The Figures on the Lake, by Peter O’Shaughnessy

What are these ghostly figures?
Stark, angular and bright
against the salt lake’s crystal surface
they disturb its blinding light…

Since 2003, a remote salt lake near Wiluna, in Western Australia, has hosted a set of sculptures installed, as part of the Perth Arts Festival’s 5oth anniversary, by internationally renowned artist Antony (now Sir Antony) Gormley. based on the townsepople, the figures dot the crystal white sal lake and attract visitors from around the world, drawn to this remote part of the country to view and talk about art.

The Figures on the Lake a selection of poems, sketches and paintings recording and responding to the beauty of the figures. Artist and poet Peter O’Shaughnessy has visited the sculptures many times, and, following the success of an exhibitions of paintings interpreting the sculptures, was moved to produce a book honouring the sculptures and their story.

The idea of a series of art and poetry inspired by another series of artworks is a wonderful one, and the book is a delight to browse. Proceeds from sales of the book help to support cancer charities.

Available from the author, in Bunbury Western Australia, or through the Wilunatic Press Etsy Store.

The Figures on the Lake, by Peter O’Shaughnessy
Wilunatic Press, 2017
ISBN 9780648055914

Looking for Rose Patterson by Jennifer Gall

Who was Rose Paterson?
Most readers will be introduced to Rose Paterson by reading the poems and stories written by her son, Barty, better known to the world as Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. But so subtle are the references that readers may not realise they have made her acquaintance. She is there in Banjo’s turn of phrase, his sense of humour, his resilient spirit and in some rare direct references to her as she was in his childhood. But Rose Paterson, in a series of little-known letters written to her younger sister, Nora, provided her own account of her life.

Meet Rose Paterson, mother of A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ chronicles Rose’s life as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It also examines the life of a farmer’s wife in a time very different to now. Rose’s letters to her younger sister reveal a world of challenge, from the regular and protracted absences of her husband, to the isolation and inadequacies of her home. Yet she managed to retain a sense of humour, raise and educate her children. She also kept in touch with her family and friends, even when poverty dictated that she cross-write her letters. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ includes photos, letters, posters and extracts from Paterson’s poetry.

Looking for Rose Paterson’ is much more than a story of an individual life, though it is that too. It’s a rich portrait of a colonial world, with a focus on the often invisible women who helped shape it. In addition, it chronicles the world that nurtured Banjo Paterson and set the foundations for his writing. Rose’s letters offer an intimate peek into matters personal and domestic, while other elements reflect on childbirth, education, women’s rights and more. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ is a fascinating read, a chocolate box of delights for anyone interested in Rose herself and in learning about the lives of colonial women. Highly recommended.

Looking for Rose Paterson, Jennifer Gall
NLA Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9780642278920

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

The Dreaming Tree by Jo Oliver

The Dreaming Tree

Oak trees can live

for hundreds of years.

Ours must be very old.

Nana remembers it

from when she was young.

Hearts of oak

from little acorns grow.

The Dreaming Tree

Oak trees can live

for hundreds of years.


Ours must be very old.

Nana remembers it

from when she was young.


Hearts of oak

from little acorns grow.


TThe Dreaming Tree is a collection of poems about Australia, contemporary and historic. From gum leaves to prawning, landscape to frost, this collection covers a wide range of subjects. There are poems as old as the land and as new as children playing. A note at the end suggesting readers write their own poems, using their world as inspiration. Each poem is accompanied by illustrations, each spread sets the image as if it were a photo in an album. The background is ‘stained’ and ‘torn’.

Poetry is like a snapshot, a photo taken to catch a single moment, a single idea. This collection is set out like an old photo album, perhaps suggesting that each poem is ageless, timeless. Jo Oliver suggests that poems have no rules, and while there are those who would disagree, it’s a great way for children to begin writing. Freeing young writers from the assumed obligation to rhyme removes one level of challenge and hopefully will inspire them to ‘have a go’. Individually, these poems look at single ideas, together they offer a starting place for viewing Australia and Australians. Recommended for primary readers and for educators wanting examples of nature poems.

The Dreaming Tree, Jo Oliver
New Frontier Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925059489


review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Silly Squid, by Janeen Brian & Cheryll Johns

Silly Squid!Look at me! I’m quite divine,
a dancer of the sea.
I swim and glide and slip and hide
and grip my food with glee.

