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History of the Newcastle Poetry Prize

In September, 1980, Peter Goldman stood in the middle of Civic Park during the Mattara Festival and handed out an A4 photocopied anthology of poetry to passers-by. The collection featured poems by local Hunter writers with contributors ranging in age from six to eighty-one.

This anthology provided the spark for the first official Mattara Poetry Prize in 1981, overseen by two young academics at the University of Newcastle: Chris Pollnitz and Paul Kavanagh who secured funding for the Prize from the Hunter Water Board and convinced A.D. Hope and G.A. Wilkes to be judges.

From these modest beginnings, the Mattara prize quickly established itself as the most prestigious poetry competition in the country and is now known as the Newcastle Poetry Prize.

The Newcastle Poetry Prize is one of the major events on the literary calendar in Australia, bringing entries from across the nation. Each year, local and national poets compete with internationally recognised names such as Peter Porter, Les Murray, Bruce Dawe, Anthony Lawrence, Mark Tredinnick, Lily Brett, Robert Adamson and Judith Beveridge.

No less illustrious has been the list of judges casting their eye over the entries, including Christopher Pollintz, Peter Porter, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Paul Kavanagh, Les Murray, Dame Leonie Kramer, Fay Zwicky, Dorothy Hewett, Antigone Kefala and Robert Gray, Kim Cheng-Boey, Jennifer Harrison, Mark Tredinnick and Anna Kerdijk-Nicholson.

Coordinated by the Hunter Writers Centre since 2002, the Newcastle Poetry Prize is a significant cultural achievement and is a testament to the commitment of its sponsor - the University of Newcastle - to celebrate literary excellence in Australia.

Prize pool

One of the most lucrative poetry prizes in Australia, the Newcastle Poetry Prize offers a $25,000 prize pool with a first place award of $15,000, a second prize of $5,000 and third prize of $1,000. In addition, the $500 Local Award is given to a poet who resides in the Hunter Region. For young poets, The Harri Jones Memorial Prize awards $500 for the best poem by a poet under the age of 36.

Harri Jones Memorial Prize 

In 2011, the Harri Jones Memorial Prize was incorporated into the Newcastle Poetry Prize and awarded to the best poem in the anthology by a poet under the age of 36.  This prize was set up in 1965 after the tragic early death of T.H. (Harri) Jones.  He was a Welsh poet, critic and lecturer in the English department at what was then a college of the University of NSW, subsequently to become the University of Newcastle. In the time from his arrival from the UK in 1959 Harri had a huge impact on the cultural and literary life of Newcastle. He is remembered not only for his own poetry (most recently published in the Complete Poems of T.H.Jones), but also for his virtuosity as a reader and a lecturer. He was known to hold his listeners riveted with his fine Welsh voice whether in class or at private readings. His friends and family set up a fund after his death to support a perpetual prize in his memory.


“The Newcastle Poetry Prize has brought many fine Australian poets to national attention… It not only gives much needed financial reward to the winning poet but increases their media profile and likelihood of achieving further publication.”

~ Mike Ladd, Poetica, ABC Radio National

“It proves that there is poetry in money after all, that a major prize like the Newcastle Poetry Prize can call in being poems that seem to say something that has never been said before, or say something that we all know in such new and memorable ways that it reads like a new knowledge, a new sense of future.”

~ Jennifer Harrison and Kim Cheng Boey, 2012 judges

“The Newcastle Poetry Prize is a unique award not only because it attracts submissions from an eclectic and diverse range of Australian writers each year but also because it publishes an anonymously selected collection of the best poems. This year we celebrate the award’s 30th anniversary and we appreciatively note the award’s longevity, its reputation and prestige.”

~ Jennifer Harrison and Keri Glastonbury, 2011 judges

“Australian poetry is emerging as one of the country’s most significant cultural achievements. There will come a time when the part played in this by the Newcastle Poetry Prize will be part of our national cultural history… No other city in Australia is so closely associated with such an important prize. The fact that Newcastle can manage a prize like this, and neither Sydney, nor Melbourne, for instance, can, is a matter for some wry observation.”

~ Martin Langford, NSW Poetry Development Officer

“It is no exaggeration to say that this Prize places Newcastle in the forefront of Australian poetry patronage. It encourages by rewarding excellent writing, it recognizes innovation, it garners new readers of poetry and new writers, and it helps to launch many careers, since being included is the year’s touchstone for excellence in poetry. It was the publication of three of my poems in the 1983 anthology that set me firmly on my path as an established poet.”

