Announcing the 2023 Mascara Varuna Writers’ and Editors’ Residency


The judging panel for the 2023 Mascara Writers’ and Editors’ Varuna Residency was impressed by the outstanding quality of many of the submissions. Of 78 entries, the range and breadth of voices, styles and genres on display is an indicative sign of the innovation pursued at the desks of First Nations and CALD writers across Australia, whether in cities or small towns, by the coast or in the bush, whether young and emerging, or older and emerging, or more established in their writing career. Many works evoke little-known aspects of Australian life, ranging from individual biographical studies to stories of local families and communities, to large-scale retrievals of national history. These explorations draw from experiments with archival records, as well as experiments with the writing body, all contributing to an ongoing questioning of what it means to document presence and history in this country. A dominant theme running through these works is the complexity of place, whether encountered as a recent arrival to these shores, or as a writer holding deep ancestral ties to the land. The courage and ambition propelling these undertakings are to be commended in the highest possible terms. 

Of this high-quality field, four submissions were exceptional for the grace, precision, and perception of their writing. These submissions resonate with a contemporary edge, vividly foreshadowing new futures in Australian writing. Poetic modes of inquiry prevail across a rich array of genres, not only in lyric and experimental poetry, but also in long form fiction and non-fiction. They are also projects that are eminently realisable within the scope of the residency and hold the potential to be significantly developed through the editorial process. We are thrilled to announce that the four residencies go to: Timmah Ball’s Blue Print for Another World; Alison J. Barton’s Not Telling; Maria van Neerven’s To Give Them a Voice; and Vivienne Cleven’s Beautiful Monsters. These strong submissions reflect a considerable diversity of genre, aesthetic, and style, and represent a range of ages, backgrounds, and experiences within First Nations’ writing. 


Timmah Ball

Timmah Ball is a writer and zine maker of Ballardong Noongar heritage. Previous zines and micro publications include Wild Tongue in collaboration with Loving Feminist Literature for Melbourne Fringe (2016), Wild Tongue Vol. 2 in collaboration with Azja Kulpinska for Next Wave Festival (2018) and Do Planners Dream of Electric Trees? (2021) created through Arts House Makeshift public residency. Her writing has appeared in a range of anthologies and literary magazines including Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin, The Griffith Review and Columbia University’s The Avery Review. In 2016 she won the Westerly Patricia Hackett Prize.


Timmah Ball’s collection of experimental non-fiction examines dispossession in the context of contemporary urban planning. Through playful yet committed theoretical engagement and radical self-reading of her own experience as an urbanist, Ball sets out to deconstruct the western logic of space (states, borders, regions, cities) and recast place in terms of the ‘powerful tapestry of First Nation countries that make up this continent.’ Her writing is richly engaged, revealing a strong social commitment to the connection between poetics and cartography, between language and country.


Alison J. Barton

Alison J Barton is a Wiradjuri poet based in Naarm. Themes of race relations, Aboriginal-Australian history, colonisation, gender and psychoanalytic theory are central to her work. Her work appears in Meanjin, Overland, Best of Australian Poetry 2022 (APJ), the Liquid Amber Prize Anthology: Poetry of Encounter, Australian Poetry Journal, Otoliths, Rabbit, Westerly Mag, StylusLit, Resilience (Ed. Mascara) , The Storms (Ireland), Poethead (Ireland), The Night Heron Barks (USA), Under Bunjil, Yarra Libraries Receipt Poetry, Bluebottle Journal and LinkBund.  In 2022 Alison received a commended place in the WB Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia, was shortlisted for both the Queensland Poetry Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize (for ‘buried light’) and the Pratik Magazine Fire and Rain edition prize (for ‘How to grieve in the open air’) and longlisted for the inaugural Liquid Amber Press Poetry Prize.

She can be found on Instagram @alison_j_barton


Alison J. Barton’s first full-length collection of poetry draws from family lore, Australian history, archival material, and psychoanalytic theory in its attempt to realise the potential of language to retrieve identity. Barton’s poetry proceeds as an act of literary decolonisation, in pursuit of the healing, relatedness, and telling the truth.


Vivienne Cleven

Kamilaroi author Vivienne Cleven was born in 1968 and grew up in outback Queensland. She left school at thirteen to work with her father as a jillaroo: building fences and mustering sheep and cattle. She also worked as a cleaner, barmaid, roustabout, nanny, and photographer, among other jobs. Her novel Bitin’ Back won the David Unaipon Award and shortlisted in the 2002 Courier-Mail Book of the Year Award and the 2002 South Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction.  She wrote the playscript for Bitin’ Back, which was performed by Brisbane’s Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Theatre Company. Sister’s Eye was published in 2002 and was chosen in the 2003 People’s Choice shortlist of One Book One Brisbane. Her writing is included in Fresh Cuttings, the first anthology of UQP Black Australian Writing, published in 2003.


Beautiful Monsters is a dark satire about small town life, beauty, false identities, racism, belonging and self-love. Cleven’s language is wry, imagistic and lexically creative; her narrative focalisations of direct and indirect Aboriginal English are are deft, seamless and culturally specific. Her characters and idioms are memorable and original in subverting the settler tropes of crime and outback noir.


Maria Van Neerven

Maria van Neerven is a Mununjali Yugambeh women from south-east Queensland. She is a retired library technician who loves reading and writing poetry. Her first published story was in the journal The Lifted Brow: Blak Brow (2018) and she has also published poetry in In Our Hands, (2022) a collection of poetry from Elders and knowledge keepers. Maria has performed her work on stages across Alice Springs and Brisbane and is working on her first collection.

The poems in this collection are as poignant as they are assured in the smallest movement of the heart, in the caesura of the spoken word, in the multi-tonal shape of the page which honours the rituals of daily life through trauma, violence, poverty and joy. These lyrical cameos remind us of family, colonisation, discrimination and mental health. They are precise, carefully restored through memory’s portal and gentle in their healing as they look to the future.