Taratantara! The entries have flowed in, the judges have conferred, and at last we are ready to reveal the winners of the great competition “Children Draw Paul Kelly’s ‘Escalator of Decline'”.

Loyal readers will recall that in July Paul Kelly, the sage of Surry Hills, announced that we were all going to hell with a shopping basket. “Any nation that has lost the art of self-improvement has stepped on the escalator of decline,” he intoned.

This was alarming, especially since escalators — from the Latin escalatorus, an escalator — go up, and only decline by coming back to where they were. Just as we were recovering we got this: “Australia is on that escalator. Its politics are so noisy, destructive etc, it does not know where the escalator is going.” Well, we’ve all had that feeling, especially in David Jones at Christmas.

This genuine confusion on our part did not please the Holt Street junta, with good little doggy Chris Kenny spending a whole column telling people to read Paul Kelly columns, and editor Chris Mitchell writing to imply that being disrespectful of the News Corp Nostradamus was a bit like micturating on the Shrine of Remembrance (not his words).

Oh dear. Could anyone help us to understand the escalator of decline? We decided to ask some children, and they did not disappoint. We have winners in the great escalator of decline competition.

To the junior division first, and here, the judges could not go past the simple and lyrical vision of Yvette F, who is four years old. Hello Yvette!

Judges were divided as to whether the princess represented Australia — a cossetted nation, heading for a fall — or Kelly himself, something those who have to edit him might have views on. But her illustration solves the “decline” conundrum by having the escalator immobilised, thus putting the onus of decline on the person, or nation, hmmmmmm, falling down it. Well done, Yvette!

In the main competition, the judges have decided to give equal first prize to two entries. The first by “Johnny Pickles” (he preferred a pseudonym because News Corp’s playground reach is long) took an entirely different view of the notion of decline.

Judges admired the gritty satirical style reminiscent of Grosz, Otto Dix and … who’s that other guy we like? Oh well … and his wholly different take on the sense of “decline” — which reminded us, the judges, of the great Saki short story in which a precocious youth is said to have “declined the editorship of the Anglican Review at an age when most boys were content with being able to decline mensa, n. a table”. Well done, Johnny P!

While we’re on classical themes, our other winner is Nell During, who, drawing on mythological archetypes, was perhaps able to make some sense of it, where Kelly wasn’t.

We speculated that an escalator of decline might be some demonic thing that took people down but never up to some infinite Bargain Fabrics basement of the soul, or a food court with no Nando’s. Nell draws on Persephone, queen of the underworld and a spirit of vegetation, to imply that an escalator going up from the underworld is one of decline relative to that domain. Well done, Nell D! After that, we got tangled. An emergency call has been placed to Dr Imre Salusinszky, who has worked with both Paul Kelly and Northrop Frye, and is thus the only man who can sort this thing out.

In the meantime, well done all! Prizes for children and adults are on their way. Kids, don’t let the olds do a Britney with your swag.

Stop Press: In his new work Triumph and Demise, p 2997, Kelly talks of the “escalator to extinction”. Oh noes! Get out those crayons …