Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Bush Bash by Nette Hilton

To begin with, I guess you need to know something about me.

Firstly, I’m an author…secondly I’m an illustrator.  I have waited a long time to say that and now I am able to say I’m an illustrator as my new picture book is being illustrated by me – with, tra-da – a realio-trulio publisher’s blessing ….YAY!

Right now I’m working on a new book about a girl who lived a long time ago and is haunted by something that is truly scary – and that she needs to understand and fix before she is safe again. I’m also working on my new picture book – a love story about a fox and a hen. 

The middle sketch shows the fox and the hen dancing because foxes love foxtrotting

So, I’ve worked hard – lots of books, lots of practice with illustration – sometimes that’s what writing and drawing is – making mistakes, getting muddled and things not working – I guess that’s the down side – the up-side is that I love it….making up stories, making characters work, giving them worlds to live in, making magic with words…..LOVE IT!

Sketches: sometimes you just have to have a bash and hope things turn out OK!

My husband had to be a model for the jammed-head illo shown here – I have the best photo of him pretending to be three years old with his head stuck! He wasn’t the model for the other one.

One of the hardest things to do when you’re writing anything – especially something as important as this blog – is to work out how to start. Oh? I hear you say, why not start at the beginning? Why not let one word trip out and let another chase after it…. And, so dear readers and little blogs, this is exactly what I shall do.

In my beginning I lived in two small towns in Victoria, not at the same time however – this would have involved time-travel and I’m still working on that.

The first little town was called Traralgon where I was born and lived for the first five years of my life. It is full of memories and games played with friends. One of our favourite games involved leaping off the fence while screaming nonsense words… I’m afraid I can’t remember them now but they did become the beginning of a dear little book I wrote called ‘The Ombley Gum Chasing Game’. Our books, at that time, were very, very special and were usually sent to us as Christmas presents from my grandfather and great aunt. They are still with me which shows you how much I loved them.

We also owned a set of Arthur Mee’s Encyclopedias, which I loved. One volume was dedicated to fairy stories, like Grimm and all the traditional stories from other countries – this was my favourite. Another favourite was the Childhood Encyclopedia which lived in the back right hand corner of my mate, Kerry’s, house – behind the big chair. How do I remember this so well…because I used to creep in there while dinner was cooking and read the stories. These books took me to places I could only begin to imagine – and they formed questions that made me look harder and longer to understand the world beyond my little pocket of it.

When we moved, my dad was a carpenter and took us to live in Bairnsdale where there was more work, I discovered the library. This particular library features in one of my books (sorry, can’t remember which one), but it was up-stairs at the back of the Council chambers and I used to ride my bike to borrow as many books as I could. I’d fill my basket and prowl around the shelves which had books with colourful fish in them – I was a long way from the Barrier Reef, and photos of actual castles and Kings and Queens. Fantastic.

One of my jobs, when I was a little older (grand old age of nineish) my Auntie Nor used to get me to collect some romance books from the adult library for her. Wow, so important – I had to choose them myself and had the best time looking at all the covers. She told me I always chose good books so I guess covers sometimes do tell the truth.

Also, around this time, I discovered Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Blinky Bill. If you haven’t found these books, even if you’re 102 years old, you should go immediately and find a copy and begin to live in the fantasy land of Australian bush. Do yourself a favour and try and find an unabridged copy (this is one that hasn’t been ‘fixed up’).

May Gibbs (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s author) was writing at a time when snakes were feared and best killed so they were treated as the bad guys. You know, get over it! Of course, now we know that snakes are to be protected and treated with respect but you’re big enough – especially if you’re 102 – to read and enjoy it without getting all hot and bothered about bad snakes. You will love being scared by the Banksia Men – truly. Read it and you will never walk through the bush without feeling all their eyes watching as you go.

Blinky Bill, by Dorothy Wall, is a wonderful story about a koala who goes on his own adventure. Now, do yourself another favour – forget the blab on the television series and go and find that book. Sit yourself down and get lost in the bush with Blinky. Feel the fear of landing in a city and finding yourself trapped in a loud and unexpected place.

