On the road with Australia's Children's Laureate
For the second week of the Queensland school holidays, I was fortunate enough to spend time in Far North Queensland playing chauffeur to Australia's Children Laureate - Boori Monty Pryor. Boori and Alison Lester share the inaugural position appointed by the Australian Children's Literature Alliance and their roles serve as ambassadors for children's literature to foster a love for reading.
Boori had already spent some time in North Queensland speaking at the School Library Association of Queensland biennial conference in Cairns as well as conducting a radio interview that morning with ABC Far North Queensland to promote his role; then it was on a plane to Normanton to start his Gulf road trip!
After a quick welcome at the Airport and drop-off of bags at his lodgings, it was off to the Normanton Sports Centre for a 'meet and greet' and allowed Boori the opportunity to rekindle his basketball skills - did you know that Boori played competitive basketball in his youth, including a stint in the Victorian Basketball League? Our daughter Emily joined the Normanton children who were all keen to take on Boori in an 'around the world' basketball shoot-out.
Next day, we were setting up for Boori's session at the Normanton Library which is located in the former Burns, Philp & Co Stores - Burns, Philp & Co were originally shipping merchants who expanded into general merchants, importers, shipping agents, etc. across Queensland with stores in most major centres in the North, including Townsville, Cairns, Charters Towers and Normanton. The company also had interests in mining, timber, pastoral enterprises, wool, tourism, pearling and later banking and insurance. The former stores building is heritage listed and now serves as the Tourist Information Centre with the Council Library sharing the space.
The cold weather kept many people indoors at Normanton, however Boori had a small but enthusiastic audience, including several tourists who dropped into the Library and Information Centre. Tonia, the local school Principal, took the opportunity to have Boori sign his books from the Normanton State School Library.
The following day, Croydon Library had a big surprise in store for Boori - the Day Care group walked down to the Library to create a group of nearly 30. This comprised children aged 3-17, including those home from Boarding Schools as well as parents, Croydon State School Principal and Croydon Shire Council staff.
The Croydon group were thoroughly entertained with Boori's storytelling, didj playing and dance - the group learnt some basic 'shake a leg' moves including animal actions. This was followed by a Q&A session with a difference - Boori went around the group asking them to ask a question! The time went very quickly and soon it was time for morning tea under the trees; Diane the Librarian organised a wonderful cake featuring the cover of one of Boori's books - 'Njunjul the sun'.
For something different in Mt Surprise, Boori entertained a group of travelling families and couples around the camp fire that night - Boori's voice was getting tired from all the storytelling over the past couple of weeks, so he played the didj or 'yiggi yiggi' as it is known in his Kunggandji language from North Queensland.
The next day we headed east and said goodbye to Boori in Cairns as it was time to head home.
It was a great experience to spend time with Boori and listen to his stories; he is a born storyteller, a wonderful ambassador for children's literature and an excellent choice as Australia's first Children's Laureate!
Des. Crump - Indigenous Languages Researcher, State Library of Queensland