With the ability to colour-change, adapt and hide,the squid of this title poem is anything but silly. And, while there is plenty of fun and joy in this lively collection of poems, there is lots of evidence too of the wonders of the animal world, particularly those that live under and around the water.

From little jellyfish:
We come in different sizes
and people call us ‘jellies’
We have no bones, nor heart nor brain –
not even jelly bellies!

to the huge whale:
I swim high and low
and wherever I go
my water spout makes
such a wonderful show

Silly Squid! is a wonderful exploration of the diversity of the ocean, celebrated in playful rhymes. Each animal is given a double page spread including a poem and a realistic, yet still intimate acrylic illustration. The eyes of the animals look straight at readers, inviting them to get to know their subjects. Each page is finished off with brief facts about the animal in question. These facts, while useful, are on the edges of the page so as to not give them more emphasis than the poetry or art.

Readers may choose to read the book from cover to cover, or to read one poem at a time, dipping in and out of the book.

From the creators of Silly Galah, Silly Squid! is a wonderful poetry offering for younger readers.

Silly Squid!, by Janeen Brian & Cheryll Johns
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990965

Available from good bookstores and online.

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O'Hagan & Andrew McLean

It won’t be surprising if you pick up this book with the tune and lyrics already in your head:

There’s a track winding back to an old fashioned shack
along the road to Gundagai…

However, what will be surprising to most readers will be to discover that the opening lines of the song are quieter and less jaunty:

There’s a scene that lingers in my memory
Of an old bush home and friends I long to see…

(You may be interested, as I was, after reading the book, to hear an old recording of these lines here).

Most surprising of all, is the visual interpretation of the song in this picture book offering. Andrew McLean presents the song from the viewpoint of a soldier, yearning for his beautiful home as he fights and suffers on the battlefield. The contrast between scenes of horror on the Western Front, and the beauty of Gundagai are confronting, but in a beautiful, poignant way. On one spread soldiers and their horses flee a gas attack, the soldiers wearing gas masks, the horses’ eyes filled with fear and a ghastly yellow light surrounding them. This is in stark contrast to the preceding spread which shows young boys playing in the peaceful shallows of the Murrumbidgee river. Further contrast is added with the wartime scenes filling the whole spreads, while the remembered scenes of Gundagai are framed like favourite photographs or paintings. Most of the song lyrics are also on these home front spreads.

This a beautiful, haunting book, outstanding for discussions of Australian history. With the song first written in 1922, McLean’s interpretation is true to the experiences of the war years not long prior, which would still have been very fresh in the public memory. For classroom use, it would be an interesting exercise to offer children the lyrics without the illustrations first, to highlight the contrast of what is then shown in the book.

A surprising book, in the very best of ways. Stunning.


Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Omnibus Books, 2014
ISBN 9781862919792

Available from good bookstores or online.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

I don’t know
how to make her

Leroy has a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s a bully on his school bus – and she’s bigger than him, bigger than his sister Ruby, even as big as his mum. DJ goes to the high school, but she doesn’t want to be there. Leroy likes school, but he doesn’t like the bus, especially when DJ is on it. Leroy needs a secret weapon, but when he finds it he wonders if it will be enough to silence the bully.

Bully on the Bus is a gorgeous new verse novel for younger readers. Leroy and his family are realistic and well-drawn, as is the situation he finds himself in. The resolution, too, is clever, and shows Leroy drawing on the help of those around him but, ultimately, being key to fixing the problem.

This is Apel‘s first foray into the verse novel form, but hopefully it won’t be her last. She handles it deftly and with sensitivity.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253287

Available from good bookstores and online.

Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

The winners of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2014 were announced last night. The winners were:


Wonderful to see the big winner being poetry, with the overall prize going to a poetry collection. I had intended to post something here about how wonderful it is to see the poor cousin in the limelight, but poet and columnist John Kinsella has said it so much more eloquently than I could. Read what he has to say over at Crikey.

Rediscovering Old Favourites

Throughout my childhood and well into my adult years I loved the thrill of revisiting a favourite book. Like visiting an old friend, the conversation with a favourite book is comfortable, yet frequently surprising. But these past few years – maybe even as long as ten years – rereading has been a rare thing for me. Since I started Aussiereviews, I always have a steady supply of new books (more than I can possibly read, at times), and my various dayjobs, family and writing commitments have swallowed up a lot of time, as such things are wont to do.

This past week, though, I’ve immersed myself in rereading. Having been accepted into the PhD program at ECU, where my focus will be children’s poetry, including verse novels, I decided to start my reading by reconnecting with old favourites. And what a joy that has been.

The first verse novel I ever read was Margaret Wild’s Jinx. In fact it was such a new form for me that I had no idea how to describe it when I reviewed it in 2002. I just knew that I loved it, and almost instantly knew that this was a form I wanted to write in, as well. So, the first two verse novels I reread were Jinx, and Wild’s second verse novel, One Night. I hadn’t read either of these for some years , though I often recommend them to other readers. Interestingly, as I reread I was surprised anew by them. I’d actually forgotten what happens, even who the characters were. What I’d retained was the sense of satisfaction. I don’t remember crying when I read them the first time, but reading One Night this time round had me weeping at the kitchen table, much to the bemusement of my family.

From these two I’ve gone on to revisit other favourites – by Steven Herrick, Sharon Creech and Nikki Grimes. Still to come are more Herrick , Lorraine Marwood, Sherryl Clark and more. While perhaps I’m reading these with different eyes – as a researcher and also as one who has since written verse novels – it’s also proving a lovely trip into my reading past, and is inspiring me to look back at other favourites which perhaps deserve a revisit. At the same time, I’m learning stuff. I love seeing how other authors make use of the form, and have been inspired to try a few new things in my own writing.

What a luxurious way to start my new studies. It feels like an indulgence even while it’s paying such lovely dividends for my research and writing.

Four Books compiled by Peter Durkin & illustrated by Peter Viska

Granfer Grig
Had a pig
In a field of clover.
The pig he died.
Granfer cried,
And all the fun was over.

Kids love rhyme, and kids love silliness. These four little books offer a blend of the two in a combination sure to get them giggling, reading aloud and turning pages enthusiastically. Each book is forty-eight pages of rhymes long and short illustrated in colour by Peter Viska. There are rude bits, gross bits and even slightly shocking bits, and the cartoon style illustrations bring each rhyme to life.

Likely to please primary aged readers, these would be a popular addition to school libraries.

Stay Cool April Fool!
In Your Eye Meat Pie!
Hang Loose Mother Goose!
Take a Stroll Sausage Roll!
All compiled by Peter Durkin and illustrated by Peter Visa
Alicat Publishing, 2013

Meet My Book: Guinea Pig Town and Other Poems, by Lorraine Marwood

I’m really pleased today to welcome brilliant poet, Lorraine Marwood, to the Aussiereviews blog. Lorraine has agreed to take part in the ‘Meet My Book’ feature. Over to Lorraine, and her answers to my questions.

1. Give us details: title, publisher, illustrator, release date.

My latest title is  Guinea Pig town and other poems about animals. Published by Walker Books Australia, illustrated by Amy Daoud and the release date was 1st April 2013.

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems

2. Why did you write the book?

I already have two collections of poetry with Walker and after discussion with my publisher we wanted a brand new collection of poems all about animals.

3. How long from idea to publication?

About 18 months of intense writing, re-writing, editing.

4. What was the hardest thing about writing it?

I think the hardest part was the whole nebulous idea of an animal poetry collection , but once the title poem was written (I wrote and sent poems in batches to be read by my publisher and editor) then the whole book suddenly took shape and direction.

5. The coolest thing about your book.

There were several cool moments- one was writing a flamingo poem after a visit to a restaurant garden several floors up in London (with flamingos)and after discovering the horn of a narwhal in Scotland. Also the way I wanted the cover designed and the breaking up of chapters into roads, crescents, avenues, all following the lead from the title poem ‘Guinea pig town’.

6. Something you learnt through writing the book?

That plunging in with an idea gradually takes shape and form and writing directs more writing. (Well I already knew this but it was reinforced.) Also that I love to research facts about an animal before writing. Very important for me as a poet.

7. What did you do to celebrate the release?

I had two fabulous launches on the one day sponsored by the local Bendigo library and the wonderful children’s librarian Tammy complete with an animal farm for kids to hold guinea pigs. There was a huge response.

8. And how will you promote the book?

Through facebook, school visits, my own blog and the writing of a poetry strategy to share the love of animals and poetry.

9 What are you working on next?

Ah, a bigger novel, another verse novel and of course I’d love to write another poetry collection- any ideas for themes?

10. Where can we find out more about you and your book?

Through my web site.
through the Walker Books website and through my blog.

Also I have a facebook author page

Thanks Sally for a great Aussiereviews site.

Lorraine Marwood

Thanks Lorraine. You can see my review of Guinea Pig Town here