Neerkol Orphanage custody battle wins Lorna McDonald Essay Prize

Listen to this story, featuring Lorna McDonald Essay Prize winner Lesley Synge and judge Roger McDonald:

Lesley Synge has won the second annual Lorna McDonald Essay Prize for a piece about her great-grandmother's struggle to regain custody of her children from Neerkol Orphanage.

The award is open to essays on any aspect of Central Queensland. It honours the life and work of Dr Lorna McDonald, whose meticulously researched histories of the region are legendary among local history buffs.

While Lesley's work was similarly thorough and historical, judge Roger McDonald - Lorna's son - says they're looking for a diverse range of entries next year.

"We'd like to see something from a scientist, an environmentalist, a theologian, a mining engineer, a worker - all different angles of looking at a place."

Lesley's great-grandmother Lizzie O’Keefe temporarily surrendered four of her children to the orphanage's care, after leaving an abusive husband and moving to Mount Morgan to build a new life. But she soon discovered that getting her children back was going to be a whole new battle...

You can read Lesley’s full winning essay on the Arts Central Queensland website.

If Lesley’s work has inspired you to look into your own family history, the Queensland State Archives has a handy beginners guide to using their collection.