In his forward to the fifth edition of Plain Turkey, the Mount Isa Writers Workshop annual booklet, Colin H Campbell, Editor of the North West Star wrote in March, 1975,
"In an age which has allowed, and in some cases encouraged, the disintegration of sound traditional values not the least of our cultural losses is the decay of the English language. It is being tortured and executed - mostly through ignorance, often through laziness, on both counts through educational attitudes which find more excitement in experimentation than in essential forms.
If animals can communicate by 'digging' their own sounds, why not civilised people? Those who care about the language, the use to which it is put - certainly about the use to which it is being put - are either sycophants, bores or 'history'.
The most appalling aspect of the debasement of the English language is the funeral odes are being written and the rites performed by the professionals, those who live by the word, at good rates of pay, and who should be protecting their tool of trade - the printed, scripted and newsread word - not disembowelling it with shoddy grammar, misplaced conjunctions, atomised verbs and floundering rhetoric.
The crunch comes when employers note - as in Melbourne - more than 15 per cent of students entering High School cannot read or write well enough to communicate 'in the most fundamental way'.
The Victorian Employers' Federation secretary, Mr I. O. Spicer, commented: "Industry may well have to start teaching school-leavers how to read and write before they can be usefully employed".
It will be a sadder day if the Australian government has to set up a royal commission into national illiteracy, but the suggestion is not farfetched. The Victorian State Government has been conducting a top-level inquiry into illiteracy since mid-1974, and there seems to be no valid reason to suppose that the Victorians are involved in the tragedy to a greater extent than others.
If there is an answer to the problem it would rest with self-educating, self-critical, self-aspiring people like those who burn their own midnight oil to produce Plain Turkey, for their own amusement, to set and maintain their own standards, and for the pleasure of others who care to read their contributions.
A small candle in a big dark world - but a bright one.
And with those words, the editor of the North West Star, launched the newspaper's fourth annual literary competition organised in conjunction with the Mount Isa Writers' Workshop.
North Westerners were encouraged to put pen to paper and write a short story or a poem to be in the running for the $100 prizemoney.
Helen Thiess's love of poetry produced 'The Procrastinators'.
The washing-up is in the sink,
The beds in unmade glory,
Where is our little housewife?
Immersed in a good short story.
The laundry basket's overflowing,
The ironing's piling up,
The kitchen floor needs sweeping,
She's making coffee in a cup.
Toys and books litter the lounge,
And damn! The doorbell rings,
Scatter and scamper she rushes, to pick up all the things.
Hurry up and dust the table,
Oh joy! New books to look through,
Run and get the boys from school,
Put on the evening stew.
Another hour gone,
While the children tell their takes,
Of all that's happened at the school,
Of all that's happened at the school,
Read the paper for those 'throw-out- sales.
With dinner finally over,
And the children tucked in bed,
It's 'blow the washing-up',
There's still something left unread.
And the North West Star writing competition gave Evelyn Turner the opportunity to share 'The Love Birds' with readers.
"How are tricks?" said Bill as be bounced into the house, kissing Peg on the nose.
"What's the latest with our neighbours - been spying on them through the kitchen window again?" "Same as every day since they arrived", replied his wife.
"They've been sitting on the back lawn so close together, you'd think they were Siamese twins."
"Surely not honeymooning at their age", scoffed Bill.
"Something funny about her", went on his wife, "she was out at the letter box this morning and I called out Hullo, but she utterly ignored me, didn't even look over and smile."
A week later when Bill arrived home Peg was all excited, "Guess what? The love birds sat on the lawn as usual today, but their chairs were about 8 feet apart."
"What?", exclaimed Bill, "must have had a big row, eh?" "No," came the response "they were quite animated, and talking and laughing more than I've ever seen them, how's that?"
Just then a ring came at the front door and after Peg had answered it Bill heard her saying, "Do come in and meet my husband."
"Bill this is Mr Miller from next door, he wants us to join him and Mrs Miller for a drink."
Her husband looked puzzled as he shook hands and said, "Good to meet you - er - we meant to call in when you arrived but - er - haven't got around to it - you know."
"That's okay," answered the cheerful neighbour 'my wife has felt a bit embarrassed about meeting people lately, BUT her new hearing aid arrived this morning and she's her old self again."
For several decades, Plain Turkey gave local writers the opportunity to hone their writing skills that is best explained in an extract from the 1897 book 'The Nigger of the Narcissus' which encapsulates Mount Isa writers in its extract: my task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel - it is, before all, to make you see.
Researched by Kim-Maree Burton www.kimmareeburton.com
Information sought from the 1974 Plain Turkey courtesy of Michael Beard.