Category Archives: Anzacs

Shining Light

Today we farewell Don Watson, the son of Lighthouse Girl, Fay.

Don will be sadly missed. He and his family have been part of my ‘Light series’ writing journey from the beginning and we have shared many wonderful moments since.

In 2005, after reading a newspaper article written by Ron Crittall about WWI troops gathering in Albany in 1914, I became curious about Fay Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter. A paragraph in the article mentioned Fay relaying final messages for the soldiers, then later receiving postcards from them thanking her. They were addressed to, ‘The little girl on Breaksea Island’.

I wanted to find out more. The article mentioned ‘Perth man, Don Watson’ so I began searching phone listings. After several wary replies to my question, ‘Are you related to a Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper?’, eventually I found the right D. Watson. Don and his lovely wife, Peg, invited me to lunch and so began our friendship and shared Lighthouse Girl journey.

Although the WWI postcards have been lost to history, Fay’s son, Don, remembered reading those beautiful embroidered postcards as a child and was able to tell me about the messages. Since then we have seen Fay become a giant.

And her story has also been adapted for stage, commemorated in song, gifted to a Prime Minister, inspired a TV documentary and two US podcasts, as well as countless library displays, school shows and Book Week costumes.

Research for Lighthouse Girl then led to linked titles; Light Horse Boy, In the Lamplight and soon to be published (March 2022) The Last Light Horse. More information about Fay and these events can be found in previous blog posts: Fay’s Life, Book to Play, Giants, More Giants, even more Giants and the very last Giants.

Fay’s son was a generous, family-oriented man who volunteered with many organisations. Knowing Don and his extended family has been a great honour. May he now rest in peace with Fay and all those long ago soldiers.

Feb 24th: Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside their traditional red ones on Remembrance Day?

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prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring these animals include Anthony Hill’s Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created several picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC. My book Light Horse Boy and Greenwood/Lessac’s Midnight, both follow WWI horses into battle. Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Here is a list of 58 Remembrance Day and Anzac Day picture books, and chapter books, many of which focus on wartime animals.

Lets not forget these brave heroes.

Lock-down Activities

Dear Lockdowners, many authors have free activities, book-trailers, and fun information on their websites, along with teaching notes and downloadables. Earlier this year the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI) compiled a resources page that will keep you busy for hours.

Author, Nadia King‘s lovely Pippa likes to dress up as the flying doctor.

There are activity links on my website for all ages; turn a button on a page into a monster, or rocket or eye of a shark. Draw patterns on snail shells, or make snail cutouts into pop stick puppets. Find out about WW1 nurses and Spanish Influenza, or wartime animal mascots, here or at the Australian War Memorial. Write a postcard home from the war or listen to two podcasts about lighthouse girl, Fay’s life. Check out the great links on this Aussie STEM Stars site. Dress up your dog with seven different names, and send me a photo 😉 Explore anthropomorphism on my Animals Who Talk website or draw someone with a marsupial in their bra!

And there’s more … Earlier this year, the team from CBCA WA created library holiday presentations, and for a limited time, they will all be online. There are eight sessions by WA creatives for different age groups. Here’s mine and here are the short introductions to all eight. I hope you enjoy them and fingers crossed for a short lockdown…

‘Lighthouse Girl’ is featured in a Two-part Podcast

Lighthouse Girl continues her journey into other formats. This time Fay’s story is celebrated in a two-part podcast on Light Hearted, the podcast channel of the United States Lighthouse Society. It was an honour chatting with host Jeremy D’Entremont and lovely that the second podcast features Don Watson, the son of Fay, and his family.

This interview has led me to network with worldwide groups of lighthouse aficionados, all passionate about preserving lighthouse histories and also passionate about sharing fascinating stories about individual keepers. The lights shine on.

Remembering

This Remembrance Day I’m especially remembering the nurses.

Who would’ve thought four years ago when I was researching the WWI Spanish Influenza pandemic for In the Lamplight that we’d be in the situation we’re now in?

In 1918-1919, nurses risked their lives to care for vulnerable patients. Their dedication was a major inspiration for my writing process. I tried to imagine their stoicism and fear. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population became infected by the Spanish Flu and that over 50 million people died.

Today, around the world, medical staff are again risking their lives, this time to save people suffering from Covid-19. At the time of writing, over 1 million people have died from coronavirus with more than 50 million people infected.

Images from WWI hospitals helped bring my fictitious characters to life. I wonder what future creative responses will be inspired by the current images of healthcare workers in P2 masks, gloves and body gowns.

Lest we forget; not only the brave nurses of the past, but also the selfless dedication of our current medical heroes.

