DRAWING on experience
Author and illustrator Norah Kersh brings the Outback to life for kids and adults and at the same time helps out others. IAN FRAZER reports
THE stars are brilliant white and the night skies cool and blue in Norah Kersh’s outback.
But human warmth abounds in this western Queensland author’s three children’s books.
Mrs Kersh, who has always lived inland, says her idea of ‘the Outback’ hinges on people as much as landscape.
‘‘It makes me laugh sometimes what people think the Outback is,’’ she said last week during a visit to promote her latest venture, a book and CD calledOutback Songs.
‘‘Some people say it’s a state of mind . . . and when you have lived in it most of your life it’s very dear to you,’’ she said.
‘‘I think it’s what you share with people as well — like with other mothers teaching their children on School of the Air.
‘‘It’s about distance and isolation, it’s where you don’t necessarily have a doctor you can get to easily.
‘‘You have that much in common. When you talk about the rain it’s not just idle chatter.’’
Mrs Kersh wrote and illustrated her first book, OutbackAlphabet, 11 years ago, after the death of a three-year-old grandson, Tyler, in a road accident in Townsville.
‘‘Tyler, despite his short life, had created much joy an happiness among those around him,’’ she told publisher Boolarong Press in an explanation of how the little boy inspired her.
‘‘Even in his death he created happiness as his donated organs gave three seriously ill children the opportunity to live normal lives.’’
She dedicatedOutback Alphabet to Tyler and donated the proceeds of the self-published book to the Fred Hollows Foundation.
‘‘I wanted to do something that would help the bush,’’ she said.
Since then Mrs Kersh, of Bora Station, Maxwelton, has written illustrated and published two more books: OutbackAlphabet andGrandma’s PreciousChest.
She sold more than 15,000 copies from home before handing over distribution to Brisbane publisher Boolarong Press, which says it has sold another 25,000 copies of each title.
Apart from supporting the Fred Hollows Foundation, she has raised some funds for the Hospital by the River, in Ethiopia, and for a school aid project in Kenya, organised by her daughter, Bernadette, a former Townsville nursing sister.
Dan Kelly, owner of Boolarong Press, suggested her latest venture, OutbackSongs, which entailed illustrating the lyrics of the 10 CD tracks.
These included old favourites such asTheWild ColonialBoy, WaltzingMatilda andHome AmongTheGumTrees, performed by the Rockchoppers Bush Band, and a couple of special tracks.
Ted Egan and Dick Mununggu have contributedArnhemland Lullaby, in Aboriginal language, and Kevin Bloody Wilson sings his song School OfTheAir.
Mrs Kersh convinced the publisher to include the latter, having taught each of her nine children by correspondence and having received this form of home-schooling during her childhood in Warren, western NSW.
‘‘I have always liked drawing and poetry from the time I was a child,’’ she said.
‘‘My parents very much encouraged me to be original, not to copy.’’
She began teaching her own children 30 years ago when she and her husband, John, were working at Balgo Mission on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, in Western Australia.
‘‘There was so little Australian material,’’ she said.
‘‘Nothing in their schooling the encouraged thinking about living in Australia — no Australian stories.’’
Hence her Outback children’s books three decades later, with stories about cattle dogs, sheep, cattle, floods and droughts.
The author’s profile supplied by Boolarong Press says that she showcases the outback way of life poetically, through the soft tones of a watercolour palette.
In her children’s alphabet, ‘A’ is for Ant, not Ardvark, and in her numbers book, One is for One Tree Station.
Mrs Kersh, who won a May Gibbs Fellowship earlier this year in recognition of her growing standing as a children’s writer, says she has other stories to tell.
She has been working most recently on illustrations for a book called Eggs Don’tComefrom Cartons, by Jancey Lee Richmond, and is planning a poetry and cookbook for Boolarong Press.
‘‘I have heard my books have gone to every country you could think of,’’ she said. ‘‘I put that down to Tyler. ‘‘One of the great breaks was that my daughter Rosanna was working in Sydney and knew someone from RMWilliams who distributed the books . . . they’ve put a good scatter on them.’’
She received letters and telephone calls from around Australia after an interview with ABC radio presenter Colin Munro.
‘‘I’m told that grandparents buy them,’’ she said.
‘‘I get letters and cheques. people tell me about their lives.’’
Saturday, December 23, 2006