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My Australia

My Australia

My Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Australia

Julie Murphy

Garry Fleming

NLA Publishing, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279163

Over a century ago Dorothea Mackellar wrote her iconic poem My Country and shared the beauty of Australia’s diverse landscape as she wrote about the amazing contrasts that make it unique.  Now Julie Murphy has used a similar theme to share her interpretation of its remarkable environments and habitats from the “wild wind-carved mountains” to the “white salty foam.” 

But this version is not a collection of words to be memorised and analysed and trotted out in response to literature assignments – this is a journey around and across this country that is lavishly illustrated in almost photo-like style by wildlife artist Garry Flemming, making it both an audial and visual celebration of what is on offer.  Followed by several pages with easily-readable explanations of each of the biomes in the stories, which themselves are accompanied by photos held by the National Library of Australia, this book would not only be the perfect souvenir for the traveller but also opens up the country for those who have not yet travelled.

The final words can be the beginning of something as magnificent as this country.

Here in my country I’ll live and roam

My spirit sings here – this is my home.

But home for me is very different to the home of my family and my friends – we stretch from mountains to cities to seaside and the views from our windows are vastly different, and where we live shapes how we live.

Young children tend to see the world immediately around them as indicative of what the whole world is like, so this would be a perfect kickstart to broadening their horizons through teaming up with schools in a totally different landscape perhaps through a Travelling Teddy exchange or a Through My Window art collaboration, both of which not only connect the kids but help them to look closely at their own environment so they can share it with others elsewhere.  Where we live also shapes how we live and what we consider to be normal routines so comparing and contrasting things such as school and leisure time activities can also open doors and minds to difference. My Australia expands to become Our Australia.

 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Bill Baillie

Bill Baillie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Ellis Rowan

NLA Publishing, 2018

104pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279200

In the harsh, hot Western Australian desert, several hundred miles inland from Perth lies the town of Goongarrie, where, at the turn of last century, Tabitha, a painter, came to paint the wonders of the landscape and its inhabitants.  Despite its remoteness there were people there and each day they brought her “curious plants and queer beasts” to examine and paint.  

Among those “queer beasts” was a little creature – naked, five inches (12.5 cm) long at most, long legs with a strange eyelet mouth that had been attached to a teat in its mother’s pouch before she was killed in the sharp teeth of a deadly trap. Looking like he had given up and decided to die, it felt the warm, comforting hands of Tabitha around him and in that moment both were determined that he would live.  Bill Baillie’s life and adventures with this itinerant painter had begun!

And what a life it was – becoming famous and known as ‘Master Bill Baillie of Goongarrie” he travelled everywhere with Tabitha for the rest of his life, his energy unbounded, his curiosity unsated,  especially at night time which was his day, and his love for her unequalled. Getting into precarious situations, dodging a host of bilby enemies who wanted to eat him and travelling on trains and boats and wagons from Perth to Melbourne, Bill Baillie was Tabitha’s constant companion until his inevitable, sad death in her arms just two years later. 

“Tabitha’ is actually Ellis Rowan herself who was determined “to find and paint every wildflower on the continent”, and she initially wrote this story in 1908 at a time when having a native creature for a pet was considered a curiosity rather than a concern.  Using remarkable skill that keeps the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about these almost mythical creatures, Stephanie Owen Reeder has abridged the original using more accessible vocabulary and shorter chapters while omitting none of the drama of this curious relationship.  Rowan’s descriptions of the environment as viewed through the eyes of a painter are exquisite and the reader is transported to that vast lonely landscape with its brilliant colours and on-the-surface desolation brought to life.  Many of the original illustrations by Rowan and Hans Praetorius have been left in while others from the NLA’s collection of bilby paintings have also been included.

As is usual with NLA publications, the story is complemented by  several pages of further information, all based on the library’s relevant collections including the Rowan collection itself.  

Bilbies are an endearing but endangered species brought to our attention as the Australian symbol of Easter to raise awareness of the damage done to the environment by the introduced wild rabbits so the release of the charming story is fitting, with Easter on the horizon.

 

 

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Robin Cowcher

Walker Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781922179050

Left! Left! Left! Right! Left! We make our way in the dark.

On the one hand feet make their way to a commemorative service; on the other soldiers’ boots take them to the battlefront. 

