Great White Shark is in the house … ahem … ocean

In the depths of a deep Melbourne winter, a book was released. Great White Shark (GWS), beautifully illustrated by debut illustrator but painter extraordinaire, Cindy Lane, and published by Walker Books Australia, is part of the Nature Storybook series. GWS is the story of an individual shark as she journeys the ocean.

Great whites terrify many people, and the 70s film Jaws has a lot to do with that. The reality is that sharks are at much higher risk of death from humans than the other way round. Yes, they are big and have perhaps more teeth than seems necessary (although of course they are necessary) but the chances of encountering one in the wild is very low and getting lower. They are fascinating creatures, from their ability to navigate accurately across oceans, to the way they use only 10 % of their muscle mass in cruising. Hopefully, books like this one will help people to see the wonder and understand the importance of sharks.

I have folders – both virtual and physical – full of fascinating GWS information that would not fit into this book. But that research is far from wasted. It peppers every presentation (my family might say ‘every conversation’) I share with young people. ‘Did you know … ‘ is a frequent sentence opening!

It’s not ideal to release a new book into lockdown, but books are not just for a minute, and sharks have been in our oceans for millions of years, so there will be time, hopefully not too far away, when I can shark talk.

For now, I’m very grateful for the support of the interweb, teachers, librarians and booksellers in sharing GWS. I work at The Younger Sun in Yarraville and I’m particularly grateful for their support. It was so lovely to see GWS in the window, swimming with some other sharks.

Window to another world

When clearing out a family home before lockdown, we discovered many, many interesting things. There were some old children’s books, some wonderful woodworking tools, a wooden wheelbarrow (constructed using some of those wonderful woodworking tools) and three diaries.

The oldest of these was from the 1880s and written in Flemish. We’re still working out how we can get this one translated.

The next one was written in the early years of WWI, by my teenaged great-uncle, a refugee from Brussels living temporarily in England, within walking distance of Harefield, Australia’s hospital base.

The third begins in January 1917 in French and then halfway through, in late 1918, switches to English, includes a (very brief) mention of Armistice Day and continues through to the end of February 1922 when he arrives in Australia.

I’ve discovered a biscuit company that was once the biggest manufacturer of biscuits in teh world, and learned that opera houses were sometimes given over to showings of ‘the pictures’. I’ve discovered that recovering soldiers were grateful for the company of a teenager and his sisters in a ‘normal’ home.

The diary is mostly written with a dip pen, although there are later sections in pencil. There are a couple of images – which I think are copies of political cartoons. The handwriting is beautiful but sometimes hard to decipher. It’s hard to know whether that’s because English is not his native language, and certainly there are some spelling, punctuation and grammar oddities, but sometimes the change in handwriting is showing his emotions. In the sample above, he has just been given approval from his father to travel to Australia and the writing is excited and very easy to read. At other times, when he is sad, or grumpy, the words gallop or fall across the page with letters omitted, capitals dropped and punctuation almost non-existent.

There are sections where it’s clear he feels compelled to write something, anything, and others where he waxes lyrical and includes poetry. There are also times it feels a little uncomfortable to be reading his written-down thoughts.

I never met this great-uncle, although I met his three children in their later lives. I know stories of his later life via them and via my father, his nephew. All my knowledge of him has been filtered through others. This is something quite different.

He was brother to my lovely grandmother, and friend to my soldier grandfather. Through his words, I meet my grandparents as they meet and get to know each other. Ahead in the pages, is the story of their marriage. It’s quite a lot to take in, really. So I’m taking it slowly.