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

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra -

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.’’

Townsville Bul­letin

Satur­day, De­cem­ber 23, 2006

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