Wollongong is set to flourish with new greenery thanks to the thousands students across the country who submitted their nature poems in a national competition.
For every poem submitted in the Poem Forest prize - and this year there were 6400 entries - a new tree will be planted in the Wollongong Local Government area in Dharawal Country.
Illawarra Christian School student Jayda Brain won the Wollongong Community Greening Local Prize category of the competition for her poem Forest along the M5.
She was inspired to write the poem after watching a David Attenborough documentary about climate change.
"It made me think about whether the area that I enjoy so much will be there in 20 to 30 years. What will it look like?" Jayda said.
The winners of the Wollongong Community Greening Local Prize category and the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan Local Prize category were announced at William Beach Reserve in Brownsville on Tuesday, November 14.
Jayda was awarded a $500 cash prize, a $50 voucher from the Wollongong Botanic Garden and a book prize pack.
A silky oak tree once stood tall in between 10-year-old Kaleb Isaac's backyard and his neighbour's, until one day it was chopped down.
"Chop, chop, a terrible sound, down Grandfather tree tumbled to the ground," said Kaleb, reciting the first line of his poem.
The poem by the TIGS student was highly commended by the judges.
"Caring for kin, your family, you, taking on an important role, as many trees do, nurturing Country, as you grew, in your absence, it's what I'll pursue, this poem is for you, what I know to be true," Kaleb's poem continued.
The Gundungurra boy planted two trees at William Beach reserve, a much-needed addition to the local canopy cover.
The tree canopy cover in Wollongong is 17 per cent well below the national average of 39 per cent, according to the Wollongong City Council's Urban Greening Strategy 2017-2037.
Gardening Australia presenter and Illawarra local Clarence Slockee is one of the competition's judges.
Mr Slockee, an Aboriginal man from the Bundjalung nation, previously told the Mercury that students should write what they feel: "I think any sort of art is good for the soul."
The Poem Forest competition created by Red Room Poetry was originally hosted in the Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan, this is the first time it has been hosted in Wollongong.
General manager of Red Room Poetry Lorin Reid said they received double the amount of entries from Wollongong students this year compared to 2022.
Local students gathered in Brownsville with an important job - to plant the 'poem forest' on behalf of all students in the country.
"We've got students as far away as Christmas Island District High School off the coast of WA, so it's sort of special for the local kids in the Wollongong LGA to be able to plant lots of trees on behalf of all those 6400 poems that were entered this year," Mrs Reid said.
The trees will also be planted in Bushcare sites, students' backyards, public parks, open areas and streets.
next to the highway, leaves grow like hands opening,
their veins telling an ancient story.
next to the highway, bird calls sing age-old hymns,
a choir fluttering in the wind.
next to the highway, seeds scatter like constellations,
points on the map of time.
you can read history books in tree rings.
you can trace rivers back to their origins.
you can watch lizards flit between sticks,
instincts passed down through generations.
next to the highway, the soil is braided
with charcoal; the ferns browning & half
buried. streams choked with sprigs
of plastic, bird calls stifled by the thickening
air. above it all: a grey sky collapses
under its own toxic weight.
you can't turn back time.
you can't undo what has already been done.
but nature has learned its rhythms from the past.
perhaps we can learn from it too.
Chop, chop, a terrible sound, down Grandfather tree tumbled to the ground.
Chop, chop, a teary rhyme, his life extinguished in no time.
Men with axes, it hurts me the most, you, Grandfather, have been choked, your spirit gone, away and beyond.
Animals and birds, your brothers and sisters, grieved through the night,
No more will you shade the light.
Shelter, you gave, I could see your face, now gone, an empty space.
Chop, chop, a fading cry, memories of you, etched in Father Sky.
A tree I plant in your name, Bleeding Heart, a living flame.
Caring for kin, your family, you, taking on an important role, as many trees do, nurturing Country, as you grew, in your absence, it's what I'll pursue, this poem is for you, what I know to be true.
For the time with me you spent, was my greatest present.
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