Australia’s richest poetry prize: $40,000 to celebrate female poets

18 September 2023
Helen Anne Bell’s generous bequest recognises talented female poets
The Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award will be offering a $40,000 prize to the recipient for her collection of poems reflecting Australian culture. The winning collection will be published by Vagabond Press.

Presented by the University of Sydney, the biennial Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award is funded by the generous bequest of a former student of the University – Helen Anne Bell. 

This year the award offers a prize of $40,000 for a collection of poems by an Australian female poet and its publication by Vagabond Press. This is the fifth biennial award made under the bequest, which increased from $7,000 to $40,000 in 2019 and is the richest poetry prize in Australia.

We invite female poets to submit a collection of poems between 50 to 80 pages to the award. The work should broadly deal with Australian culture in some way; otherwise, there are no restrictions on the subject matter.

The award will be judged by three distinguished Australian female poets.

How do I enter? 

Entries open on Monday 25 September 2023 and close on Monday 18 December 2023 at midnight. Ensure your work complies with the Terms & Conditions.  

What is the prize?

There is a cash prize of $40,000 for the award winner. The winning entry will be published by Vagabond Press.

Award Guidelines and Contact

For more information, including the terms and conditions of the award, visit the submission portal. Please email for enquiries.

Who was Helen Anne Bell?

Born in 1947, Helen Anne Bell was admitted as a mature age student at UNSW, where she graduated with a BA in 1981. She completed an MA by coursework at the University of Sydney in 1984 before undertaking a Postgraduate Diploma in Adult Education.

She worked widely in the areas of Adult Literacy and Aboriginal Education and was a Member of the NSW Adult Literacy Council, Australian Council for Adult Literacy, NSW Teachers Federation, Committee to Defend Black Rights and the Australian Association of Adult Education.

Her hobbies included sketching, travelling, yoga and writing. She had a number of poems published during her lifetime.

Her generous bequest to the University allows us to continue supporting Australian literature.

About Vagabond Press

Vagabond Press is an independent press, established in 1999 out of the desire to open a space for new writing. Vagabond’s books have won many of the major literary prizes in Australia, and they have published many of the key emerging poets of the last decade.

Through the creative partnership with the University of Sydney, funded by the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest, Vagabond published three poetry collections, Fiona Hile's Subtraction (2017 winner), Melinda Bufton's Moxie (2019 winner) and Emily Stewart’s Running Time (2021 winner).

My sincere thanks for this generous bequest, which periodically makes visible the extraordinary creative commitment of women across the country. I am honoured to be in the company of such radiant peers on this year’s shortlist, as well as among the cohort of women previously awarded – Pip Smith, Fiona Hile and Melinda Bufton – three poets whose work has shaped my own in untold ways. This prize will be transformative for my creative practice and has shifted the horizon line of what's possible.
Emily Stewart, recipient of the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award 2021

Our past winners

The Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award 2021 judges (Kate Lilley, Pam Brown and Melinda Bufton) praised Running Time as "nimble and light, precise and seemingly casual ... Amid doubt, shame, need and fear, there is courage and insouciance, the subtle pleasure of stretching meaning into a variety of imaginative spaces that open up the limits of conventional language and syntax."

From a stellar field of 120 manuscripts, Melbourne poet Melinda Bufton won the Award for her collection Moxie.

On winning the award Melinda Bufton said 'It's an enormous honour to have won the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest; to have my work recognised in this way is incredibly exciting. Poetry is currently in a markedly dynamic phase in Australia, and I am humbled to be part of a shortlist of poets who exemplify this. My gratitude to the judges, the University of Sydney, and the family of Helen Anne Bell is similarly spirited, and heartfelt.'

Fiona Hile won the award for her collection Subtraction. Taking its cues from Rimbaud’s call for the reinvention of love, Subtraction tours the hologrammatic labyrinths of the English language to ask again: What is love? And what does the other want?


The inaugural Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award in 2013 was bestowed to Pip Smith, for her collection of poems Too Close For Comfort, which engaged most robustly and imaginatively with Australian life, concerns, and culture in the 21st century.

Over the summer of 2012 – 2013, as a way of processing a break-up and the untimely death of a dear friend, Smith spent hours every day writing and re-writing what became a collection of 90 poems. Months later she submitted her 30 best poems to the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award and won. The resulting work has many angry, angular explosions of energy, and strange imaginings. It is a snapshot of a summer at the end of her 20s, and a homage to her dear friend, who left this world too soon.

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