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A matter of write or wrong

It seems kids don’t hate maths anymore. Now they hate … English!

Abby with puppy jazzy

Abby with puppy Jazzy

A recent chat with a friend’s daughter, Abby, helped me understand. Abby told me that she hates English because she hates writing. I’ve heard this before. But why? Trying to get to the bottom of it, I ask Abby, ‘But you like reading right?’ Oh yes! What’s your favourite book? Well … a small shy tilt of the head …well that would be Smooch & Rose. My heart melts. Abby likes my book. She’s read it three times. She wants to be a wildlife carer when she grows up (like Rose). There’s no second option. Wildlife carer or nothing. She makes me smile. Other favourite reading titles include the National Geographic for Kids magazine which comes out every month, and of course, other animal books. Her favourite animal is the cheetah, because it is the fastest runner in the world. She’d like to go to Africa to see one in the wild one day.

So why do you hate writing Abby?

A pause. I prefer to draw, she says. Here’s the picture I’m drawing at the moment. Abby shows me a picture of a girl with stars in her hair. She’s gorgeous, wouldn’t you like to write about her? A tiny shake of the head. But say you did decide to write about this girl, and she had the job of telling all the kids in the Australia how to help koalas, what would you write? Oh, that’s easy. I would write that people should car pool to save carbon emissions, and people should drive more carefully at night so they don’t knock koalas over. They should definitely lock their dogs up at night … a pause while Jazzie, the 6 month old family puppy breaks inside and nibbles our plate of bikkies … and they should tell everyone how precious our koalas are.

Great! I say. There you go, you could easily write all that! Abby smiles and doesn’t look convinced. I think I’ve cracked the problem. Our kids are getting stage fright. They worry what they have to say might not be polished enough or exciting enough, so they get scared and resist putting words down on paper. After all, their world is full of amazing entertainment. What on earth could they possibly say of interest to anyone?

Easier to write nothing.

CheetahSo how can we help retrieve the love of writing? I think the answer is to take away the pressure. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the imagination. Enid Blyton didn’t have to worry about Naplan narratives. Try writing a story out loud. No pens to paper, just starting big, letting our imaginations run wild. Wild like an African cheetah. It seems that free of all the restraints of actually writing, anyone can make a narrative sing. It’s about being brave enough to think big, without the fear of falling. And remembering the big five: the who, what, where, when and how of storytelling,

By the way, Abby’s favourite colour is yellow and she loves ice-cream.

When I grow up …

my family and other animalsOne of my favourite books when I was young was ‘My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell. I so much wanted to be Gerry – living on an island in Greece, collecting animals and exploring nature all day. In high school, I toyed with becoming a marine biologist so I could swim with dolphins, or becoming a vet so I could work with elephants in the wilds of Africa. But my ever practical Dad talked me out of both options, and instead I chose a degree in Agriculture. A sensible and wise choice.

Actually, I loved working with farmers, but don’t you always wonder, what if …?

This year, I had the pleasure in meeting a real life park ranger, the talented and compassionate Kristen from the Daisy Hill Koala Centre. Kristen has many roles, including caring for koalas that come to the centre after recovering from injury or disease. This is what she said about being a ranger:

Kristen with Elsa

“I always wanted to work with animals, right from about the age of six. I thought maybe I would grow up to be a cat minder, or a pet sitter or maybe a ranger. To become a park ranger, I studied Applied Science at Gatton, followed by a six month course at TAFE studying native animal care. (I started with Environmental Science, but there was way too much chemistry.) Once I was finished, I volunteered in a wildlife park at the Gap in Brisbane, before getting the job at Daisy Hill. The best part of my job is having a close relationship with koalas, and the worst is seeing some of the koalas we pick up in the koala ambulance.”

In the picture above, Kristen is feeding a beautiful female koala called Elsa. Elsa was injured by a car at eight months old and arrived at the centre after she was unable to return to the wild. She’d had an upset stomach a few days before, and Kristen collected some droppings from the healthy koalas to feed to Elsa to return some healthy bacteria to her system. A bit like how we would take Inner Health Plus if our system was out of whack. Elsa patiently sucked up all the syringes Kristen had made, and then went off to eat some fresh eucalypt leaves collected by other rangers in the park. It was clear how close Kristen was to her koalas and her knowledge and commitment to them was inspiring.

Daisy Hill koalaDaisy Hill is having an Open Day on January 19th  if you want to meet Kristen, or Elsa, or even me, as I will be attending. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about koalas or about becoming a ranger, or just to see koalas up close, for free. For details, see here. For information about what you can do to help koalas, see my website.

Time for reflection

Time for reflection

Last night, hubby and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Have you seen it? It was pretty good, although we had mixed opinions on the narrative. But it was a fitting movie for this time of year, a time when we reflect on the year gone by and make some dodgy promises about the year ahead. In the movie, Walter goes off on all sorts of adventures after leading a pretty boring life. As hubby and I left the theatre, we were tempted to say … yeah… hang it… next year, we’re deserting our boring hum drum life and we’re off to Iceland to climb volcanoes. Next year – we’re going to start really living.

But, overnight I did some reflecting. Is our life really boring? Hum drum? I don’t think so. Some of the not so boring things from 2013 included

  • getting stuck half way down the Toowoomba range towing my brand new Quarter horse, Oscar, home. The brakes failed coming down in rush hour traffic and hubby had to drive up from Brisbane with another ute to rescue us. The whole trip took about 8 completely un-boring hours, and included a bizarre conversation with “000”, where they suggested we tow the float and my ute down with the other ute hooked on at the front. Yeah right! That’s safe.
  • snorkelling at the wrecks on Moreton Island and spending time with my girls and hubby, just chilling.
  • visiting the Margaret River with some dear friends and finding out that Chardonnay is not Chardonnay anymore. It’s gone from ho hum to yum yum. In the Margaret River anyway. Fantastic part of the world, I recommend it.
  • mmm… let me  see … having a BOOK published! Yay! Didn’t see that in Walter Mitty. A very exciting part of 2013 indeed.
  • meeting some amazing people involved with koala conservation, plus getting to cuddle a few beautiful koalas.

So, 2013 was definitely not boring.  Even though my new diary says “2014: My Best Year Yet”, I think the year gone by will be hard to top.  I am lucky to have loved and to have been loved. Isn’t that what life’s all about?

As Helen Keller said:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt from the heart.

Happy 2014 everyone!

Thanks to our teachers

Can anyone make a difference?

I’ve been privileged these last few weeks to speak in some local schools about koala conservation while talking about my book Smooch & Rose. What a delight it has been! I have attended koala consevation meetings and read articles about the rapidly falling numbers of koalas in SE Queensland, and I often find myself in a state of despair about the fate of our furry little friend. But after my recent school visits, a tiny ray of hope has broken through the gloom.

Welcome sign from Redlands State SchoolNot only have the students I’ve visited been well informed and enthusiastic about wildlife conservation, they are encouraged to embrace this passion by their wonderful teachers. When I ask students about what is killing our koalas, they know the answer. Habitat destruction, disease, dog attacks and car fatalities. Over 16,000 koalas have been killed in the last few years, which is way too many. Students as young as seven have great ideas about how to prevent these unnecessary deaths and they are confident and optimistic with their views.

This confidence comes from great teaching.

So thanks to the teachers and parents of our next generation. Thanks to you, I am starting to feel hopeful that our koala may have a future. If the students I’ve met these last few weeks are any indication, standing up for Australia’s favourite icon will be second nature to them. They haven’t lost their way about what is important and as one boy put it, ‘we need koalas because they make us happy’. Yes they do. Like many things in nature, koalas can’t be quantified in dollar terms or by a list of their useful products. Koalas make us happy and our children’s children need to have them in their lives.

When I wrote Smooch & Rose, I hoped that the message ‘anyone can make a difference’ would stick. I’m starting to see it will. I just hope it won’t be too late.

What can you do to help?

Koalas should be protected.

Who will speak out for our koalas?

Since writing Smooch & Rose, I have discovered all sorts of mind blowing schemes that threaten our precious wildlife. Development, logging, lack of long term planning. But what can we do to stop it? Hopefully not chaining ourselves to trees (although, in some cases, people have still been pushed to do this). According to a recent Griffith University study, when it comes to creating real, sustainable change, the power of the community is second to none. The power of community? What can we, the ordinary people, do?

Standing up for what you believe in can be difficult and unrewarding, and many of us hope that someone else will do it

koala in local bushlandIn the last few months, I’ve met some of the inspiring people who are those someone else’s. For example, Debbie Pointing and the members of the well established Koala Action Group (KAG) in Redland Bay. KAG works extremely hard to advise and direct development in our area to protect koalas, including talking and negotiating with developers, running a Koala Count-a-thon to map where the koalas live, and planting thousands of trees. The task is however frustrating and difficult and development in Redland Bay continues at a rapid rate.

