An aboriginal tried to explain …
While travelling through Australia, I think in a place called Cobar, an elderly aboriginal tried to explain the Dreamtime to us. We understood it to be the period of creation, when the world took shape and all life began. Ancestral spirits created the landscape, made the first people and taught them how to live. These spirits moved across the country and also made geographical sites. When creation was completed, the spirits became trees, rocks, stars and rivers etc. Many sites in Australia are still recognised today as sacred places.
Aboriginal Dreamtime stories often explain how the country, animals and people came to be. Many stories have a moral tone, which was to reinforce correct behaviour. Stories have been passed down from one generation to the next. One of my favourite tales is about a greedy frog called Tiddalik and I wrote a children’s poem about him. There several variations featuring different animals. The story probably originated from the Water-Holding frog, which live in burrows under the ground in dry periods. They emerge when it rains and absorb large amounts of water. Tiddalik still seems to represent the greed in the world and it is difficult to hear the story, without thinking of drought and climate change.
From Dreamtime days this story was told.
About Tiddalik the frog, a tale now so old.
This frog was enormous, as high as a tree.
Wide as a mountain and greedy was he.
Old Tiddalik was thirsty, as thirsty could be.
Drinking the water every drop he could see.
Once he had started he just couldn’t stop.
Till in rivers and lakes he had drunk every drop.
‘’That’s not fair dinkum,’’ all the animals cried.
‘’But I feel much better,’’Old Tiddalik replied.
Their land now so dry. What were they to do?
All decided to meet at a place they all knew.
Then along came a wombat, just wandering by.
Saw they were worried and asked them all why.
They told of the water, which had all disappeared.
And how flora and fauna would suffer they feared.
The wombat said, ‘’ It should be clear to you all.
Make Tiddalik laugh, that will be his downfall.
Then back from his mouth the water will flow.
Returning to rivers and lakes it will go.’
A kookaburra thought that he should go first.
His stories so funny, he thought he would burst.
Laughing so much, he almost fell from his tree.
But the result was not what they hoped it would be.
It was then a large kangaroo had a try.
Jumping over an emu he touched the sky.
But Tiddalik just stared not making a sound.
As the kangaroo landed again on the ground.
A frilled neck lizard thought he would do well.
Looking confident, the others could tell.
Standing on back legs he ran up and down.
His tummy stuck out like a potbellied clown.
The animals thought it hysterical to see.
But that frog full of water just didn’t agree.
Disappointment was rising, it was easy to tell.
The plan as it stood was not going well.
Then an eel crawled out of the dry river bed.
And started to dance with grace it is said.
Faster it wriggled, silly shapes he then made.
With himself in a knot his whole body swayed.
Tiddalik began laughing as hard as he could.
Just as the wombat had predicted he would.
As more and more water gushed from his mouth.
It flooded the land from the north to the south.
Now, all living things had been saved that day.
Thanks to the wombat most people would say.
Poor Tiddalik’s greed turned him to stone.
There by the water on the bank all alone.
In the meantime Klara the Flying Cow is due to be published at the end of the year.
I’ll keep you informed.
The great thing about writing for children is being able to let your imagination run wild, and to take young people on adventures to imaginary places. While growing up, I was lucky enough to live in a house with a large garden, with behind it five cornfields. The long, warm Summer school holidays were carefree and filled with exploring the world around me. I have always been an animal lover and rarely came home without a wounded creature. A bird that had been caught in barbed wire, a small rabbit with an injured foot, or a hedgehog that shouldn’t be out in daytime. I suppose it’s no wonder that most of my stories are about animals.
At the end of the five cornfields was a lane and a boundary which was never to be crossed, but on the opposite side of the lane was a field with a horse. I had just finished reading Black Beauty and I desperately wanted to ride and here was a horse almost within reach, and for the first time the boundary would be crossed. Returning the next day with an apple, the horse was lured to the fence. It had kind eyes and seemed friendly, and a childs intuition was telling me that I was in no danger. A tree next to the fence had a branch which stretched over into the field. Then with the help of an accomplice who guided the horse under the branch with an apple, I could drop down onto it’s back. It didn’t try to throw me and it was the most exciting experience a ten year old could ever have. I managed to ride it quite a few times over several weeks, till the farmer caught me. He was furious and my parents too, but after that I was allowed to work at the local stables in return for riding lessons.
As a young child I was a daydreamer, especially at school and was often brought back to reality by being hit from a distance with an old fashioned wooden board rubber, or any other object within a teachers reach. Hard to imagine today how we were often subjected to painful punishments. Having your knuckles or the back of your legs hit with a ruler, or dragged along the corridoor by your ear, but it was something we took in our stride. There was no point complaining, as my parents would always say that I must have deserved it. On a school report, having an over active imagination was considered a negative quality and now rather ironic that decades later, it probably helped me to get published. Two things have been a big inspiration, animals and travelling, and one of my first narrative poems was a combination of the two. My husband and I were travelling through Australia and when we stopped to stretch our legs, I came across an old hollow tree where different animals seemed to live, and it became a great idea for a narrative poem. Fantasy then takes over and it becomes the story of a possum who lives in this old hollow tree, enjoying his own private space, when more and more animals convince him to share his tree with them . A coughing snake, a laughing bird, a croaking frog and several others make life almost impossible for a possum who just wants peace and quiet. As with many of my stories, it ends with an unexpected twist.
The story of a family
Many of my stories and poems have evolved from real situations, for example a visit to a family member in Australia. An old lady living alone, who had once been a concert pianist and still had two large piano’s. We were hearing unexplainable noises and eventually found a nest of little grey mice, which became a narrative poem called Behind the Piano. The story of a family of mice who secretly love to dance when the old lady plays the piano. Everyday at three, she would drink her tea before playing, but one day at three o’clock she doesn’t come and the mice, all missing their favourite tunes, fear that something has happened to her. They end up having to search her large house and this is another poem with an unexpected end.
I was told of a lovely little farm here in Holland, where a kind retired farmer still looked after his small collection of animals. Piet his pig, Saartje an old ewe, his dog Dirk, several chickens and goats, a horse called Hendrik and his black and white cow called Klara. It was not officially a children’s farm, but the farmer loved to show children his animals and let them interact with them. His chickens were so tame, that children could pick them up and carry them around. Other children would feed Piet and his greedy goats and Hendrik his horse always had children on his back. The farmer loved to tell the children stories about his animals, especially the naughty things they had done. One story was about Klara his cow, who had managed to get out of her barn in the middle of Winter and had ended up on the icy road. ‘’Isn’t that Klara, farmer Groot’s cow, skating along the road?’’ he had heard his neighbour calling. Well, that was a story just waiting to be written. Another story was when he gave Klara his cow a birthday party and invited all his friends and neighbours for a party in the field behind his farm. This was to become my story of Klara the Flying Cow.
Over the years I have sent poems and manuscripts to many publishers and rejection never became any easier, but when I finished Klara the Skating Cow, I sent it to Austin Macauley in London. I don’t think I really believed I would ever see my work published, but to my delight they liked it and I was offered a publishing contract, which really has become a life changing experience and proof that you should never give up on your dreams.