An introspective post from Patsy Jones as she reflects on a dearth of books in childhood and tipping points for change with the entrance of the works of Hesba Fay Brinsmead leading to a working life surrounded by books.
Now that I have made it to the second half of my seventies, I find I spend quite a bit of time mulling over various past aspects of my life – no doubt this is not unique to me!
An invitation to a 50th birthday party, with the suggestion that a suitable gift would be my favourite book, has focused such reminiscence on books – what is my favourite book? Where do I start?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Queensland in the 1940s, attending a one-teacher school which was very Spartan in comparison to modern schools. No library of course (but the Queensland Education Department did make the effort of periodically sending boxes of cheaply-produced books out to be routed from one school to the next). And no library in the local town either.
So my reading was limited to what I could find on the shelves at home, to gifts from and loans from family and friends. And the expensive school in Brisbane to which I was sent at thirteen didn’t provide library services to students in the school itself. But at least the boarding-house attached to the school (of course, as a country kid, I was a boarder) did have two or three shelves of a very eclectic collection of books in one of the common-rooms – I think they were either donations or bought from secondhand bookshops! Some very strange titles and subjects there as well….
And when I started work as a teacher in various Queensland primary schools the situation regarding access to books was little better.
It was not till 1964 when I was married, we moved to Melbourne, and I was working at Footscray High School, that I came into contact with a REAL LIBRARIAN! And this changed my life in many ways.
Now to the present day - over the last month or so I have been putting together a bibliography of material on Lake Pedder, for the new website. This has occasioned many sessions of retrospection as the time of the lake’s inundation in the early 1970s was an important time for me personally.
Two titles in this bibliography jolted my memory – the two books Hesba Fay Brinsmead (nee Hungerford) wrote about Lake Pedder. One is what we would call Young Adult fiction these days – Echo in the Wilderness - and the other has been accepted as non-fiction: I will not say the day is done.
Echo was published in 1972 by Oxford University Press, illustrated by Graham Humphreys, with ‘A tribute to Nan Chauncy’ opposite the verso. Pedder doesn’t get a mention by name at all, the lake in the story being known as Tara, but the relationship is clear. The jacket illustration, of a small plane landed on a sandy beach with mountains in the background, is a reminder of all the photos of just such a scene published at the time, and is supported by a map of Tasmania with added fictitious names. It is still, after nearly forty-five years, very readable, though I wonder how many of its readers now would make the connection with Lake Pedder.
I will not say the day is done is a different kettle of fish entirely. Published by a small independent publisher in New South Wales in 1983, it has an introduction by Geoff Mosley, a poem by Clive Sansom, and a foreword by Bob Brown, plus several black-and-white photos to give it credibility. But the text, as well as being poorly proofed, has an unusually dramatic style for a non-fiction publication – the quotation below will show you what I mean….
Doctor Dick Jones ….. was young, with a trained mind, and without fear. In himself, he had a trick of changing from a passive state to quick and vivid animation. It may have been a legacy of Celtic ancestry. There was something of the green-eyed satyr in him…
As well as Hesba’s publications on Lake Pedder, there are several more fiction texts for the teenage reader – her first (and best, in my opinion) was Pastures of the Blue Crane, published in 1964, in which issues such as racism and sexism are explored through a teenaged cast of characters. This won the Children’s Book of the Year Award in 1965 (this is where this blog completes its circle) and was the subject of enthusiastic praise in the Footscray High School staff room over several days. Librarian Susan ensured that several of us read it…. And of course I was one.
And how did it change my life?
I’d never heard of the Children’s Book Council of Australia before (yes, I know my education was sadly lacking) but have since remained a strong supporter of the organisation.
When we moved to Tasmania and I found teaching jobs hard to get, I enrolled in the brand-new Diploma of Librarianship at the University of Tasmania and ended up, after some time, as the Senior Librarian for Children’s Services in the State Library here.
And I’m never at a loss for something interesting to read!
But I still don’t know what is my favourite book…..Do you? Will you share it?
Retired librarian and teacher