How do we walk lightly on this land? This land Australia – both wild, and tamed into cities, suburbs, farms and mines. This island continent – home to native and imported plants and animals.
The choices we make are the habits we teach our children.
What land to develop or habitat to conserve; what resources to consume or use according to our needs begins with our understanding of the natural world.
And here to help us – and our children – are some Aussie and international authors.
1. Gladys and Jill Milroy
This mother-daughter duo from Western Australia’s Pilbara are keen storytellers, committed to preserving their Indigenous heritage. Jill – the Dean of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia – uses her passion for Indigenous story systems to innovate the way universities teach.
She’s twice partnered with her mother, Gladys, to produce children’s books: Emu, Crow and Eagle and Dingo’s Tree.
Dingo, Wombat and Crow care for the last remaining tree in a landscape dug out and scarred with mining. The authors believe if you teach children to care for country and animals, they may persuade adults money is not of sole importance.
2. Jackie French
The former Australian children’s laureate ‘walks the talk’ as author, ecologist and self-described honorary wombat. Her bush garden is the wildlife sanctuary that inspired the much-loved Diary of a Wombat and other tales.
Her tips for how to see in the bush begin: “The best way to understand an area is not to tramp though it. Find a quiet place and sit there.” And then, she says, observe – what grows where on rocks, bushes and trees. And because this can change – come back, again and again.
A young prince is determined to rule his country with environmental hope and practical solutions, like solar and wind power. Reflecting the message within, this picture book is printed on recycled paper.
3. Tim Winton
“Few landscapes have been so deeply known. And fewer still have been so lightly inhabited,” Winton writes in Island Home. His memoir to Australia as place – a character in its own right, with memory and future – is one that says, Australia shapes us.
And Australia’s shaping of Tim Winton has turned him into an eco-warrior. One who put down his fishing spear to drive a successful campaign to Save the Ningaloo Reef, and then become patron of the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Abel Jackson befriends a magnificent old groper, while diving as a boy. But, as the years pass, his idyllic stretch of coast – and the waters teeming with fish – come under threat from greedy humans.
How will Abel champion his home?
4. Graeme Base
A love of drawing and graphic design first led Graeme Base to a career in advertising, which he later exchanged for the much happier one of illustrating other people’s books. He then decided to write his own, starting with My Grandma lived in Gooligulch.
His love of visual puzzles prompted his alphabet book Animalia and eventually The Waterhole, which won the 2007 Wilderness Society Environment Award.
His books are also now the basis of educational tools at The Base Factory.
The book is filled with games, such as counting all the animals, ﬁnding the hidden ones and counting the frogs backwards as they disappear – and the waterhole shrinks into drought.
5. Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris
The Oxford Junior Dictionary’s decision to include ‘broadband’ and other new words meant the corresponding removal of 30 species of British plant and animal names, such as acorn, bluebell, dandelion and kingfisher.
The word cull prompted an open letter to the OJD from naturalist Laurence Rose, co-signed by authors and illustrators from Margaret Atwood to Michael Morpurgo.
Their fightback includes the gloriously illustrated book of poetic spells, The Lost Words. An enchantment so strong, that school bus driver Jane Beaton fundraised sufficient money to deliver the book to all Scotland’s 2,681 schools. A portion of the book’s profits go to charity.
The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It’s described as a joyful celebration of the poetry of nature words and the living glory of the distinctive, British countryside.
6. Dr Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel had an early career as writer, illustrator and political cartoonist for newspapers before being challenged to write his first children’s book – one that first-graders couldn’t put down. That book was The Cat in the Hat.
As Dr Seuss, he went on to write many more children’s books including The Lorax, recognised as an exemplar of environmental writing.
The cautionary rhyming tale tells of the Once-Ier, who discovers a versatile garment can be made from Truffula Trees. His greed leads to de-forestation, but The Lorax – who speaks for the voiceless trees – gives hope, at the last.