For me, when I was hearing these for the first time – along with Little Black Princess and Mary Grant Bruce’s A Little Bush Maid (which was written in 1910 – and I’m way not that old) I didn’t notice my own country existence was being explained to me. I was able to see my surroundings from a new place – I could imagine myself in the stories. Here were people and characters who lived the same sorts of things that I did – not the strange things that happened in The Famous Five stories – like summer in July! What? It didn’t stop me reading and loving good ol’ Timmy and George and Julian and the others. I did so much want to go and stay on an island that was haunted by a lighthouse light that turned out to be robbers. Whoa!

I think, without these books to take me from my lovely Bairnsdale and the Mitchell river with its tree-lined banks, I might not have been as ready to take on life in Sydney’s suburbs. Books allowed me to find a way to make new friends – everyone had read The Famous Five so there was something to talk about. Everyone knew Treasure Island, and everyone was quick to share the latest, newest book.  Just like everyone shared Harry Potter. And Twilight (didn’t love that one too much).

Maybe the newest way to read, on e-books and e-readers is going to make that lovely leap from living in the country to city-living (and vice versa) that much easier. So many things that people can share first up – books and music – way to go. And e-books are going to mean that the printed books are so much more beautiful – I think they will become the treasures that my dear old books were for me.

The Adventures of a Late-Night Swearer is a very different country town - monsters and all

One final thing… sometimes, when you live in a city, you are really unaware of how far apart some of our country towns and homesteads and sheep stations really are. I have just written a book for adults which is about my life on a sheep-station (I turned my book into a good teacher + bad cop = really scary times) to try and share the vastness of our Australian outback. During my time out there, I lived for the books that arrived in the weekly post, the magazine stories and letters written by my grandmother. Then I had a whole week to enjoy and get ready for the next delivery when a whole new batch would arrive.

Books and the bush – a great combination.

About the Author 

Nette Hilton, a regular little bush maid herself, lives in Northern New South Wales with a husband and a couple of dogs. 

'One of my favourite things is walking our dogs on the beach in the afternoons – winter and summer, rain and shine. I also love knitting and embroidery and making music on my banjolele with my friends. We have a little band and meet every Wednesday – sometimes we play concerts – they’re a bit scary (for the band and the audience).

 If you want to read more about the bush and Australia and living surrounded by animals for mates you could read my book called Woolly Jumpers- a great story about the way animals see their farm world – they know lots that the farmers don’t know. You could try Star of the Circus – a story about living on a farm and forgetting how clever you can be with only animals for company. Another of my books for older readers is Sprite Downberry, not outback Australia but living in coastal rural farming – and the problems that can make for growing up. And, of course, don’t overlook Blinky Bill and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.'

Nette's Website:


  1. Nette is coming to visit our school next week, reading about the books she read as a child makes me realise I am going to meet a fellow lover of wonderful Australian literature!

  2. Thank you, Nette for reminding me about classic Australian children's literature and interesting too, to think about discovering these books in context - a country girl reading about the Australian bush.

    I first read "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie" to my daughter in Hong Kong (where there are also lots of snakes!)and she couldn't have loved it more. She shrieked when I first showed her a banksia tree, on holiday on the south coast of NSW one year.

  3. For readers who want to learn more about classic Australian literature there is wealth of information on-line but it is often best to ask your parents, teachers and librarians what books they loved when they were your age - chances are that at least some of the books will be classics.

    Here are some links that may help you find old books to read:

  4. Personal favourites from my childhood (when dinosaurs roamed the earth):

    'February Dragon' and 'Storm Boy' both by Colin Thiele;
    'The Boundary Riders' by Joan Phipson
    'I Can Jump Puddles' by Alan Marshall

    There's also wonderful Australian poetry from the 60s and 70s - Bruce Dawe and Judith Wright, spring to mind.