International Literacy Day

Who remembers a favourite teacher or librarian?

Often we don’t realise how important an educator has been in our life until years later. Today is International Literacy Day and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Colleen and her fabulous library team at Bunbury Catholic College. Not only do they create amazing displays that inspire young readers and make visiting authors feel like celebrities… they also support less fortunate students. BCC staff and students recently raised $450 to support Room to Read, an organisation that helps support worldwide reading and literacy. Congratulation Bunbury Catholic College for modeling kindness during this challenging time.

 

 

 

VP Day and Photographs in the Mud

Today is Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorating the end of WWII 75 years ago.

My first picture book, Photographs in the Mud is set in PNG in 1942. It was inspired by an old tree stump and a true story I heard whilst hiking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Photographs in the Mud follows two fictitious soldiers into battle; one Australian and one Japanese. Jack and Hoshi meet in battle on Mission Ridge, the site of ferocious WWII combat. The men slide down the mountain away from the fighting, lying together in a ditch. Away from the horror, they share a moment of common humanity.

In real life, the surviving soldier never forgets the eyes of the other man, and today on VP Day, I’m remembering these two men from opposing armies who found a moment of peace in a jungle far from home.

Photographs in the Mud was inspired by this true story. It was published in 2005 and has been in print continuously for the past 15 years. After Lighthouse Girl, it’s the most ‘clicked on’ title on my website and I’m delighted to still find Photographs in the Mud in school libraries across Australia. This little picture book was shortlisted for several awards and published in Japanese as, “Nimai No Shashin” (Two Photographs). Photographs in the Mud was also used as an international peace reference and became the subject of a paper published by Professor Jim Martin (Sydney Uni) focusing on ‘Genre, ideology and intertextuality’. In 2009, Kokichi Nishimura‘s full life story, The Bone Man of Kokoda was published by Charles Happell.

After all the hard work that goes into the creation of a book, it’s wonderful for an author (and illustrator, Brian Harrison-Lever) when a title stays in print for so long. Thank you Fremantle Press for keeping this story of hope and common humanity alive.

More photographs of my ten-day Kokoda trek and teaching notes can be found here. Lest we Forget.

Historical Fiction

Who doesn’t love learning about the past through a great story?

Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, so it was a pleasure to chat with award-winning Elaine Forrestal and learn about her latest book as part of the  Fremantle Press podcast series.  You can hear the show here (the audio levels improve as it goes).

Elaine’s Goldfields Girl explores the amazing and true story of Clara Saunders, one of two women on the Coolgardie Goldfields during the 1890s. There are many parallels between Clara and Fay Catherine Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter who signaled to departing soldiers in 1914. Both were strong, resilient young women who faced daily challenges simply to find food and fresh water to drink. Fictitious Rose (In the Lamplight) was also a brave teenager, having to overcome her shyness to develop nursing skills and help wounded Australians in her English village.

Elaine and I are similar in our approach to writing; we’re attracted to the same kind of characters and both love weaving historical mini-stories into our fiction. Things like Paddy Hannan‘s gold nugget gift to Clara, Jimmy the Wallaby and the Harefield Flag. In this podcast we talk about different ways we research, from scanning microfiche, travelling to remote settings, finding lost diaries and sleuthing animal mascots to visions of Elaine haunting the Battye Library We also share writing tips for other writers who are passionate about historical fiction.

Thank you to Fremantle Press and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund for creating this wonderful podcast series. Follow the link for more conversations.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with talented poet and writer, Rebecca Higgie.

Anzac Stories

A post featuring Light Horse Boy and three other horse-themed Anzac titles can be found on my website Animals who Talk. I hope you enjoy it.

Teaching notes and links for my WWI ‘Light’ series can be found here.

 

 

 

Librarian Superheroes

Librarians are superheroes. All year they inspire a love of reading and research by making their libraries dynamic and exciting places to visit. Then in Children’s Bookweek they shift into Overdrive. My visit to Bunbury Catholic College today took things a step further …

with Colleen Edwards

The students have been studying Lighthouse Girl as well as partner titles, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. So library staff, Colleen Edwards, Sharon Castelli and Sue Connelly made a lighthouse, as you do 🙂 As well as three book-themed story nooks, one for each ‘light’ title. Visiting the BCC library  was like stepping into a professionally curated WWI museum with my books as the focus. It was fabulous. I felt so honoured.

Colleen, Sharon, Sue and other BCC teachers have helped students weave English and History studies, creating beautiful displays as well as carefully researched journals and poster. I loved the way they used books as a springboard to deeper research on topics such as the Purple Poppy and wartime sport.

