Category Archives: school visits

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.

The Shark Caller – students’ artwork

What a wonderful thing  it is to receive artwork inspired by one of my books.

Kelby Murray is a Year 5 teacher at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar who has been reading The Shark Caller with her Year 5 class. Some of her students created beautiful drawings, inspired by different scenes in the novel.

Molly drew the villagers having a discussion and also the evocative scene later in the story where Izzy summons her courage to swim back to the boat. This is exactly how I imagined the boat would look from below. Grace drew Izzy diving through the cave. In the larger original, you can notice finer details and see how Izzy’s toe webbing is growing back, what clever crafting …

The writing process can be solitary and it’s lovely to see how readers imagine these scenes. Thank you Kelby, Grace and Molly for sending your artwork. Your pictures make me smile every time I look at them.

Bookweek Month – that’s a wrap.

As Bookweek Month draws to a close, children’s authors and illustrators across Australia will be slowing down before heading back into their creative caves. I’ve had a wonderful Bookmonth travelling from Albany to Broome, from Perth to Sydney, from Canberra to the NSW Central Coast. Massive thanks to the dedicated teachers, librarians and Children’s Book Council of Australia volunteers who organised my visits. You are legends! I’ve met thousands of young readers and seeing that the joy of reading is alive and well enriches my work and inspires me.

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Students from Roebuck Primary

When you live in chilly Albany, being invited to celebrate Bookweek with Broome students, teachers and librarians in July is like winning a children’s author lottery.  During a week of presentations, I spoke with hundreds of students from Years 3 to 10. Broome library staff made a great welcome display and young readers from St Mary’s College, Broome Primary and Roebuck Primary came into the library to ‘Find Story Treasure’ and celebrate the Bookweek theme.

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‘In the Lamplight’ – UK book launch

Now that I’ve caught my breath after returning from my whirlwind UK book launch and schools tour, I can at last share some of the lovely photos.

The Harefield Library and Harefield History Society both gave generous support, making the UK launch of In the Lamplight a friendly and memorable occasion. Library staff decorated their function room with Australian and British flags symbolising the close connection their town shares with Australia. Lara Marshall, Richard May and their team also provided a beautiful afternoon tea, complete with savouries, delicate cakes and delicious scones, jam and cream. Their kindness made me feel so welcome.

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with Harefield library staff

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With Harefield History Society members. Andy Harris (front left) gave valuable research help.

After a presentation showing pages from the book, with images from Harefield and evocative charcoal illustrations by Brian Simmonds, we shared stories about WWI, the village, now and then, and also the hospital. Then we enjoyed the scrumptious food. I learnt a lot more about the town’s history and made lovely new friends.

Despite the perfect spring sunshine outside, it was a wonderful turnout, made even more special by the arrival of family members, Brooke and Justin, who are working in Peterborough. Linda Evans my very first contact in Harefield also popped in for a chat, despite having another commitment. Thank you to everyone who helped make the celebration so special. I’d encourage any Australian history lovers who are visiting London to add a side trip to Harefield to visit the WWI Anzac cemetery and meet the friendly locals. I’m hoping to return and fingers crossed for another visit in 2019.

 Thanks again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for funding support which made this launch possible.

School visits in the UK

 

I’ve enjoyed a wonderful week of speaking and workshopping at schools across Hillingdon and Greater Manchester, celebrating the launch of In the Lamplight which is set in the UK during WWI. Students were keen to tell me about their favourite books and share personal stories. Some lovely readers like Karl from Harefield and suffragette Alice from Altrincham (pictured above) also love writing stories. And Karl wants to become an author 🙂 I was made welcome at all of the schools; thank you to staff at Harefield Infants School, Harefield Junior School, Harefield Academy, Hermitage Primary, Cedar Park School, St Vincent’s Knutsford, St Vincent’s Altrincham and Loreto Preparatory School.

There were so many highlights. I especially enjoyed talking about Australian/UK WWI links especially those relating to Harefield Hospital. Showing historic photographs that appear in the book was fun and speaking to hundreds of St Vincent’s Altrincham students dressed in costumes for History Day was amazing. Thank you to parent helpers Sharon Dobson and Catherine Collins (and Lucy, Molly and Erin) for introducing me to your fabulous schools. It’s all been wonderful …

And a special bouquet to my friend Clare Valley (originally from the UK) for sharing school/friend/family contacts. For fellow Australian authors planning a book tour, one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from this experience is the importance of connections and word of mouth. UK schools are very security aware, without introductions from Clare I would not have been able to reach as many readers. Clare put hours of her own time into helping me plan and I am very grateful.

And thank you again, to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for generous funding support.

 

24 hours in Karratha

Karratha has an amazing new library and arts space, the Red Earth Arts Precinct and last night The Lighthouse Girl was their first theatre performance. Thank you to the City of Karratha Library (and a special shout out to Helena Mead) for organising my travel, so that I could attend and present a pre-show talk.

