The Best Australian Yarn: ESL Prize celebrates stories of migrants

Alison Wakeham
The West Australian
Best Australian Yarn competition event at WA Museum. Simon Baronowitz, Miles Hitchcock, Basim Shamaon & Julia Lambo.
Best Australian Yarn competition event at WA Museum. Simon Baronowitz, Miles Hitchcock, Basim Shamaon & Julia Lambo. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

When competition sponsor Navitas threw its support behind a new category in The Best Australian Yarn last year, its aim was to give a voice to the many migrants who had come to Australia in search of a new life.

The Navitas English as a Second Language Prize was an instant success, attracting hundreds of entries from around the country, with authors whose first language was either Arabic, Mandarin, Portuguese, Tagalog/Filipino, Bosnian or Chichewa - or many others - telling their stories.

The inaugural winning entry was submitted by NSW resident Harold Legaspi, a migrant from the Philippines whose first language is Tagalog.

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Harold Legaspi
Harold Legaspi Credit: The West Australian

His story Hero tells of a young couple who must escape militia and flee to safety with their baby son when violence rips apart their country.

It was based on an event described to him by a friend who, as a refugee, had fled persecution in the Middle East.

Hero was praised as a work that evocatively captured the plight of some refugees and the lengths they have to go to keep their family together.

It is a story that fits neatly with Refugee Week’s theme this year, Finding Freedom, with a particular emphasis on family. Refugee Week runs until Saturday and encompasses World Refugee Day on Thursday.

Refugee Week is Australia’s peak annual activity to promote greater awareness of refugees, the issues they face and the contributions they make to the Australian community.

It aims to educate the public about why refugees come to Australia, and how they can help create a safe and welcoming environment.

Scott Jones is the chief executive of Navitas, a global education provider which has grown from its beginnings in Perth in 1994.

Mr Jones said the company was privileged to continue to support the ESL Prize after the tremendous interest it gathered in its inaugural year.

Best Australian Yarn judge Miles Hitchcock from Navitas
The Best Australian Yarn judge Miles Hitchcock from Navitas. Credit: Supplied/TheWest

Basim Shamaon and Miles Hitchcock have worked extensively in the ESL field with Navitas and both are published authors. They again lead the judging for the ESL Prize.

Mr Hitchcock has 25 years experience as an ESL teacher in Japan, China and Australia, and has worked for the past 10 years on Academic English pathways for international students into higher education in Australia.

He is a previous winner of the Melbourne Age Short Story Award and the Curtin Fiction Prize for a novel which is currently out on submission.

Mr Shamaon arrived in Australia as a young teenager, his family refugees from a war that was tearing Iraq apart and who were forced to rebuild their lives halfway around the world.

23.06.08 WA News Basim Shamaon
The Best Australian Yarn judge Basim Shamaon. Credit: Tim Levy/Tim Levy

He hopes The Best Australian Yarn will encourage some to write their own stories and help others get a better understanding of their journeys.

“Being from an ESL background, and having written my book, I know it can be daunting to expose yourself through storytelling, but it is opportunities like these that help people find the courage to share their experiences for everyone’s benefit,” he says.

The Best Australian Yarn has an $80,000 prize pool and is open for entries until Monday, August 12. The winner of the ESL Prize receives $3000.

Go to bestaustralianyarn.com.au for all the details.

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