There was an In the Lamplight nook, a Lighthouse Girl nook and a Light Horse Boy nook.

The students were inspired by the ‘above and beyond’ staff creativity. They had great questions, were curious about all kinds of issues associated with WWI and had a deep understanding of wartime Australia and beyond. When I thought things could not possible get better the sessions ended with two students presenting me with a lighthouse, the prototype of the larger one. There are chocolates hidden inside and it even flashes!

Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for an epic day. xx

with Pippa and Natalia

Researching WW1 Veterans

Last year the Year 5 and 6 students and teachers at Corryong College spent months researching and gathering information about 57 Light Horse men from their town and the surrounding district. The result is a professionally bound and just released book, Light Horseman of the Upper Murray.

lhmen

The book is a valuable reference and I was honoured to learn that this project was inspired by a class reading of Light Horse Boy.

Researching family histories and community members who served in wartime is a great way to foster students’ interest in history. Teachers Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally invited their local RSL and historical society to be involved and also enlisted the support of Dr Honor Auchinleck (granddaughter of General Sir Harry) Chauvel). During a visit to Corryong I was impressed by the knowledge and research skills of these young students and you can read more about this visit here.

I wonder whether any other schools have created similar collections? If anyone knows of one I’d love to hear about it …

Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals on Feb 24th

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside the traditional red ones on Anzac Day?

IMG_2338

prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

‘In the Lamplight’ ED! serialisation

I love creative interpretations of my stories, from those first collaborative peeks at an illustrator’s artwork, all the way through to stage and street theatre adaptations.

My ‘Light’ series has inspired all kinds of reworking. Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy were inspiration for a Black Swan Theatre stage adaptation in Perth/Albany which then toured regional WA. Lighthouse Girl also inspired the Little Girl Giant’s story in the PIAF street theatre, The Giants (type Giants into my blog search for photos), the song, Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Caddy Cooper, another song, Message of Hope performed at the WA Massed Choir Festival, and many less formal school productions.

One of my favourite collaborative adaptations began today with the first instalment of an abridged version of In the Lamplight in the West Australian’s ED! supplement.

The ED! supplement is a fabulous supporter of WA authors and illustrators. Both Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy have been serialised and I loved seeing students poring over class newspaper sets, reading about Fay, Charlie, Jim and other characters.

Once again the ED! designers have created a beautiful two-page spread and today I was excited to read that next week will feature details of the suffragette movement as a tie-in. I hope readers across WA will enjoy the serialisation as much as me.

 

The Spirit of Silver Brumby Lives on

Before meeting Dr Honor Auchinleck in Corryong last November, I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors, Elyne Mitchell and the granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel (WWI Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps). Daunting?

Perhaps, but as you can see from the photos (my mother Audrey Davidson is the middle person), Honor is down to earth and fun. She’s also passionate about promoting the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards. These awards encourage writers to explore different aspects of regional life in Australia (with urban dwellers also encouraged to share their dreams of rural life). There is also a photo-story category.

In October I will have the great honour of speaking at the awards ceremony in beautiful Mitta Mitta, Victoria. The awards are now open for submission. Entries can be sent from now until August. Good luck!

 

Horrie the War Dog

Like my fictitious WWII story about The Dog with Seven Names, Horrie was a beloved and very special war dog, so special that two books have been written about him. The first, Horrie the Wog Dog by Ion Idriess was published in 1945. A subsequent book, Horrie the War Dog (2013) written by Roland Perry, explores aspects of Horrie’s story which were raised by Anthony Hill’s research and book Animal Heroes. Each title adds to the mystery and controversy surrounding this beloved WWII mascot.

Horrie was an Egyptian terrier, adopted by Private Jim Moody and the men of the First Australian Machine Gun Battalion. He is credited with saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. When Horrie heard enemy aircraft he barked, giving men time to run for the trenches before their camp was strafed. Horrie was smuggled on board a troopship bound for Australia, that much is agreed. The next chapter in Horrie’s life is steeped in controversy.

One account reports Horrie being destroyed by quarantine officers, another claims an elaborate ruse was carried out with Horrie being substituted by a pound dog on death row. Two weeks ago I was in Corryong (where there are said to be many Horrie lookalikes) and visited a beautiful statue dedicated to this enigmatic mascot. The statue was unveiled during the 2016 Anzac Day service and shows Horrie in an alert pose on a kerosene tin in Egypt. He looks happy.

Besides reading the books dedicated to this little terrier, there are interesting accounts from the AWM here, on a site dedicated to Ion Idriess here and ‘The Australian’ here. Aspects of the varying reports can be compared here. I like to think Horrie survived. What do you think happened to him?