As ANZAC Day approaches and the centenary commemorations of World War I continue, this book reminds us that Australians have been involved in wars since before we were even officially called Australia and that our presence is known and respected in wartorn countries even today.

Each double-page spread with its simple text and evocative illustrations juxtaposes the people at the commemorative ceremonies with soldiers in conflict throughout our history. From the title page where the family hurries out the door into darkness through to the endpapers with the iconic poppies that we associate with remembrance in this country the reader is taken on a journey through our military history in such a sensitive way. 

As the Dawn Service moves through prayers,  the raising of the flags, the lighting of candles, the placement of wreaths and poppies, silences and the familiar bugle call of The Last Post and Reveille so too we move through time –  The Boer War, World Wars I and II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Bosnia & Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan – whether as combat troops or peacekeepers, Australians have had a role committing hundreds of thousands of men and women, each of whom deserves our respect and gratitude. While each page just has one factual statement of what is happening, the  illustrations bring a depth and dimension that inspire emotion and memories as the two marry together perfectly. From the sprig of rosemary somehow surviving the stomp of boots on the first page to the ghost-like images marching with the people on the last, there is a sense that this is an enduring commitment by military and civilian personnel alike.   One could not stand without the other.   

Thumbnail sketches of each conflict are provided at the end of the book and teachers notes’ are also available for those who want to use this as the first step in a deeper investigation for both History and English. It may even inspire some students to investigate the role that their family has had in the Services and given our multicultural population there may be students who have personal experiences to share that might give a unique insight that can’t be gleaned from picture books, no matter how stunning they are.

Something a little different to share this ANZAC Day, not only to remember the huge contribution that has been made but also to acknowledge those who have served and continue to serve so that those students who have had or still have family in the military forces understand that they are included in the thoughts and prayers.  The services are not just for the sacrifices made long ago on faraway battlefields by generations unknown, but for everyone who has served in the short 120 years of our united history.

We hear the sweet songs of morning. And we remember them.

 

Dingo

Dingo

Dingo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dingo

Clare Saxby

Tannya Harricks

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925381283

Australia’s high country, nestled amongst the ginormous boulders and gum trees, as the sun sets and the pinks and purples of dusk steal across the landscape, Dingo lies waiting, pointed ears twitching and tawny eyes flashing.  Around her, her pups and her pack still sleep as she watches and waits as hunting time draws near.  Here in the cool mountain regions she will hunt now and tomorrow at dawn, rather than through the night like her desert and hot-climate cousins. While she will eat insects, eggs and some plants she needs meat to maintain her energy as she may roam as much as 40 kilometres  in an evening. But possums climb, wombats burrow and kangaroos are too large so the pickings can be lean on snow-covered winter plains.

But she is smart and determined and her nose tells her that there is dinner nearby – rabbits! With her superb night vision it’s not long before there is tucker for her pups.  But it is not enough for them all so back into the darkening forest she goes, this time with her mate…

This is a new addition to the narrative non-fiction Nature Storybook series that opens the world of Australia’s fauna to young readers by telling the story of one creature and accompanying it with facts about the species in general.  Despite dingoes making their homes in many of Australia’s habitats, including the harshest, and having been here sometime between 5000 and 18000 years ago, generally there is little junior literature about them for those who want to know more.  Books about koalas, kangaroos and wombats abound, but dingoes seem to have missed the spotlight somewhat so this beautifully told and sublimely illustrated book is a welcome addition to the collection.

Saxby, also the author of Koala , brings her ability to create pictures with her words – not for her “the sun is setting”, rather it’s “the low-slung sun” – to create magic on the tongue, while Harricks has captured the colours and the contours of the mountain environment in oils with her bold strokes – I was immediately in a landscape that is so familiar.

A peek inside…

Koala is among the 2018 CBCA Notables; it would not surprise me to see this one there next year.

Bird to Bird

Bird to Bird

Bird to Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird to Bird

Clare Saxby

Wayne Harris

Black Dog, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925381122

When a bird drops a seed to an English forest floor, who could imagine that that would be just the start of a journey that continued for generations across thousands of kilometers from its starting point?

A combination of minimal text from Clare Saxby, sublime illustrations from Wayne Harris and the reader’s imagination bring this story of nature, history, creativity and recycling together in a way that captures the imagination and inspires wonder. How could something as small as a seed have such a big future? That it could grow into a sapling then a tree which is harvested and become bunk beds on a convict ship bound for Australia.  And when that job was done its life was not over – it becomes a loom then a lean-to and then…

So often we explore life cycles with little people and we create a simple circle of birth>growth>reproduction>death, but we seldom explore much further.   Does the tomato that forms after pollination just drop to the ground or is it picked fresh and become part of a delicious recipe, or is it stored on a supermarket shelf picked over and not chosen, eventually becoming part of a compost heap?  Does a baby spider fly though the breezes to land far from its home-web and start a new colony or is it the victim of a foot or a can of bug spray?  Saxby has a much gentler conclusion for the seed her bird dropped but this story could spark a lot of investigation and imagination and new stories!

Teachers’ notes are available.

Digger

Digger

Digger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digger

Mike Dumbleton

Robin Cowcher

Allen & Unwin, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760296735

A century ago.  Young Australian men were volunteering to got and join the forces fighting in World War I, seeing it as the greatest adventure of their lives and a way to escape the humdrum and hard times of home.  When James left, Annie stitched the name ‘Digger” on her favourite patchwork toy kangaroo and gave it to him as his farewell present. 

“A Digger for a digger”, she said.

Off went James and Digger  together, across endless, tireless seas and vast starry night skies to the battlefields and trenches of France.  And when the order came to advance, Digger was in James’s pocket.  He was there too, when James was evacuated to a French farmhouse to recover from his injuries, and Digger was mended too, this time by Colette who carefully replaced all his broken stitches. And he was still there when James was well enough to return to his unit.  He is even there when the worst happens… 

Inspired by and written as a tribute to the French schoolchildren who once tended the graves of Australian soldiers who died on the Western Front in the heroic battle for Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, this is a touching story gently told and illustrated that brings the human side of war to life as well as commemorating the connections made that still live on

As the final centennial commemorations of this terrible time draw to a close, this is a special book to share as it demonstrates how the thinnest threads can connect us through the toughest time, and love and harmony and safe haven can grow from the smallest things.

A superb addition for Remembering Gallipoli

Every story has a hero

Every story has a hero

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

In recent reviews such as Barney and the Secret of the French Spies,  Women in Science and Three Cheers for Women I have challenged readers to consider a woman whose story, they believe, needs telling.  The problem is that when it comes to uncovering these stories few have been revealed and so it is those of the “usual suspects” that are told and retold.  

But now, this new publication from Random House Australia opens a whole new range of women whose lives and work need to be given “a public expression of thanks”.  Although we find people like Cathy Freeman, Germaine Greer and Mary Mackillop featured, there are dozens of new names like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Rachel Perkins, and Felicity Wishart whose names might only be known to those in that particular field of endeavour. There are also those of more recent heroes like Sia, Carrie Bickmore and Turia Pitt making this an exploration of significant women in our girls’ lives, not just women in history with whom they may feel no connection. 

All in all over 50 women have a brief one-page biography accompanied by an illustration from a range of illustrators. However, the book also acknowledges all those who have made a contribution to the field, not just the “poster person” for it.  For example, while Magda Szubanski is celebrated for “helping us laugh and speaking the truth”, there is a shout out “Brava for the women who make their own roles on stage, on screen and in life”; Rosie Batty for “her compassion and bravery” but also to “the courageous and strong women who speak out for the vulnerable”; and Mum Shirl for “unwavering dedication and generosity” as well as thanks to all “the advocates and activists who give so much of themselves to help others in need”. There is a feeling of inclusivity that we are drawn into as though someone, somewhere is acknowledging that which we do as we go about our daily lives.

There is even a shout-out to the reader for picking up the book wanting to learn about awesome Australian women while the very last entry is a shout-out to the Smith Family to whom all royalties will be donated so they can continue helping Australian kids get the most from their education.

From the front cover depicting a range of Australian native flowers because like Australian women, its flowers “aren’t wilting violets; they are strong and tough, and have evolved to endure extreme environments” this is an intriguing book in its design and content that must be in every library’s collection if we are to continue to reveal and tell the stories of our women and how they have contributed so much to the life that we enjoy today, holding up mirrors, staring through windows, marching through doors and breaking down barriers.  

Again I ask, “Whose story will you tell?”

