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John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize 2021: $12,000
Sponsored by the Balnaves Foundation

The John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize, is open to all emerging and established artists throughout Australia, and entries must be inspired by the works of this early Penola poet. If you’ve entered before, you already know the rewards that go with being part of this event. For those considering entering for the first time, it really is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a dynamic Festival whilst acknowledging Neilson’s place in Penola’s history.

The 2021 prize money for the The Balnaves Foundation John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize has been increased to $12,000 with the generous sponsorship of The Balnaves Foundation.

Entries are open and available on the link below.

Entries Close: 4.00pm Friday 7 May 2021 (Artworks must be delivered in person or consigned to Penola High School, 43 Cameron Street, Penola SA 5277 by 4.00pm Friday 7 May 2021.)




Local Art Prize: $1,000
Sponsored by Lois Hodge

To be eligible for the Local Art Prize you must reside permanently in the Limestone Coast. The Local Art Prize has been donated by local friend and supporter of the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival, Lois Hodge.

Entries Close: 4.00pm Friday 7 May 2021 (Artworks must be delivered in person or consigned to Penola High School, 43 Cameron Street, Penola SA 5277 by 4.00pm Friday 7 May 2021.)


About John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942)

John Shaw Neilson

John Shaw Neilson

Neilson was born on February 22nd, 1872, in a slab hut owned by his parents, John and Margaret (nee McKinnon), on Racecourse Road, Penola. He was the first of six children. He spent the first nine years of his life in Penola, during which time he came to know well the surrounding countryside with its swamps, trees and abundant bird life. He attended the school in Robe Street (now Riddoch Street) for about fifteen months, from 1880 until his parents moved in 1881 to the block they’d selected at Minimay. In 1885, he briefly resumed his formal education, but left at the age of fourteen to work full-time with his father.

From then until 1928, when he moved to Melbourne to work in the office of the Country Road Board, his life was one of unremitting physical toil, personal sorrow, and economic hardship. Family farms in the Wimmera and Mallee Districts of Victoria, were unproductive because of rabbits, mice, drought or fire. Consequently from 1916, Neilson worked as an itinerant labourer until he moved to Melbourne in 1928. Despite these difficulties, Neilson produced the poetry on which his reputation as one of Australia’s most original and important lyric poet is based. Three collections were published in his lifetime. Neilson died in Melbourne, in 1942.


Neilson was widely read and well-informed. As is evident from his poetry, autobiography, notebooks and letters, he was an intelligent, perceptive, sensitive, compassionate man. He also had a keen sense of humour. He was influenced by his Scottish heritage and by the strict Presbyterian upbringing of his early years. He wrote about the natural world, particularly birds, and about people of all ages, creeds and social circumstances. He wrote about life and death; joy and sorrow; innocence and experience and love.


  • AR Chisholm (ed.) Shaw Neilson Selected Poems (Sydney: A&R Modern Poets 1976)
  • Cliff Hanna (ed.) John Shaw Neilson; Poetry, autobiography and correspondence (Brisbane: UQP 1991)
  • Hugh Anderson and Les Blake The Spinning of a Dream: The Story of John Shaw Neilson (Melbourne: Red Rooster Press 1986)
  • Alternatively use an Internet Search Engine

Guidelines for Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival Competitions
The Penola Festival Association Inc. is a voluntary, non-profit organisation, the Festival has a legal status as an incorporated body and undertakes the management of the annual Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival. The association has a committee made up of only volunteers.

The Festival has subcommittees that orchestrate key festival areas, one of which is ‘competitions’. No individual members of a competition subcommittee are able to enter the competition. This enables individual members of the wider committee/s to be permitted to enter such competitions, thus encouraging artists/authors to sit and contribute on the wider volunteer committee.

The purpose of the above guideline is to remove any perceived or real risk of conflict of interest. In further efforts to ensure there is no perceived or real risk and to ensure judging impartiality and credibility the following guidelines apply to all festival competitions.

  • All individual competition terms and conditions are adhered to.
  • Judges will be independent of the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival.
  • Where there is a sole judge, they will reside outside of the Limestone Coast area.
  • Where there is a judging panel, more than 50% of the judges will reside outside of the Limestone Coast area.
  • All competitions entries are viewed and judged without the disclosure of the artist/author of the works known to the judge. Therefore the judge will have no knowledge of the artist/author until after the judging process is completed.

About The Balnaves Foundation

The Balnaves Foundation have been generous sponsors of the John Shaw Neilson Acquisitive Art Prize for many years.The Balnaves Foundation is a private philanthropic organisation established in 2006 by Neil Balnaves AO to provide support to charitable enterprises across Australia.

Dispersing over $2.5 million annually, the Foundation supports eligible organisations that aim to create a better Australia through education, medicine and the arts with a focus on young people, the disadvantaged and Indigenous communities.