenge. The able jury was composed of Mark Tredinnick — an acclaimed poet and essayist who makes nature a frequent subject — and Sally Blakeney, a literary journalist and reviewer. Together, they winnowed an impressive pool of essays down to a short list of five pieces, including one penned by famed Australian novelist Nick Drayson.
And then there was Weldon’s essay. Weldon lives in Fremantle, Western Australia, but she was born in Malta and her childhood took her through North Africa, Central America and the U.K. She came to Western Australia in 1984, and her well-traveled background gives her special insight into how a landscape’s physical characteristics create a sense of place.
That insight permeates “Threshold Country,” which explores the impermanence of Yalgorup National Park’s fragile thrombolites (column-like microbial structures) and their vulnerability to the increased development occurring in the nearby city of Manduray. Weldon describes the time she spends among the thrombolites and the feeling of comfort — of being at home — that she derives from them. “Can we learn in time to tread more lightly here?” she wonders.
“Threshold Country” earned Weldon a $5000 prize, generously provided by the McLean Foundation, and it was published in the final volume of indigo, a Western Australian literary journal. Tredinnick and Blakeney referred to the piece as “a marvellously orchestrated, complex meditation on belonging. It is at once assured and yet gently voiced.”
For my part, I was entranced by the ease with which the essay places readers in Yalgorup among the threatened thrombolites. Weldon writes of how the land’s Traditional Owners, the Bindjareb people, based their culture on an understanding of the region’s natural beauty. It’s a message with special significance to the Conservancy: a major focus of work is helping Indigenous Australians manage protected areas to yield both natural and livelihood benefits.
“I felt this terrain had something to tell me, something I needed to learn, about loss of country and recovering a sense of place,” Weldon writes. Her essay helps us understand just how important conserving that sense of place is, and we’re grateful our new nature writing prize gave her a chance to do so.
Read the full text of Annamaria’s essay here.
Read the full text of other essays short-listed by the contest’s judges:
(First Image: Containing rivers, salt lakes. arid lands, mountains and ancient eucalyptus forests, the landscape of the Gondwana Link project area in south Western Australia is an extraordinarily rich and complex ecological mosaic containing some the world’s most ancient habitats. Image credit ©Ami Vitale. Second image 2: Courtesy Annamaria Weldon. Audio credit: Lee Kennedy @ Studio Kraze).