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barney and the Secret of the French Spies

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2018 

128pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781460751305

Barney first met the mysterious Elsie hiding under a rock and, like him, eking out an existence on the shores of Port Jackson in 1791 where he was an orphaned child, son of a convict and with no one and nowhere to call home.  Like Barney, she was eventually taken under the wing of the Reverend and Mrs Johnson but she remained an enigma for she never spoke.  On one or two very rare occasions, Barney did hear her utter something but it was so fleeting he thought he was hearing things. 

Now, in this 4th in this series that features Barney telling of his life while uncovering some of the secrets of this country’s early beginnings, Elsie’s story is told at last.  While Barney is beginning to prosper on his farm on the Parramatta River, Elsie has stayed in Sydney Town with the Johnsons and become a sought-after cook by the colony’s elite like Mrs Macarthur. But when word comes that she is desperately ill, perhaps with typhus, Barney hastens to her side in the isolation hut at the hospital and while she doesn’t have typhus it soon becomes clear why she has been put in isolation.  For in her delirium she cries out and while to Barney’s ear she is speaking gobbledygook, both Mrs Johnson and Mrs Macarthur recognise it as French!  They also recognise the dire consequences if Elsie’s nationality is discovered for once again, England and France are at war.

Acknowledging his  enduring love for Elsie and his intention to marry her, Barney stays by her side as she recuperates, encouraged by both women for they believe that he is the only one one that Elsie is likely to divulge her secrets to.  And what a secret it is….

The very best historical fiction weaves fact and fiction so closely together that the reader is left not only wondering what is true and what is imagined, but also wanting to discover more.  And so it is again with Jackie French’s masterful storytelling only this time the secret that Elsie discloses opens up so many pathways to wander down and explore that it is almost overwhelming.  Traditionally history has been told by men because only men were listened to and only the things men did were deemed important and so women and their achievements have been all but invisible. 

But they were there – often in disguise as Elsie’s great-aunt was – and making their mark in life if not in the history books! In the prologue the reader is warned that there are two secrets in this book – not just the story of Elsie but another one “every person needs to yell out loud” – the stories of the women in history that have been kept secret for centuries and generations; secrets that are slowly being uncovered and secrets that will never be discovered.   For it is only in this generation of women alive now that so many barriers have been battered down – even my own mother was expected to give up her hard-fought for job in journalism so a man returning from war could have employment –  that we can learn about the role of the women in our past and acknowledge and celebrate it. Through Elsie’s story and her author’s notes, Jackie not only builds awareness that the role of women goes far beyond anything we can imagine but also challenges us to expose it!

Whose secret will you share?

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95

9780646239307

Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.

 

 

 

 

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus

Stephanie Owen Reeder

NLA Publishing

136pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279156

What better way to share Australia Day than a look back to a significant part of our past when travelling circuses were a major source of entertainment, particularly in rural areas, and that of the Wirth Brothers was one of the most well known.  

Focusing on May Wirth, who as a seven-year-old growing up in poverty in Bundaberg in 1901, was given away to Marizles  Martin an equestrienne and a sister of the Wirth brothers. With big dreams and a desire to become the greatest bareback rider in the world, she transformed her ability for acrobatics into being able to perform them on horseback, even able to perform a Charleston as her horse moved around the ring!  Determined, resilient and tenacious she worked hard for perfection eventually performing for King George V and Queen Mary.  The Queen of the Circus was performing for the Kings and Queen of England.  Her dreams had come true!

Laced with photos and posters from the collection of the National Library of Australia, this new addition to the author’s Heritage Heroes series follows Miss May’s journey and introduces the reader to characters and times gone by which were so important to the shaping of this nation.  At a time when most young women were not encouraged to be more than a decorative appendage to men, May was a role model for an alternative lifestyle and she was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage and in 1964 she was one of just three Australians to ever be inducted into the American Circus Hall of Fame.

In 2016 Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony  won the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, and my prediction is that Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus will be amongst the awards this year.  But whether it is or not, this is an inspirational read that celebrates an Australian of the past, a heroine unknown to many in an entertainment unfamiliar to many in this age of screens, that adds yet another layer to this country’s history. 

For those wanting more…Wirth’s Circus Home Movies , Wirth’s Circus Archive, May Wirth  and of course, the collection at the National Library of Australia detailed in the acknowledgements.