Meet Bruce Pascoe: Seahorse

SeahorseThanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Bruce Pascoe.

Where are you based? How has this influenced your new adventure story for children, Seahorse (Magabala Books)? I live at Gipsy Point near Mallacoota in Victoria. I have spent all of my life near the lighthouses at Cape Otway, King Island and Mallacoota and the sea is a big influence.

Is there a real Jack who you have based your story on?

Jack is my son and his courage on tackling the rough seas at Cape Otway is inspirational.

Was there an enormous koala colony when you lived at Cape Otway? Were they regarded as a pest?

They were re-introduced in 1976 but the population exploded and destroyed the forest. My son is the environmental scientist at Cape Otway Environment Centre and his opinion that the koalas were introduced from French Island where they were in plague proportions and consequently had lost the ability to control their own population. In the last 18 months Jack has grown 120,000 seedling trees (mostly manna guns and she oak) and has replanted Cape Otway. There was a small cull of the koalas and Jack is waiting to see how the Cape responds.

Your descriptions of place are a key part of the book. How have you crafted them?

Those places are etched in my memory and I often dream I am swimming or diving on their coasts.

 Why have you selected the symbol of the seahorse?

I’m entranced by seahorses but have only ever seen a few while underwater. I have a seahorse on my keyring.

In the book Jack’s grandfather’s mother died and so her son grew up in a Home where ‘they knocked the children around something terrible’. Has your family suffered in this way? Our family were shifted about but I’m not sure any of them were physically harmed by anything but poverty. The early days on Tasmania would have been cruel but I don’t know any family details.Bruce Pascoe

You have seamlessly incorporated some other terrible experiences that Indigenous people suffered at the hands at white pirates and sealers in the past. How were you able to incorporate these appropriately into this book for children? They have to enter the story naturally but most families can supply an endless number of examples so it’s reasonably easy.

Truganini is such an important figure in Tasmania. Did you consider using her story in this book?

Many Aboriginal people in Tas and Vic are related to Truganini so it’s a bit delicate to use her as an example. I made a short film, Black Chook, ABC later this year, which explored parts of her life. There are strict protocols around these matters.

The shady character wearing black shows contempt and a racist attitude towards Jack’s family. What do you hope your readers take from this scene? I want people to see Aboriginal families as a normal part of Australian life.

Fog a DoxI reviewed your excellent prior novel for younger readers, Fog a Dox for Australian Book Review. This book went on to win several awards including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (YA Fiction). How has winning this prestigious award affected your life? It gave me a lot of confidence that people were noticing my work. Writers lead a lonely working life so it was encouraging to get some feedback.

 What books have you enjoyed reading?

Anything Jack London wrote. Faulkner, Steinbeck, Sholokov. Birds without Wings is one of the best books I’ve read.

Who do you admire in the Australian literary community?

Ali Cobby Eckerman, Alexis Wright, Anita Heiss, Archie Weller, Kim Scott, Carmel Bird, Helen GarnerRuby Moonlight

Player Profile: Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Photo Credit: Amanda James
Photo Credit: Amanda James

Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Tell us about your latest creation:

My new novel is called TIDDAS. Tiddas, for those who don’t know, is a generic Aboriginal term for your close female friends, those who are like sisters to you. And the tiddas in my novel comprise five women (three Koori, two non-Indigenous) who were born, raised and knocked around together in Mudgee (Wiradjuri country). Over the course of their lives they all move to Brisbane and as they approach their 40s they are each going through a particular journey that puts pressure on themselves and each other. The novel looks at the strengths and challenges of life-long friendships, and deals with a range of issues including substance abuse, identity, unplanned pregnancies and failed attempts at pregnancy.

The structure of the novel revolves around monthly book club meetings, with most titles opening up group discussion of Aboriginal arts, culture, politics and social justice. Identity in all forms is also discussed and unpacked.

For me, Tiddas is also a story that celebrates sameness – what makes us the same as women, the shared human emotions we experience, how we all value our friendships and how many of us are people who like to read.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney is my home but my mob are from central NSW, Wiradjuri country – Tumut, Brungle, Cowra and Griffith.

TiddasWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As a kind under ten, I wanted to be a nun, then an air-hostess and at one point I wanted to be Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligans Island). As a teenager I was a great penpal, but in my youth I never imagine that I would be an author.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I think that my latest novel TIDDAS is my best to date. I guess I hope that after a number of novels my storytelling has improved. TIDDAS is also something that is also very close to me and I think that passion and love for it comes through in the work.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I’m currently at a beautiful desk my late father made. And I try to make my office tidy, really I do, but I have paper and books and chocolate and notes usually all over my desk while writing. I have a gorgeous big computer screen which in recent years has made a difference, especially when I spent on average eight hours a day in front of a computer. I also have a vision board in eyesight to remind me of what my goals are for the year.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read across genres – for example, this year alone I’ve read fiction, kids fiction, a couple of picture books, non-fiction and aI’m just about to delve into and anthology of Indigenous writing from a group in Canberra. The list looks like this: Home by Toni Morrison, Dear Life by Alice Munro, The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, How Successful People Lead, by John C. Maxwell, Alfie’s Search for Destiny, David Hardy, The Spotty Dotty Lady, Josie Boyle, illustrated by Fern Martins, Liar Bird, Lisa Walker, Dead Man’s Gold, by Michael Torres, illustrated by Sharyn Egan, By Close of Business: Us Mob Writing (anthology).

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – because it was the only book we read at school that talked about race and race relations.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

At 45 I took up running. Mid-life crisis? You decide. I also love to chill at the beach, a LOT!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite bad food is chocolate, favourite good food is the humble banana

Who is your hero? Why?:

My Mum – she is strong, kind, always there for me, and she’s good for laugh.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I think competition with electronic media – hand held games etc. A lot of kids have a game in their hands constantly, rather than a book. I think nurturing that love of reading in our young people is one of the biggest challenges.

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Indigenous Authors nominated for Australian of the Year Awards

Indigenous authors Kim Scott and Anita Heiss are among the finalists for the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards.

Kim Scott is one of four finalists from Western Australia for the overall Australian of the Year Award. Scott has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice with Benang in 2000 and That Deadman Dance in 2011.

Anita Heiss is one of the finalists from New South Wales for the Australia’s Local Hero Award. She has won the Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature four times and her most recent book, Am I Black Enough For You?, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing several weeks back.

The state and territory winners will be announced at events held throughout November across the country, with the national awards being presented in Canberra on 25 January 2013.

Am I Black Enough For You? is an Indigenous Writing Winner

Well-known Aboriginal author Anita Heiss has won this year’s $20,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing for her memoir Am I Black Enough for You?

The award was presented today on Indigenous Literacy Day at the Melbourne Museum.

In formulating the shortlist for the award, the judges said ‘it was very exciting to bear witness to the further development of Aboriginal literature. All entries attested to that rich growth in the range and quality of the writing; an enthralling cross-section of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life today.’

Heiss was one of several Aboriginal people who launched legal action against Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt last year and won, claiming he had incorrectly accused them of being light-skinned Aborigines who chose to be black for personal gain.

For more information about Indigenous Literacy Day see the website at

Buy the book here…

See all of Anita Heiss’ books…