~ Jan Owen, 2008 Open Section Judge

“The Newcastle Poetry Prize is seen throughout this country as offering the major award for individual poems or suites of poems in Australia. Over the years it has consistently attracted the best poetic talents this country has produced. The reputation of this prize has put Newcastle on the map in cultural circles.”

~ Ron Pretty AM, Australian Poetry Centre

It’s always a delight to be short-listed for the Newcastle Poetry Prize, which is, I feel, Australia’s most significant poetry award. Some would use the word ‘prestigious’ rather than ‘significant’, but poetry isn’t and shouldn’t be about prestige. It’s about understanding what it is to be human. In this regard, the Newcastle Poetry Prize is unique in that it allows significant space to explore our humanity by encouraging the submission of extended pieces of poetry. I and so many other poets are grateful for The University of Newcastle’s ongoing and substantial sponsorship of such a prize. I would also like to thank the judges, Judith Beveridge and Robert Gray, for their acknowledgement of the place of prose poetry in our literature by short-listing my work for this award. I see a prose poem as a poem with one long line. It often finds itself out in the cold, neither regarded as one thing nor the other, and I’m delighted to see this important form acknowledged here.

~ John Foulcher, Commended award, 2015

“At the 2006 prize giving night, the University of Newcastle announced that in recognition of the value of the Newcastle Poetry Prize brings to the region as well as Australian poetry, it will continue its sponsorship a further five years, up until 2011. This was welcome news to anyone who believes in supporting the Arts, something not afforded in some countries at all. Sitting in the audience I was very proud to be living in Newcastle.”

~ Debra Hely, Past President of Poetry at the Pub, Newcastle

Anthologies and the Judging Process

The Newcastle Poetry Prize is unique among Australian poetry prizes for producing an accompanying anthology. The Anthology provides a rare opportunity for being published outside of the literary journals and internet magazines. Alongside UQP’s Best Australian Poetry and BlackInc’s Best Australian Poems, the Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology offers an annual snapshot of the thriving state of Australian Poetry, and in particular longer poems.

In the words of Highly Commended poet in the 2007 Competition and The Australian’s Poetry Editor, Barry Hill: “The Newcastle Poetry Prize should be congratulated for being such a patron of the long poem — a phenomenon which helps sustain seriousness in Australian poetry, and which tests judges as they should be tested.”
A distinctive feature of the Newcastle Poetry Prize is that it is judged anonymously, meaning judges do not see the names of poets on each entry. This anonymous judging process gives both established and emerging poets an equal opportunity for recognition and publication. Each year new judges are selected to judge the Prize.


Sponsor The University of Newcastle provides a prize pool of $25,000 and has been the major sponsor of the Prize since 2005. 

Winners Past winners of the Newcastle Poetry Prize: 
1981 - Kevin Hart 
1982 - Peter Kocan 
1983 - Craig Powell 
1984 - John A Scott 
1985 - Diane Fahey 
1986 - Lily Brett 
1987 - Dane Thwaites & Tracy Ryan 
1988 - Kristopher Saknussem 
1989 - John Bennett 
1991 - Dorothy Hewett 
1995 - Roland Leach 
1996 - Philip Salom & Roland Leach & David Brooks 
1997 - Anthony Lawrence 
1999 - Brook Emery 
2000 - Philip Salom 
2002 - Emma Jones & John Watson & Jo Gardiner & Judy Johnson 
2004 - Peter Kirkpatrick 
2005 - Emma Jones 
2006 - Nathan Shepherdson 
2007 - Mark Tredinnick 
2008 - David Musgrave 
2009 - Patricia Sykes 
2010 - Duncan Hose 2011 - Mark Tredinnick 2012 - David Musgrave 
2013 - Jennifer Compton 
2014 - Debi Hamilton and Anthony Lawrence 
2015 - Anthony Lawrence 
2016 - John Watson 
2017 - Lucy Williams 
2018 - Ross Gillett 
2019 - Chloe Wilson
2020 - Damen O'Brien

Community and Audience In the words of the late Novocastrian poet, Bill Iden, “Newcastle’s environment makes its poets”.