I wrote the first complete draft of Kookaburra in late 2017, but not before I had delved deep into kookaburra physical, social, environmental information.
I learned about their amazing monocular and binocular vision.
I learned that females are just a little heavier than males, which is related to the energy required to produce eggs.
I learned that adolescent kookas can be quite clumsy in a nest.
I learned the reason fledgling kooka feathers remain sheathed until the last possible moment.
None of that makes it explicitly into this dual narrative, narrative non fiction picture book. But I need to know all of this to before I can begin to write. These facts support my story as surely as foundations stop houses falling down. Invisible but essential.
Tannya Harricks has again taken my words and added her special palette of magic to give life and colour to Kookaburra. Her work sings.
Kookaburra is a new title in the Nature Storybook series from Walker Books Australia. I am ever grateful to Walker for helping me share our wonderful Australian animals with readers around the world.
The first sighting of the actual book is always very exciting. In book evolution terms, nearly three years is not so very long, but it does feel it.
We went to the beach today, for tomorrow we lock down again for six weeks. Point Cook Coastal Reserve has a long shallow beach front that stretches for many kilometres. The sky was blue, the tide was low, the seagulls were dancing in the water margins.
Yup, the seagulls were dancing. Advancing to the very margins of water/sand and doing a quick two-step patterpatterpatter, then pouncing on whatever they disturbed. If the numbers there and the squawking is anything to go by, it was the equivalent of an easter egg hunt. They were exuberant!
But that’s not the story I started to tell …
Further along the beach we wandered from the sand to the gardens of the Point Cook Homestead. This was a beach house for the Chirnsides of Werribee Mansion. It would have been so much cooler in summer to be right there on the beach. We wandered around the garden and outside the house and other buildings. There we encountered a grandfather and his grandson.
Grandfather had lived in the area all his life. His grandson had clearly met this man before, and was calming sitting waiting for him to finish his tale, his chatter. It took a while, so after a few minutes I wandered over to the boy.
‘There’re some shoes in the tree,’ he told me.
So there were. I asked him who he thought they belonged to, but that was too big a question so I started again.
‘How old was the owner of the shoes?’
At first he shrugged. Then I guesstimated with my fingers and set them close to his shoes.
‘Mine are bigger,’ he said.
‘A bit,’ I agreed. ‘How old are you?’
‘Do you think the owner might have been five?’
He nodded enthusiastically. ‘Yes.’
And so began our storymaking. We decided that the boy’s shoes had become wet while playing at the beach and his teacher had hung them in a tree to dry while they lunched at a nearby table. They had then forgotten them when they left.
But then, as grandfather kept chatting, we investigated some other storylines. Could they have been blown into the tree? Could they have been there for fifty years? We examined each scenario in detail. There would have had to have been a hurricane to blow the shoes so high and that was unlikely. The style of shoe suggested they were less than fifty years old, but the wear patterns suggested they weren’t brand new. We agreed that the fading colours of the uppers could be misleading.
We then started to wonder at a set of gates that stood alone in the middle of the grass. We found the road that used to lead to the gate, and another that now bypassed it. We decided that perhaps it was a horse paddock for the horses that then slept in the stables nearby.
Then grandfather called him and he was gone. Apparently grandfather brings him to a nearby forest too – just beyond the homestead.
A forest! That’s where we’ll be heading next time.
That’s been my challenge for this recent project with Wild Dingo Press in a new series called Aussie STEM Stars. Georgia Ward-Fear is a wildlife warrior, a reptile biologist, conservation ecologist, a goanna wrangler, a traveller, a conservationist, an adventurer, an educator, a scientist, a Superstar of STEM (the integrated study of science, technology, engineering and maths).
Georgia lives in Tasmania, works in the Kimberley, has family in NSW and Queensland, speaks at conferences around the world. It was never possible to know just where she might be when she read my emails, or answered a phonecall. It may be true that her mother used to call her Mistress Mayhem, and that the name may still fit …
Georgia’s story is one of three titles in this new series from Wild Dingo Press. Dianne Wolfer has written the story of Munjed Al Muderis, surgical inventor. Cristy Burne tells Fiona Wood’s story. Hop on over to Cristy’s and to Dianne’s website for more about these talented writers. Each title offers the opportunity to get to know a scientist, including how they came to be leaders in their respective worlds. All three are set for release on Sep 1.
Georgia’s PhD involved teaching goannas to avoid eating cane toads. But you don’t just wake up one morning as a child and decide that you’re going to try to save goannas from toxic toads. How did she get there? What was she like as a child? Who helped her along the way? Why did she make the decisions she did? Did she get everything right always?
The Aussie STEM Stars series is written for 10- 13 year olds. It does show young people some potential pathways into STEM careers by detailing the journeys of three inspiring scientists. But first and foremost, each story is intended to be a great read about fascinating individuals. Settle down and dive in. Why not collect all three?