Kangaroos

Another group with the same mind set is the newly developed “MHANLEG” (Mango Hill & North Lakes Environment Group), led by Dave Norman. One of their main focuses is to oppose the Petrie Bypass, a massive highway that will cut right through precious koala habitat in the Moreton Bay region. Dave and his team have met with councillors, talked to politicians, filled petitions with hundreds of signatures and met with the public and researchers, all in the hope that people power can still make a difference. They are also keen to trial a tagging system. Local kangaroos are killed by cars at a rate of one per month. Dave hopes to fit the kangaroos with small radio tags linked to a special road side sign. When a tagged kangaroo approaches the traffic, drivers will be alerted that a kangaroo may be trying to cross, and have time to slow down. This system is a great initiative to help our wildlife.

Imagine if our kangaroos and koalas could be tagged and protected from being annihilated on our roads?

cassowary crosses the roadI had a great trip up to Mission Beach recently and met Peter, another inspiring person, from the C4 community group. He and his team are fighting to protect the Southern Cassowary, which like the koala, is being stranded from its rainforest habitat by continual clearing along the coast. Peter and his group have raised $260,000 towards buying a small piece of land that will make a corridor for the cassowaries to get safely from the coast to the rainforest. If they are successful, they may just save the cassowary from extinction.

C4, MHNLEG and KAG are ordinary people making a difference in our community. They are not waiting for politicians to fix things. They are out there, having their say, trying to make sustainable changes for the future of our environment.

Have you, like them, got what it takes? Yes, of course you have!

I declare this book … launched!

Sam and Michael Gerard BauerNerves jangling. Cup cakes iced (thanks Rachael). Bookmarks bundled up and interstate visitors collected. Several outfits later, (it was an unseasonably hot night and the previously chosen dress was too hot) and then … it was time!

The launch of Smooch & Rose!

Koala cupcakesBeautiful Krysi, from Riverbend Books, made us feel welcome from the start, and the talented Michael Gerard Bauer was very kind with his words of encouragement and praise.  Heart thumping, I looked over the sea of happy faces and felt immensely grateful for such a wonderful opportunity. All those smiles, thanks to books and writing. It was quite an emotional moment!

Smooch?A quick self conscious read of Smooch & Rose accompanied by an explanation of its roots, and lots of thank you’s and it was time to sign some books and chat. Smooch & Rose was officially launched! Thank you everyone for coming and for those who couldn’t make it, thank you for your support.

Praise Junkies

Having a full bodied koala suit in the house can provide all sorts of unexpected entertainment. I hired one for a book signing a few weeks ago and was aghast on unpacking it to find the face was downright creepy. The black eyes sagged, the miserable mouth drooled. Not exactly the cuddly koala look I was hoping for.

IMG_0877I managed to convince my teenage daughter to try the outfit on. Mostly to judge if it was indeed a nightmare creating monstrosity. She duely donned the suit. Disaster. Our fears were correct. She looked like an extra in a horror movie.

‘Dance around a little bit,’ I said. ‘Wave. Look friendly.’

And that’s when the hilarity began. Miss Eighteen started crumping and twerking in that koala suit in a manner that would have made Miley Cyrus proud. We wanted her to stop, but we couldn’t. We were laughing too hard. Of course we videoed her on our iphones and she posted it on Facebook, checking her likes as soon as the suit was slipped to the floor. Next was my brother’s turn. No twerking, but a hilarious dog stalking koala act, also posted on Facebook. Who would get the most likes?

So here’s the point. As I watched these two compare the responses to their videos, I realised we have become a society of praise junkies. Who had the most likes? How quickly? What funny comments did their friends say? And it’s not just Facebook. A friend recently won second prize in a writing competition, and after finding out she got a score of 98%, was most worried about why she’d lost the 2%.

Praise junkie!

Sam reading Smooch and RoseAnd then I turned to myself. Look who was talking. My first book, Smooch & Rose has been on the shelves only 2 months and I worry constantly about why it’s not in that shop, or that one. Is it an okay book? Did I do a good job? And then I read it to the intended audience and I see their shining faces, eyes wide, edging forward. Of course it’s good enough. The kids love it. And yet, that great bookshop just down the road doesn’t …

So what’s with this praise junkie thing? Are we so uncomfortable in our own skin that we must constantly look to others to tell us we’re okay?

I wonder, if, in our strive for praise, we avoid things that might make us fail. For kids, this might mean not putting your hand up in class in case the teacher doesn’t praise you. It might mean as adults we don’t speak up for our wildlife and our environment, in case people think we’re weird greenie types.

So, I’ve been wondering. Maybe we could turn this praise thing around. What if we were to praise failure? What if we tried saying ‘Well done honey, you tried something new today, and you failed. Good on you!’ We would encourage risk taking, speaking out, not conforming. We’d nurture thinking outside the box. I think it would be a great way to use our addiction to praise.

You tried today, and you failed? Three thousand likes!