The Anzac Billy: Post-book-release research (or … Should I have known this earlier?)

Anzac Billy cover 750

I visited the Alexandra Club on Wednesday and spent a wonderful hour there learning more about the club’s involvement in the sending of billies to Gallipoli in 1915.

It seems the club had already begun planning to send treats to send soldiers for Christmas when a club member heard (letters home?) that there was a need for billies. Rather than just send a single billy, or a couple, they decided to send 20,000! Within a time so short it seems impossible, they had organised the manufacture of billies, moved the furniture out of their club room, lifted carpet, set up trestle tables and put the call out to members and non-members alike. If they were to reach the soldiers in time for Christmas, they needed to leave Melbourne in October. The scale and ambition of this inititiave is staggering. Even thinking about the logistics is mind-spinning.

Donations arrived from everywhere. There are stories of one member driving around collecting billies until there was barely room for her in the car ! Members in rural towns organised and inspired their local communities. Other groups around Australia and New Zealand took up the challenge and by Christmas 1915, around 55,000 filled billies had made their way across the seas to the warfields. A staggering feat.

Should I have known this before writing? What’s the point of doing this research now? I’ve been thinking about this and whether I should be spending my time researching new projects. Sure, it’s interesting, but do I need to know this?

I may not NEED to know more, but I WANT to know more. This knowledge wasn’t necessary for the writing of The Anzac Billy. When I write, my aim is to stimulate curiosity in readers by presenting them with stories they may not have encountered before. When Mark Jackson and Heather Potter illustrated this story, they added so many layers of information in the illustrations. They induce curiosity in me, wondering at what is the same now and what is different. Discovering more about how these billies came to be, I understand more about a time other than my own. Understanding more helps me to bring it to life for young readers when I visit classrooms. The book must stand on its own, of course, and I hope it induces curiosity in the reader, as well as engaging them in a story about family and a boy missing his dad.

I have no control (and neither should I) in what someone takes from my words. Those words are now fixed in print and will have their own life. I read recently that a reader contributes about 40-50 % to a story, by what they bring to the reading of it. I like that. And I’ll keep being curious.



The Anzac Billy and more …

I missed April 1 this year. It sailed right on by with nary a peep …

Not that I celebrate it particularly, but I just didn’t notice it, nor connect the day with the date at all.

Anzac Billy cover 750

Happy Launch Day to The Anzac Billy! Officially released on 1 April, I launched it at Dromkeen as part of the Dromkeen Literary Festival. Mark Wilson was to launch it but last minute events saw Corinne Fenton stepping in. Big thanks Corinne!


We’d just returned from a week up north, but despite being far away, the news of Dingo’s shortlisting for the CBCA New Illustrator Award filtered through. How exciting! Very happy to see Tannya’s work being noticed – it’s so beautiful.

We were doing some sorting up north and turned up many treasures. There were letters I’d written when our boys were small and when we were contemplating living without a toilet and shower for the duration of renovations. Amazing what you forget!

In preparing for the release of The Anzac Billy, I’d been searching out artefacts to include in a billy, but had been unable to find a razor from the time. But I found one! Still in it’s box and identifying it’s owner, it’s identical to the one Mark Jackson has drawn in the endpapers. What a find!



I know this post is jumping forward and back, but just consider it a reflection of my mind. Scary? You betcha. Stream of consciousness …

At Dromkeen, I met a lovely library tech and her daughter who are sending me some of the current (or almost current) contents of army ration packs. I’ll take them to schools with the billy to help students understand the life of a soldier. All these things help young students to imagine a time other than their own, a life not like theirs.

Ration pack items


A Big Week

I take a lot of photos. Taking photos makes me slow down and focus on tiny things and in many ways, it’s a meditation. But there’s not been a lot of time for photos this week. This is it from the conference!


On Sunday I joined 250 other delegates for the SCBWI Sydney Conference. The welcome event was loud. Not loud as in amplified single speaker, but loud as in 250 delegates conversing in groups and duos. It was also an evening of slow-moving. Moving from one side of the room to the other was full of pauses as yet another familiar face was spotted.

The Monday conference was full of wonderful sessions and wonderful conversations, good food, dancing and singing.

Tuesday saw us decamp to a new venue for a teacher PD day of presentations. There were a series of panels, each featuring four speakers and moderated by a SCBWI NSW member. I was on a non-fiction panel and was happy to have the chance to see colleagues ‘at work’, something that I seldom have the opportunity to do. The day ran like clockwork, a tribute to all the behind-the-scenes hard work of the committee.

I arrived home late Tuesday night, then on Wednesday ran a session at The Younger Sun Bookshop in Yarraville on Reading to Babies. There are photos on The Younger Sun FB page. So much cuteness in one room! And so many parents connecting with their bubs. The babies ranged in age from 8 weeks to about 8 months. We’ve already booked in a second session.

On Thursday, my morning plans were derailed (in a very good way) by the announcement of the NSW Premier’s Award short list. Dingo is a finalist in the Patricia Wrightson category – very exciting. I’ve linked to the judges comments which, of course, are fabulous.

Judges’ comments


I’m pleased I’d packed my kit for my talk to quilters, as I was able to grab it and head out with just the right amount of time to get there. I talked about the Rajah quilt and those who made it, as well as how that research led to ‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’. Lovely to also share the quilt I’d just finished at the group’s ‘show and tell’.

My Name is Lizzie Flynn


After the session, I called in to visit the lovely Michael and Leesa at The Little Bookroom. And as if that was not enough for the day, it ended with a picture book group, where we all brought picture books to discuss, all ‘bird’ books. It was my first time joining the group and it was fabulous. Interesting too that most of the discussion was around the illustration rather than the text. Particularly fascinating for me, with insights into the things that illustrators notice.

Today is busy, but socially, rather than work-wise.

Then tomorrow, I’m launching Caz Goodwin’s ‘Lazy Daisy’, a very funny picture book about Daisy and her owner Jasper.


On Sunday, unless something unexpected happens, I’m staying in my pjs and not leaving the house.


Coming Soon – The Anzac Billy

The first copy of The Anzac Billy arrived in my letterbox last week. And it’s so beautiful. The artwork by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter is full of detail and delight. It’s been a while coming, this book but it’s worth the wait to see just how wonderful it looks. Thank you so much, Maryann Ballantyne and Black Dog Books for the behind-the-scenes work to shape this story.

Anzac Billy cover 750

What’s it about?

In 1915, Australians and New Zealanders raised money for the war effort and simultaneously created Christmas gifts – care packages – for their soldiers at war. This is the story of one boy, one family putting together a billy full of treats for their soldier. There was no way they could be sure that their soldier would receive this gift, but they filled it with their love anyway.


Care packages continue to be send to soldiers on active duty, but 1915 was the only year that they were sent in billies.


I’ve put together my own billy full of treats to take into classrooms when I share this book with young readers. I hope to set children thinking about what they would send if they were putting together a care package to send to a loved one away from home. I also hope that like my young boy, they will write a letter, or postcard.


The Anzac Billy will be released at the beginning of April.