If you’d like to read more about the adventures of a dog in WWII, I’ve written a book called The Dog With Seven Names.

Buy the paperback
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Corryong Light Horse men and mascots

Corryong and the Upper Murray region is renowned for courageous and skilful horse riders. A statue in the main street honours Banjo Patterson’s ‘Man from Snowy River’, the grave of Jack Riley (claimed to be the legendary ‘man’) lies on a hill above the town and a bush festival is held each April. Last week I was fortunate to visit Corryong College and meet the Year 5 and 6 students who have been studying Light Horse Boy and researching the WWI light horse men with links to their town.

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photo: Stephen Learmonth

Each student has researched one of 57 WWI soldiers from the Corryong region and this research has been compiled into an historical publication ‘Light Horsemen of the Upper Murray’. The book is a valuable reference with evocative photographs and fascinating personal details which bring history to life. Through the process, some families have rediscovered previously forgotten connections with great great uncles and grandfathers. The project has been led by teacher and military enthusiast Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally. I was honoured to be welcomed into Corryong College to share details of my own research and to compare stories linked to WWI soldiers, their faithful Walers and other animal mascots.  More about the latter mascots in my next post…

The visit came about after I received a letter from Dr Honor Auchinleck, daughter of Elyne Mitchell (The Silver Brumby) and granddaughter of General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel. In this letter, Honor described the children’s project and sent kind feedback regarding Light Horse Boy. After my presentation, and Honor’s commemorative address to the students, we enjoyed lunch at a local café. More also about that and the Elyne Mitchell Writing Award in a following post. In the meantime, thank you, Stephen, Honor, staff and Year 5/6 students. It was wonderful meeting you.

World War One 1914-1918 resource list – NEW

Thanks for this comprehensive list 🙂

Just in time for Remembrance Day we have compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction reading about World War One. It comprises picture books, some material for middle grade and also resources for high school. It is an excellent starter for a school library collection. We hope you find this useful and as always we welcome suggestions for additions to the lists. World War One Resources

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Yikes, we found more artwork …

Brian Simmonds and I are both spring- cleaning, and we’ve found fifteen more images for the November sale. Anyone who has already contacted me to express interest should have received an email with these images by now. Please advise if you haven’t.

Free pick-up delivery is possible for Albany and Perth.

Large concept sketches for In the Lamplight $100

Large Concept sketches for Lighthouse Girl $100.

November Artwork Sale

‘Light’ series illustrator, Brian Simmonds is offering original artwork for sale at half price throughout November. Large charcoal sketches which appear in the books will sell for around $250-$350 instead of approx $700. There are also preliminary roughs for sale at bargain prices. The images appear below. If you would like more information about a particular image please email me via the contact link on my website or Facebook message and I will send a full price list. These photos were taken on my phone and so apologies for the quality – the originals are gorgeous. Artworks are in Albany but could be brought to Perth. I am removing images as they are sold…

Original illustrations from In the Lamplight $350

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End of Year Writing time :-)

The school year is winding up. Library, school and conference visits are mostly completed, and even in Albany the days are warming. It’s now the season for intensive writing time at my desk.

First up, I’ve returned to a long ago YA novel called Shadows Walking. I began this story in 2002 (I know). Shadows Walking is set in wartime Papua New Guinea and current time California/Australia. I’ve had to mega-edit the latter! The book was optioned for publication long ago but that lapsed and by then I was busy with Lighthouse Girl and then the others in the ‘Light’ series as well as PhD research and linked novels …

IMG_2589Re-reading the old manuscript has been interesting, wondering whether it’s worth putting in the months of effort needed to tighten and reshape the story. I’ve decided yes, and so far I’ve removed some characters, lowered the age of my central character as well as done some serious slash and burn editing. The good news is that I can see that I’ve improved in my craft over the past fifteen years.

Since 2002, when I walked the Kokoda Track to research this story, another Kokoda linked title has been published. Photographs in the Mud (2005) shares similar themes to Shadows Walking and in some ways is a crystallisation of the longer novel, but only in some ways. Returning to the novel is timely; this year I’ve been honoured by people approaching me at conferences and schools to say how much they enjoy Photographs in the Mud. It was my first picture book (not one for young children) and I’m grateful that in these days of books going out of print so quickly, Fremantle Press have kept this one. Hurrah for them. Another fun part of returning to Shadows Walking is revisiting photos from the trek. Here is a collage. I look so much younger.

I’m hoping to complete my through-edit soon. Then I have a list of other projects I’d like to start, none of which involve war!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress …