Archive for the 'Non Fiction' Category

My review of Bird Therapy

I recently came across a new book about birding which I quickly bought and read through over just a few days. Joe Harkness, a teacher who lives in England, struggled with mental health. This was until he took up birding more seriously. His book, simply called Bird Therapy, describes his journey from illness, including depression, to better health.

I won’t go into more detail here except to link you to my review on my birding site here.

If you want to read more about this project, I encourage you to check out the Bird Therapy Blog written by the author, Joe Harkness.

A wonderful sound in the morning

Laughing Kookaburra, Lane Cove National Park, Sydney

I love that wonderful feeling, first thing in the morning, when one wakes up after a good night’s sleep. That feeling of contentment on being totally rested. That feeling of cosiness in a warm bed on a frosty morning. That feeling of wanting to stay wrapped up in a comfortable envelope of blankets and quilt.

I had those feelings yesterday morning. Right about when the light of dawn was creeping into my room. My brain was still in neutral. I wasn’t yet fully awake, nor fully asleep.

Then all this suddenly changed.

From one of the street trees came the unmistakable call of two Laughing Kookaburras. This is the sound that is so delightful that I love hearing it. I rarely get to hear it at home in Murray Bridge, South Australia. But here, staying in Sydney with my son and his family, it is so commonplace that many locals probably are not even aware of it.

The joyous laughing call of the Kookaburra is completely iconic in the Australian bush. It is also readily heard in many urban environments as well. It is unmistakable; most people would easily recognise this call. There is nothing else like it. It certainly made my day yesterday.

Laughing Kookaburras only occasionally visit my garden. In fact, I have only recorded this species once in the last twelve years despite being present in many nearby locations. On the other hand, I have many other species of birds in my garden and many of them go a long way to filling the gap left by absent kookaburras.

I love hearing the carolling of the Australian Magpies which are a resident species in my garden. The delightful song of the Willie Wagtail is also an everyday occurrence – and sometimes at night when there is a bright moon shining. The various species of honeyeaters also join in the dawn chorus, and the endearing mewing of the White-browed Babblers is a joy too as they hop around outside my bedroom window seeking their breakfast.

When I am home there is only one bird sound I do not like to hear. For a few days some years ago a Little Raven came to my bedroom window around dawn and tapped loudly on the glass with its large beak. It was responding to the perceived threat from its reflection in the glass. It was very annoying.

Further reading:

Little Ravens feeding their young
Little Ravens caught thieving
A cheeky raven at Monarto Zoo
A short visit to Lane Cove National Park

Laughing Kookaburra, Lane Cove National Park, Sydney

On writing one’s memoirs

Image result for pictures of memoirs

Confusion

In beginning to write on this topic, I must admit to something of a dilemma and a little confusion. I am quite clear about what an autobiography is, as well as a biography and I have read quite a few in each of those categories. What, therefore, is one’s memoirs? And what should one cover when writing one’s memoirs?

Does it cover every aspect of one’s life – no, that has to be a biography. Biographies cover life to death events – and everything in between, often in chronological order. What I am working on is less than everything I have ever done, or the major events anyway. Many of the mundane happenings in my life are of little or no interest to anyone, even my closest family members. I suspect it would be very boring, except for the odd exciting and interesting event.

A special request

Several months ago my eight-year-old grandson was asking me a whole range of questions about when I was young. This probably came from discussions he had in class at school. We have frequent and long conversations on the phone every few days. Because he lives in Sydney, about 1400 kilometres away (or two days’ drive), this is our main means of keeping in touch and getting to know one another. He has been asking plenty of questions about my early days. It was his interest which motivated me to start recording some of my experiences as a child, and as a young person growing up.

Family interest

While the things I am including in my memoirs are of interest primarily to my grandson, there is also the potential for other family members to be interested in reading such a work. I know that my daughter and my son have both expressed an interest, but my five year old granddaughter is probably not there yet. She has too many other things filling her head. She only started school a few weeks ago. There would also be some of my nephews and nieces who might also be interested, and possibly even my brothers. Beyond that, a few odd friends may have a little interest – but they would have to be quite ‘odd’ indeed.

What to include?

The beauty of memoirs, as opposed to an autobiography, is the subject matter which is included. Biographical writing tends to cover the whole range of events in one’s life, with a special emphasis on the major influences and achievements. In memoirs, however, one can ignore some of the otherwise significant periods of a life, and instead focus on some of the minor snippets, incidents and insights which have become memorable to the subject and have somehow had a profound influence on them. Memoirs can be more of a series of isolated snapshots, rather than a broad, panoramic movie. They are reflections and reminiscences rather than all inclusive biographical records.

While have read a few memoirs, biographies and autobiographies in my time, it is a genre I have not really delved into in depth. I recently came across a wonderful resource, a list of the 100 Must Read Memoirs. I am pleased that I have read several of the titles on this list, I have seen the movie of at least one of them, and several others are on my yet-to-read pile of books.

Recommendations

Please feel free to recommend any memoirs, autobiographies or biographers in the comments. I am always looking for more titles to add to that rapidly growing Must Read list, and to that mighty Waiting-to-be-read pile.

Good reading. Happy, productive writing.

Trevor

Further Reading:

Book Review: The Little Desert by Colin Thiele

The Little Desert by Colin Thiele and Jocelyn Burt H/C D/J 1975

Book Review: The Little Desert.

Text by Colin Thiele.

Photographs by Jocelyn Burt.

Published by Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1975.

The Little Desert

This is a region in western Victoria, Australia. It is about midway between Melbourne and Adelaide, being about 350km from either city (about 4 hours travel time). It was in earlier times suggested as an area that needed to be cleared from native vegetation and turned into farming land. In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort made by conservationists to preserve this unique piece of the Australian landscape. Eventually, it was declared a national park and today it is still one of Australia’s most beautiful places to visit.

Not your typical desert

The area known as the Little Desert is not your typical desert. It only has this title due to the soil type. It is very sandy and lacking in essential nutrients, so it would have been very unsuitable for farming without vast amounts of fertiliser. The ‘desert’ as it has always been, and continues to be, is an area rich in plant life. With over 600 species of plants, it is a magnet for botanists, photographers and nature lovers. It also boasts a rich range of native birds and animal species. Most of the national park is covered in mallee trees. Also present in large numbers are smaller shrubby plants and even a range of beautiful native orchids. In the eastern part of the park, one can see larger eucalypt trees, notably along the Wimmera River which flows through this area.

Poetic prose

Colin Thiele’s beautiful book on this area covers some of the history of the conservation efforts to save this little gem in the Australian landscape. He also describes, in evocative prose, the hidden beauties of this landscape, from the dainty Spider Orchid to the enigmatic Malleefowl, an amazing bird found in the park tending to its enormous nesting mound of sand and rotting vegetation which acts as an incubator to hatch their eggs. Much of  Thiele’s prose is closer to poetry, and it is no surprise that he is also known as one of Australia’s leading poets. I will review one of his collections of poetry in a few day’s time.

Photography

Thiele’s wonderful prose is accompanied by equally wonderful photographs by Jocelyn Burt. She has provided photos for several of his other books. The photos cover the flowers and other botanical marvels, as well as some of the many species of birds resident in this area. Every double-page spread in this volume has a photo on the right with Thiele’s text on the left; each one complements the other.

My visits to the desert

Even though this beautiful part of Australia is only a few hour’s drive from my home, it saddens me to write that I can only ever recall visiting the Little Desert on three occasions, once to camp in our old tent, now decommissioned due to a leaking roof, and the other times were fleeting half-day visits. I must correct that oversight soon.

Further reading:

 

Review: Can I Call You Colin?

CAN-I-CALL-YOU-COLIN-BIOGRAPHY-OF-COLIN-THIELE-by-STEPHANY-EVANS-STEGGALL

Can I Call You Colin? The authorised Biography of Colin Thiele

Written by Stephany Evans Steggall

Published in 2004 by New Holland Publishers (Australia)

 

I regret only ever having met Colin Thiele once in my life. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have chatted with him about books, writing, literature, children, teaching, the environment and so many other topics. It was not meant to be.

Published books

All through my teaching career (1969 – 2004), I read many of his children’s books to my classes over those years. He was a prolific writer and published well over 60 titles for children; many more if the various multiple editions are counted. In addition to his children’s works, he published dozens of fiction and non-fiction titles for both children and adults. He contributed articles and stories to many magazines, journals and anthologies, and his unpublished speeches and talks would fill many more volumes. He wrote many radio scripts for ABC Radio here in Australia. He was also a prolific poet, publishing six volumes of poetry in addition to several volumes of children’s poetry. And all this prolific writing was done part-time while holding down a full-time teaching position. What an amazing man.

Highly regarded

Through his works, I thought I knew him quite well. This biography, however, has fully rounded out my knowledge of one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers and educators. This is a brilliant work and pays homage to a great South Australian, one who is held in such high regard here and abroad. The author of this work has researched her topic well, interviewing not only Thiele and his immediate family, but also many of his friends, colleagues, publishers, editors and hosts of others. Even some of his admiring fans are quoted, because hundreds, if not thousands of children wrote to him during his life.

Lifestory

The author covers every aspect of Thiele’s life, from his childhood growing up on a farm in the Eudunda district of South Australia, to his time at university in Adelaide through to his war-time experiences in the 1940s. His early teaching career is well portrayed, along with his venture into married life and parenthood. Later he was an inspiration to many hundreds of young people training to be teachers.

Thiele struggled throughout much of his life between to demands of his chosen profession, and the passion he felt to always be writing. This biography shows the strength of character of Thiele in all his dealings, whether that concern was for students, family members, colleagues, editors or readers.

Challenges

Despite the challenge of an overpowering workload due to his profession, his writing and his family, Colin had one other debilitating challenge to cope with throughout much of his life, He suffered constant pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, he also endured many operations, but these never seemed to slow him down. Many times he set up his hospital room as a fully functioning office so the work could continue.

Inspiration

This biography has also inspired me to revisit many of Thiele’s classic novels for children, as well as some of his non-fiction works and especially his poetry. Tracking down some of his poetry titles has proved difficult; thank goodness for inter-library loans!

Serendipity

The inspiration to read this biography has come through a serendipitous twist: the author Stephany Evans Steggall has recently become my daughter’s neighbour while they are both teaching at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In another serendipitous twist, I share the same birthday with Colin.

Vale, Colin

Sadly, Colin passed away in 2006. His much-loved books for children include Storm Boy, Blue Fin and Fire in the Stone, all of which have been made into popular movies. Another favourite is Sun on the Stubble which was made into a television series. His stories continue to live on, love by each passing generation of children and adults alike. Only recently it was announced that a remake of Storm Boy is being filmed this year.

Related reading: