Student Poetry Competition 2023: Years 9 – 10 Winners

Identity, and a strong sense of the past, present and future, inform many of the winning Year 9–10 entries in this year’s Student Poetry Competition.

Congratulations to Ally Russo (Balcombe Grammar School), Arooj Bilal (Sirius College), Katherine Lam (Presbyterian Ladies’ College) and all of those who received honourable mentions.


The competition, part of the Arts Learning Festival, was open to students from all school sectors, and attracted almost 600 entries.

Written poetry winners
‘A breathtaking evocative poem with a deep sense of past, present and future.’
‘What Have We Done?’
Ally Russo, Balcombe Grammar School

Here I stand along the shore

the tide drifts lazily back and forth

as my shallow breaths gulp in hazy air

I stare out to a sight devoid of life

A mourning stretch of sky

resides with a sigh over the ocean

an ocean that once induced a familiar warmth

now an empty hollow within me

The water dead, dull and grey

lulled to its grave by fumes

it’s roars snuffed by burning factories

the life our ignorance helped to kill

My heart aches and it trembles

longing for the world we have lost

with its soaring sapphire skies

and wistful warmth of sun

When there were birds singing in the treetops

flowers danced contently to their song

their petals flung loose into the breeze

floating ever so daintily away from home

I miss the picturesque sunsets that painted our skies

a symphony of reds, pinks, and oranges

splashed vastly over the horizon

just a sign of another day to come.


And the ocean, oh the ocean

how I yearn to feel it’s cool calming touch

once more caressing my burning body

to feel the relief entangled within its depths

If I close my eyes, it all rushes back

the soft crumble of sand beneath my toes

the lingering perfume of crisp salty air

and the sound of the tumbling waves

I recall the serene spread of water

a sheet of glass that seemed to stretch into forever

broken only by the splashes of leaping fish

that dare to venture from the hidden wonderland below.

But I open my eyes and it all disappears

and the returning vision of our mistakes

well, it smacks me in the face

telling me to wake up, to look at what we’ve done

We drained the beauty from our planet

we stole the sacred homes of flora and fauna

we burnt the wonder of nature to the ground

and we corrupted the pure blue of the ocean

The ambition that manipulated our minds

and the greed that blinded us to our errors

that led us down the inevitable road of destruction

yet by the time we stopped to look around

the damage had already been done.

‘A consistent and compelling voice as each new reading reveals much to consider.’
‘I'm Confused. Who am I?’
Arooj Bilal, Sirius College


The sun-kissed land down under,
where kangaroos frolic in golden haze,

I emerge as a member of my generation,
bearing the weight of ancestral days.


As a child of diaspora,
my skin is kissed by foreign lands,

I find myself confronting bigotry’s cruel embrace
that seeks to murder where heritage stands.


How does the world perceive me,
my soul straddling two shores?

Do they question my brown skin
that my heart has been taught to adore?


Often perceived as ‘whitewashed’,
my cultural roots remain unseen,

Am I condemned to wander,
lost in the spaces of in-between?


My parents, seekers of dreams anew,
embarked on a journey, hopes shining through.

To Australia’s shores, they set their sights,
but racism’s shadows marred our sacred rights.


I hear whispers of our ancestors’ strife,
grandparents on bicycles, carving a life.

Pedalling to school, determining their guide,
so I could ride in cars, a privileged ride.


Their slippers, worn and weathered by time,
paved a path for me, my footsteps sublime.

They wore them so I could wear boots of gleam,
but does the world see beyond this superficial sheen?


And what of the mere bread they consumed,
while I feast on meals, full-course and presumed?

Their sacrifices, etched in each humble slice,
yet often forgotten in my privileged paradise.


Their mud houses, humble and meek,
while I live in an air-conditioned comfort’s creek.

Do I comprehend the depth of their sacrifice,
or has their struggle faded, lost in time’s vice?


Like a prism refracting light,
my existence is a dazzling blend,

Yet ignorance casts shadows,
grappling my neck with its brawny hands,


bringing me close to the end.

Must I carry the weight
of my parents’ struggles and pride?

Or am I expected to conform
and have my identity standardised?


Do I yearn to embrace my heritage,
nourishing roots long denied?

Or am I encouraged to assimilate,
setting my uniqueness aside?


Why do I have to say I’m Indian, Pakistani, or any other label?
Why can’t I simply say, “I am a human too” and be able,

To exist in this world without prejudice and bias,
where acceptance and compassion fuel the brightest fires?


In the labyrinth of my existence,
as a second-generation migrant’s child,

Confusion wraps its tendrils tightly,
leaving me bewildered, beguiled.


Caught between two worlds,
like a river split in two,

I navigate the murky waters,
unsure of what to hold onto.


In Australia’s embrace, discrimination marks its cruel reign,
Indian and Pakistani communities face challenges, stark and plain.

Job rejections, racial slurs, scars that run so deep,
injustice’s wounds, restless nights, it’s difficult to sleep.


In my tear-filled eyes,
the flames of unwavering resilience ignite
because I witnessed the ancestral dreams,
pining to ascend in flight.


How can I shatter the suffocating confines,
the judgments that invade?
Will society ever perceive
the boundless richness beyond colours that degrade?


Caught in this swirling confusion,
can empathy replace casting blame?
Can we create a world where acceptance
and unity are not mere names?


For within us Gen Z warriors
lie stories waiting to be heard,
our voices struggle to break free,
to be cherished, to be spurred.


Let us bridge the gaps, unite our hearts,
and strive for a world refined,
where our vibrant spirits can flourish,
leaving racism behind.

Performance poetry winners
‘A passionate physical presence, a strong voice, and dramatic appropriateness are unified to breathe life into the performance.’
'Wrong My Rights'
Katherine Lam, Presbyterian Ladies' College Melbourne
Honourable mentions
  • Rania Aldanu, Sirius College – ‘And We Hear’
  • Victoria Clark, Ballarat Grammar School – ‘Battle of the Beach’
  • Zoe Deane, Our Lady of Sion College – ‘Hero’s Quest’
  • Britney Disher, Taylors Lakes Secondary College – ‘The Joy of Living’
  • Talia Gul, Sirius College – ‘Timid Beauty’
  • Khaled Mohamed, Australian International Academy – ‘Inner Beauty’
  • Ethan Molyneux, Ballarat Grammar School – ‘Thorn of Hearts’
  • Sarah Shaik Abdul Kader, Sirius College – ‘Stolen silence’
  • Yasmine Thabet, Caulfield Grammar School – ‘The Journey of Life’
  • Leona Twist, Toorak College – ‘Journeys of Insignificance’
  • Meika Varga, Our Lady of Sion College – ‘Swim, don’t sink’
  • Alisa Villani, Ave Maria College – ‘The Complexities of a Teenage Brain’
  • Maya Zeine, Genazzano FCJ College – ‘A Letter to my Mother’
  • Annie Zhou, Caulfield Grammar School – ‘Winter Flower’
  • Yolanda Zhu, Presbyterian Ladies’ College – ‘A Collage of the Poet’