Record contibutor wins major literary prize

13 Nov 2008

By therecord

Commentator, author, lawyer and poet Hal Colebatch has received the Premier’s Award for Poetry and praise from UK actress Joanna Lumley.                             

One of many hats: Hal Colebatch (right) speaks at the lauch of ‘The Light River’ at The Record last year flanked by Archbishop Barry Hickey and Brian Peachey

West Australian author and lawyer Hal Colebatch has won the poetry category of the Premier’s Book Award for his book of poetry, The Light River.
Mr Colebatch won the $7,500 prize for his latest collection of poetry which was launched by Archbishop Barry Hickey at The Record Bookshop in July 2007.
Mr Colebatch, a regular columnist for The Record and The American Spectator and a former part-time lecturer in law at the University of Notre Dame, says that poetry is more than just a hobby for him, having published seven collections of poetry already.
While his passion for poetry found its genesis at Leederville Tech (now TAFE) “trying to impress girls”, it soon morphed into a way of painting a picture of the world through a particular lens.
He admits that his poetry wasn’t that great at the start, but hopes he has improved over the years.
“I’ve tried to write a kind of poetry that’s accessible without being simple-minded,” he said. “It’s like walking a tightrope between being outright bad, too silly or intellectual and obscure, which are common traps in poetry”
Mr Colebatch has been managing editor of a publishing company and editor for the Australian Institute of Public Policy’s publications, has worked on the staff of two federal ministers – Vic Garland and more recently Liberal Senator Chris Ellison – and was a reporter for The West Australian for nine years.
In addition to receiving the award, Mr Colebatch received praise from far afield including one letter sent to him by English actress, Joanna Lumley.  “You write wonderfully and your clear painterly eye brings scenes jumping into life. I can’t pick a favourite – but perhaps because of my childhood in the far east I was particularly drawn to ‘Landing in Singapore’ and ‘Lone Pine Hotel, Penang,’” the actress wrote.
“Your short poems are almost like haikus – I love that snapshot effect – and your longer pieces, particularly ‘The San Demetrion’ are just wonderful and heartbreaking.”
Describing himself as pleased and encouraged by his win, Mr Colebatch’s advice to young and aspiring poets is to read often and widely so as to know about a subject before writing about it – a trap, he says wryly, that a lot of writers fall in to.
Asked for his recommendations on what writers to read he confesses a love of old English poets and fondly recounts his earlier reading of Rudyard Kippling and GK Chesterton.
He says that a number of Australian poets are well worth a look – poets such as Peter Kocan, Doug Stewart, James McAuley, Les Murray and Bruce Dawe, as well as West Australian poets Rod Moran and William Hart-Smith.
Although he says he has a reputation of being a satirical poet, Mr Colebatch is “far more interested in trying to build things up than tear them down” adding that all a writer can ever do “is try hard to do the best you can, in whatever genre.” Mr Colebatch’s columns and reviews appear regularly in The Record.