40 Years Later…
Yes, I’m shivering. I’m the first to extol the virtues of living in Adelaide, a divinely easy city to be in, unless it’s deep mid-winter. We’re in the Christmas-carol-situation at the moment of: ‘In the bleak mid-winter, frosty winds made moan…’, outraged that we should be so cold. The lemon tree, it’s true, is heavy with lemons, but our vines and fig trees are bare and ugly, and everything else in the garden is in a dreadful sulk. The beach (below) is a picture of misery.
That first paragraph will be of interest to possibly no one. So let me get to the exciting bits.
You may be aware from several previous posts, that I’m a political junkie. I have been, always, even as a child in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). At dinner each evening we’d have a transistor radio on the table and we’d listen first to the ten minutes of local news, including all the politics, and then the ten minutes of BBC news. After that, the radio would be turned off and as a family we’d go hammer and tongs at dissecting the news and commenting on it. My parents were very left-wing and pro-African, which was rare among white people at the time. It made life difficult as a teenager. I could never talk politics to my friends— and certainly never to any boyfriends, in case they broke up with me on that basis.
The years passed and eventually our own daughter became a Labor politician in South Australia, for two terms. Was that surprising? No. So you can imagine what it like for me to be watching Question Time in Canberra (as a tourist) a few weeks ago, immersed in the very air of political debate, and to have been acknowledged by the Speaker of the House as being in the chamber: ‘…celebrated author… celebrating the 40th anniversary of her book Possum Magic.., etc.’ Look, I thought I’d fall over the visitors’ gallery. The Minister for Education, Jason Clare, before he answered a question, stood and said: ‘I too, would like to acknowledge the presence in the House of my friend, Mem Fox.’ I hardly knew where to put myself. But more was yet to come.
The kind, workaholic MP who’d arranged my ticket to the visitors’ gallery was Amanda Rishworth, whom I have known for years. She’s now the Minister for Social Services. Without letting me know, after Question Time, I found myself rushing along mysterious corridors with a member of her staff, and then with Amanda, and we found ourselves in the end in the office of Anthony Albanese, the very Prime Minister himself! Good GRIEF. He and I had met once in the mists of time at some event or other, which he reminded me of. I’d given him a copy of Possum Magic for his son, who was about eight at the time. I found myself calling the PM ‘Albo’ immediately. This would probably be an unthinkable licence anywhere but here. This familiarity and warmth is very Australian and doesn’t imply any disrespect whatsoever. So Amanda, the PM, and Richard Marles, the Minister for Defence (who happened to be there, too) and I had an enchanting, very friendly talk for about ten minutes and I then left. Spinning. Of course.
Amanda Rishworth, MP., me, and Prime Minister, Anthony (‘Albo’) Albanese.
An over-the-moon author with the Prime Minister.
After that I had an actual job to do, believe it or not. Two MPs from different sides of the political spectrum: Warren Entsch (National Party) and Luke Gosling (Labor Party) had formed what is known as a ‘parliamentary friendship group’ to encourage a minimum of 20% Australian content in Australian children’s film, television, literature and any other media. The Australian Society of Authors had asked me to be an advocate for the literature part of that campaign, so I met very successfully with both members in their offices. Warren said that if any of his any grandchildren or great-grandchildren called a biscuit a cookie he’d disinherit them! It’s fascinating to find out the backgrounds and values of different MPs. They come from so many different walks of life and have so much to offer, from their own perspective, that a great and necessary richness is provided to our political institutions. Both these meetings tied in, by chance, with the 40th anniversary of Possum Magic, which I had written all those years ago in protest at the wiping out of Australian-ness in Australian children’s picture books.
Warren Entsch, Nationals MP and me. It happened to be Warren’s 73rd birthday so I signed the book and gave it to him.
Me with Luke Gosling, Labor MP. At one time Luke was a commando! Amazing to think of him morphing into being an MP interested in the Australian-ness of children’s literature. Love it!
A highlight of my time in Canberra (apart from the realisation that my family could function without me for three whole days) was meeting up with two different sets of very old friends. But that was exciting and thrilling only for me, not for you. So moving on… I also had a wonderful meeting with Libby Cass at the National Library, where all my archives are stored. I went crazy with happiness in the Museum of Australian Democracy. I could have stayed there for two days. I adored the Museum of Australia, especially the Indigenous section, at this nail-biting moment in the life of our constitution and the lives of Aboriginal people across this land.
VOTE YES FOR THE VOICE!
Back to more mundane matters. Mundane? Books? Never! Our Dragon, highlighted in my previous post, is now on the shelves of bookshops in both America and Australia. I do hope its sweet arrival isn’t dimmed by the light shining on Possum Magic this year.
Next week: June 28th-30th, I’m in Melbourne for various media things. I’ll also be speaking to children at Monash University. I’ve written a new speech for them. Old speeches are tired and lack the dramatic adrenaline I need to deliver a talk in a lively manner. I’ve also written three other speeches recently: a celebration of a new specialist centre for children, run by Dr Sanjay Sinhal, who successfully brought our premature grandson into the world; a eulogy for the funeral of our beloved cleaning lady, Judy Stratfold; and a historical perspective on Possum Magic for the national conference of the Book People (booksellers). I loved that long look backwards. So much was revealed to me, as I wrote it, let alone to my lovely, lovely audience. Can you think of another Australian picture book that’s been available in hardback for 40 years? I’m willing to stand corrected if there is.
I write every speech out in full, and time them carefully, but I re-draft so often that I know the words well enough to appear to be merely speaking, not reading. I hope. I don’t use PowerPoint or any other any media, if I can help it. I like to keep the attention on me and my listeners, and the power of our human connection. So—I’ve been busy. And tired. As an old person I can go no further this afternoon. Pardon all errors and typos. The Great Nap is calling.
Much love, and thanks for dropping by.