“THEY called him Jack,” Raimond Gaita wrote in the book which put the Moolort Plains on the literary map, “...it never seriously occurred to them to call my father by his name, Romulus.”
It’s a line which partly explains the name behind the new notJack Writers’ Prize, founder Yana Canteloupe said.
“One of the most poignant parts in my reading of ‘Romulus my Father’ was when Romulus loses his name in the eyes of the Australian population,” she said.
“When I read this line I was struck by how significant and deep place can run.”
But the name carries a double meaning, the book’s author explained.
“It also refers to Jack the cockatoo, probably one of the book’s most loved characters, who has a distinguished international reputation as being a truly extraordinary bird!” Mr Gaita told the Bendigo Advertiser.
In its inaugural year, the notJack prize will donate proceeds to a legal campaign to protect another of the book’s most beloved elements – the landscape in which it was set.
Mr Gaita and Ms Canteloupe are both heavily involved in a community campaign to prevent several, large chicken-breeding sheds from being built four kilometres from Baringhup.
Ms Canteloupe said the portrayal of Central Victoria in ‘Romulus’ was a major part of its appeal.
“When I spoke to people about the Victorian landscape a lot of them had introduced visiting friends and family to the landscape by giving them a copy of ‘Romulus’ or by showing them the film,” Ms Canteloupe said.
The chicken farm case is currently before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with a verdict expected in October.
But the prize extends beyond concerns about the proposed broiler factory, and aims to celebrate the fundamental importance of place in Australian literature.
“When you speak about particular works they are referred to as being based on the coast, or in the bush, or based in the suburbs...” Ms Canteloupe said.
“For a great number of Australian writers you cannot separate place from the other themes their work is concerned about.
“I think it is quite an Australian phenomenon.”
Both Ms Canteloupe and Mr Gaita will be in town this weekend for the Bendigo Writers’ Festival.
The notJack founder said she was hoping to connect with local writers to promote the prize’s ‘Baringhup’ category, open to residents of the Mount Alexander and Central Goldfields shires.
Among the awards for the top three local writers is a three-hour masterclass with journalist and social philosopher, Anne Manne and poet James Walton, as well as Mr Gaita.
The top five entrants for both the ‘youth’ and ‘open’ prizes also receive master classes. Miles Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch is among those involved in the open classes. Alice Pung, who won the 2007 Newcomer of the Year Award in the Australian Book Industry Awards, will run the youth prize class.
NotJack is open to all forms of writing in which place figures prominently with everything accepted from essays to flash fiction, poetry to screenplay.
Submissions for the prize close November 1. For entry details see the notJack Writers’ Prize website.
On Sunday, Anne Manne will host a discussion with Mr Gaita and the author of ‘Tracks,’ Robyn Davidson, on turning cherished books into films from 12:30pm at the Capital Theatre.
The Bendigo Advertiser spoke to Mr Gaita about his upcoming Bendigo Writers’ Festival appearance for a feature article to run in this weekend’s paper.