I left Albany at dawn, two flights and 2000km later I hit the ground running doing a presentation with the lovely Year 4 students at St Paul’s Primary  , a quick shower and catch-up with Denmark Bookgroup buddy, Helen and then it was off to the new library for my pre-show PowerPoint talk about Lighthouse Girl, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. The library is a stunning, light-filled space and the arts building is an impressive landmark. After my talk there was time for 15 minutes speed-signing then it was show-time.

This is the fourth time I’ve watched Hellie Turner’s beautful adaptation of my books and each time I notice new details. I’m fascinated by the way different audiences engage differently. There was laughter and tears. It felt very strange to feel that my work sparked this evocative production. At the end of the show I was touched to be called onto the stage by Benj D’Addario to share a curtain call bow with the cast. The theatre looked very different from up there…

After a few hours sleep, Helena collected me for an ABC breakfast radio interview with Ewan Gilbert and then another phone interview with Alicia from Pilbara Times and then it was back to the airport. What a fabulous whirl.

Thank you City of Karratha, Black Swan Theatre, Rio Tinto, ABC, St Paul’s Primary, Pilbara Times and everyone else who made my 24 ours in the Pilbara so special.

‘In the Lamplight’ – background #2 – Harefield and early inspiration

What were the first seeds of inspiration?

After years of researching and writing, it’s interesting to look back at how a book started. The idea for In the Lamplight began with research for its partner titles, Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. Then around 2012, I heard about the Gilgandra Coo-ee March. After heavy losses at Gallipoli, WWI recruiting drives occurred across Australia (Men from Snowy River, March of the Dungarees). Gilgandra was the first.

In October 1915 two brothers gathered a group of 26 men. They set out from Gilgandra on a march to Sydney (320 miles). By the time they arrived, the number of recruits had grown to 263. One of the brothers, Bill Hitchen (plumber and captain of the Gilgandra rifle club),  died at Harefield in September 1916. Bill’s story inspired me and I was curious to learn more.

Fast forward to 2013 when I accompanied my husband on a trip to Albany’s sister city, Pèronne for Remembrance Day. Before flying home we had a day in London. While Pete walked around Westminster, I caught a train and bus to Harefield village, on the outskirts of London to visit Bill’s grave. A kind local helped me with directions. We began chatting and she walked with me to St Mary’s Anzac Cemetery, the resting place of Bill, 111 of his fellow soldiers and Sister Ruby Dickinson. I found Bill’s grave and then visited the Anzac Wing of Harefield Hospital, learning how in 1914 the Billyard-Leake family (expat Australians) donated their home, Harefield House for recuperating Australian soldiers to use for the duration of the war.

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at the grave of Bill Hitchens (Gilgandra Cooee

The Anzac wing also held photographs; evocative WWI images of recuperating patients and nurses. One photo captured my attention. It was a photograph of a nurse stroking a wallaby mascot. I’ve since found another AWM image of the wallaby, ‘Jimmy’ (sometimes named Jimony) being fed by the same nurse, who I discovered is Nancy Birdwood, daughter of General Birdwood (commander of the Australian Imperial troops). Nancy volunteered at Harefield Hospital and later married a West Australian airmen, but that’s another story…

Some readers know my fascination with WWI animal mascots. This began during the creation of Light Horse Boy and has continued to grow. I suspected that Nancy’s wallaby could be the same fellow that stands proudly to attention in the AWM photograph below (I love this photo). I wanted to find out more about the wallaby’s story and will post more about Jimmy in a future blog.

Harefield House became the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, sometimes treating up to 1000 patients. The first nurses, led by the very capable Matron Ethel Gray, arrived in May 1915. As casualties increased, life in the small village of Harefield changed forever. The village green was filled with homesick soldiers in their distinctive slouch hats. Kind-hearted villagers did all they could to help the young men so far from home. They read to patients, taught them handicrafts and French, took the men for automobile outings and organised concerts and sporting matches.

Deciding which WWI images to include in my book was a challenge. There were so many great photos. My favourites include patients skating around the frozen lake with the support of chairs, Jimmy posing with the brass band, as well as one moving photograph of a one-legged lad playing cricket with laughing nurses fielding. The lad looks so young.

More sombre photographs are also included; of funeral parades and shell-shocked amputees. During WWI over 50,000 Australian soldiers were treated at Harefield Hospital. Towards the end of the war, when Spanish Influenza ravaged Europe, there were deaths most weeks. Strong lads who’d survived months in the trenches, sometimes died within a day from this terrible illness as their lungs filled with fluid.

Harefield villagers lined the streets to honour funeral parades from the hospital to St Mary’s cemetery. The first death was in February 1916. As Private Robert Wake’s coffin passed the Junior School, headmaster Jeffrey ran inside, pulled a flag from the classroom wall and draped it over the bare coffin. This flag was used in subsequent funeral processions and still exists today (more on that next week). Connections between Harefield and Australia remain strong and I’m grateful to Harefield residents for their historical advice; particularly Lorraine Piercy and Andy Harris. Each Anzac Day, local schoolchildren lay flowers against the headstones for the Australians who died in their village.

Lest we forget.

Next week I’ll share two stories linked to In the Lamplight; the Anzac quilt and the Harefield flag. I am grateful for funding support from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.