Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good old Billabong Bill

You can read more about me and my other books at or here's how to get a copy of Billabong Bill's Bushfire Christmas.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Paperback out now

The paperback edition of Billabong Bill's Bushfire Christmas is in the shops now!
Clearly it's the best kids' book to buy for Christmas - although I may be a little biased. I just found out, though, that it was shortlisted as one of the Australian Books of the Year by Speech Pathology Australia this year, which is nice because they know all about reading and story-telling.
But today I've been raking leaves and whipper-snippering grass and picking up fallen branches because it's bushfire season again.
I could hear the fire truck sirens blaring somewhere - it sounded like there must be something very serious going on. A fire, maybe, or a car accident.
I heard the truck coming up the hill and along our road, horn beeping and siren wailing. Then over the top of the noise I heard, "Ho, ho, ho".
It was Father Christmas, riding on top of the truck, throwing lollies to all the kids in the area, who were running along behind.
He looked a little hot and dusty, I must say, since it's 30 degrees here and he's used to the North Pole.
And that made me realise just how important the fire brigades are to little communities like mine, and I remembered all over again why I wrote the book in the first place.
Happy Christmas to you, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

First reviews

‘A Christmas book with a difference, Billabong Bill is written in spare, straightforward prose with a nice, laconic Australian edge. Jobi Murphy’s arresting design and distinctive blackline illustrations, as well as some entertaining little visual touches, raise this book well above the ordinary.’
4 STARS Reviewed by Katherine England, Adelaide Advertiser

‘A great Aussie bush version of Christmas. A cracking story, bold illustration and a feel-good ending makes this a great gift for someone interested in an Aussie kind of Christmas tale.’ Junior Magazine

4 STARS Practical Parenting

‘This is an Australian kids’ Christmas book for Australian kids at Christmas. As for the true test of its credentials, the kids: one liked looking at the fire, the other liked looking at the food. Sounds like a pass to me.’ Launceston Examiner

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The town in the bush

A few years ago I lived south of Sydney in the Royal National Park, in a little town called Bundeena.
Our house was on the very edge of town, and looked out over the Park, which stretches for miles down the coast and is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
I spent Christmas in Melbourne with my family in 2002, but on Christmas Day the fires started.
It was a bad year. Sydney was ringed by fire and many towns were threatened, and lots of houses lost in Canberra – and elsewhere. I watched on the news as the reporter said “Most of the Royal National Park is in flames and the fire is heading towards Bundeena.”
So early on Boxing Day, in the dark, my brother drove me to the airport and I flew back to Sydney alone to fight the fire.
My partner was away in New Zealand. All the roads were blocked off. I parked the car in Cronulla and took the little wooden ferry across to Bundeena; eyes streaming, coughing.
The sky was black with smoke and the sun was red. I felt like a little hobbit approaching Mordor. You could see the flames on the hills opposite from the upstairs windows of our house. I spent days raking up leaves, climbing on the roof with the hose, spraying the trees and walls with water, watching for the embers and burning leaves that might lodge in a branch or a gutter. I never worked so hard in my entire life.
I made decisions about what few things I would save, packed them into a few bags and loaded up the little car, drove it to the other side of Bundeena and left it there, in the hope that the flames wouldn’t reach it. I chose one book out of my thousands (Jane Eyre, my first grown-up book, with gilt-edged pages), a few paintings, photos. It’s amazing how ruthless you become.
And then we all waited.
Hosed, raked, and waited. All night. All day.
The flames stopped. Or rather, a handful of very brave men and women stopped the flames.
It burned for days – weeks. After a few days you could drive through the park and see the burnt stumps, see the chastened flames still in the gullies. 60 percent of the Park was burnt.
The trees grew back amazingly fast. The undergrowth and the wildlife recovered – mostly.
But the park is not the same, and I won’t ever be the same. I will never take those fire fighters for granted again.
And that’s partly what the book is about.

Bushfire Christmas

This wasn’t the first Bill story I wrote, and initially it wasn’t about Christmas. But it was always the story of a community coming together to fight a bushfire.
My very first memory is of a bushfire which happened when I was a baby and my family had moved from nice, safe, over-populated Port Melbourne out to the wilds of the bush on the outskirts of Melbourne – at least it was bush then, and old orchards. Now the suburbs spread miles beyond where I grew up.
I don’t know if I really remember it, or whether I’ve heard the stories so many times that I just imagine I remember. But there was a bushfire, and my Dad went off with his Hessian sack to fight the flames, and my Mum and I hid at home. Under the kitchen table. Or maybe I’ve made that part up, I don’t know.
My grandfather and other members of my family tried to get to us but they were not allowed through the road blocks, but eventually my grandfather talked his way through – he could have talked his way through the APEC roadblock.
From then on, every few years, there were bushfires around or near our house, and in the bush behind our school, and we’d have to evacuate the classrooms and stand around on the netball court in the hot sun as the flames came closer to the playground and we all got more and more hysterical.
The fire fighters always saved our school or our houses just in time. It’s not always like that of course, but not for want of trying.

Why I wrote the book

One morning a couple of years ago, my godson Toby was having a holiday with me in New Zealand. He was about four then.
We got up early before anyone else was awake, and he liked to watch Postman Pat. Or, at least, I thought he did.
Then I realized he only liked the theme song: Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat (or however it goes). He sang along, but then he completely ignored the show and played with his fire trucks.
Can’t say I blame him. Not much happens in Postman Pat, sweet though it may be. One day I watched the drama centred around the loss of someone’s glasses.
Playing with fire trucks seemed like a much more exciting option at 6am.
Then I thought: We need an Australian version.
With a bit more drama in it.
Of course we do already have some much-loved homegrown picture book heroes, but I thought about it some more over the next few days, and realised that an Australian folky hero would be just like my Uncle Phil: someone who knows how to look after themselves in the bush, who maybe doesn’t have kids but whom kids adore, and who can save the day with a minimum of fuss.
So the character of Billabong Bill was born.