Meeting Kate DiCamillo…

I went to listen to Kate DiCamillo at the Wheeler Centre last June. Yes, I know, where have I been, that was ages ago. Well, I had my website re-done and I didn’t like it and it’s attached to my blog which I couldn’t access, so it’s a long, long story.

Anyway, my point is I haven’t stopped thinking about Kate since, nor the advice she gave.

Me & Kate(can you see how ridiculously thrilled I am to meet Kate?!!)

Kate spoke about the difficulties of writing. This had me on the edge of my seat, writers like her had difficulties? This was a revelation. I just assumed beautiful words just flowed from her fingertips. Not so. It’s complex, she tells us.

Then she quoted Dorothy Parker, and I love her even more.

‘I hate writing, but I love having written’

Kate writes two pages at 5am every morning. At this hour, when all is muted and quiet, she has a foot in each world. She journals, goes back to earlier pieces and works her way through things. She writes without an outline, she has names and scenes and finds her way. She says she cannot make herself talented, but she can do the work. She asks herself, am I afraid or am I lazy? She admits to both but always pushes forward, focusing on one day at a time, then a week, getting to know her characters until they take over.

The first draft is often a mess and it always takes seven drafts before a novel goes to an editor.

Kate tells us to commit to writing and to find a way to do the work. Keep our minds open and our hearts and ears and eyes.

The Miraculous journey of Edward Tulane is one of my all time favourite books. It’s achingly heart breaking and the first time I read it, I sobbed the whole way through it. Kate’s connection to Edward is so visceral and real, for anyone who’s loved a dolly, a bunny or a teddy bear, this is the book for you.

Edward Tulane was inspired by a gift. Kate was given a rabbit doll. A very large rabbit doll. It freaked her out but she dreamt about it underwater one night and the story started from this image. It was a picture book, but the story unfolded and told itself, becoming a novel.

TheMiraculousJourneyofEdwardTulane

Kate makes time to read every day, she’s most present when she’s reading.

Daydreaming is essential to every writer as it ‘maximum’ staring (I love this).

Leave your phone off and don’t talk about your work. You’ll jinx it. Just sit down and do it.

Thank you Kate DiCamillo. See you at Christmas…ha ha ha 

About the novel ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost.

 

Edward sinking

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hobos camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle: even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

Candlewick Press, 2006
Ages 7 and up, ISBN 0-7636-2589-2

Kate DiCamillo is one of the United States’ leading junior fiction and illustrated fiction authors for children. She has sold over 22 million copies worldwide, with books translated into 41 languages.

Kate is one of only six people to have won two prestigious Newbery Medals, awarded by the American Library Association, for The Tale of Despereaux (2003) and Flora and Ulysses (2013). Kate recently completed her two year appointment as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature 2014–2015. She is the fourth US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

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Interview with Andrew McLean ‘Fabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’

Today, I’d like to welcome Andrew McLean to my blog.

Andrew McLean is one of Australia’s best-loved and most highly awarded illustrators of children’s books. His CBCA award-winning titles include You’ll Wake the Baby!, My Dog and Reggie, Queen of the Street, and he has also illustrated a number of picture books with his writer wife, Janet.  

And I’m thrilled to say Andrew has illustrated our new picture bookFabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’

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1. Andrew, what was it that attracted you to the story of Fabish?

As soon as I read the manuscript I was hooked. Fabish is set in a real place, about a real event and real people and animals. I felt an immediate connection to the story.

Fabish is a moving story, beautifully written. Your empathy with and knowledge of horses is obvious. There many descriptive passages about the atmospherics that can’t be illustrated, like the heat, the wind, the crackling of the fire, the rattling of the roof.

In a picture book the two elements of words and pictures have to work together. I often take a cinematic approach to illustrating a picture book. Fabish lent itself to that way of working. And of course it had a moving and satisfying ending.

2. Tell us about the process you went through to choose the right medium and the grade of paper to illustrate Fabish?
Over the years I have used all sorts of different papers. Basically, for watercolour painting, there is hot press, that is more heavily sized, smoother and harder that cold press, which is less heavily sized and often has a texture or tooth to it. I have found that hot press is great for illustration that requires detail, but it is a less forgiving paper when taking a wash than cold press that leaves softer marks.

Because there is a lot of landscape in the story I chose cold press because it is rougher and more suitable for an impressionistic approach.

Recently I purchased quite a lot of paper of the heaviest weight available (640 gsm). This means that I don’t have to stretch it. Stretching is done by wetting a sheet and gluing it to a smooth clean board with gummed tape. This can be time consuming and not always successful, i.e. one side might pulls away as it dries, so you have to undo it and start again. This is very frustrating. I am happy to pay more for the paper and avoid the heartache and wasted time of stretching

3. How did you find the experience of drawing a bushfire?
The experience of painting the bushfire was challenging. There was no shortage of bushfire pictures and videos, so I had lots of material to work with. I used watercolour mostly, but used pastel, wax crayons, and white paint at times to leave crisper marks on the paper to represent shooting sparks, etc. For the aftermath I used charcoal (burnt wood). This was perfect for the tree trunks, and when combined with pastel, was great for creating smoke effects.

You’ve done an amazing job, Andrew, the bushfire scenes feel real.

4. How long did it take you to do the illustrations?
My recent process has involved using my iPad to do the roughs. First, I draw on paper with pencil or charcoal to size of the book then photograph the drawing and import it into an App called Sketch Club on my iPad.

Andrew at work with support from his team

Andrew at work with support from his team

This allows me to paint much faster than with real paint on paper. With Sketch Club I can paint intuitively using just my finger. This is different from the working on the Photoshop or Illustrator Apps, that requires computer knowledge that I don’t have. As I do each rough on Sketch Club I can email it directly to the publisher, and get useful feed back as I go along. It also means I have a colour rough when it comes to doing the final artwork. I aim to complete the roughs in about three months, and the final artwork in four to six months. As I get older I seem to be working smarter – not having the repeat drawings so much.

5. Tell us about drawing horses?

With the drawing of horses I had a lot assistance from Degas. He drew horses like no-one else.

Horsemen, rainy weather, 1886, Glasgow Museums and Art Gallery , Ecosse

Horsemen, rainy weather, 1886,
Glasgow Museums and
Art Gallery , Ecosse

Before Edwearde Muybridge (and he was weird) painters tended to paint moving horses like merry-go-round horses – with two legs stretched out in front and two legs stretched out behind. (Incidentally, when Muybridge found out the child born to his younger wife was not his, he sought out the real father and shot him dead. He was acquitted, the jury being of the opinion that the adulterer had it coming to him).

Anyway, Muybridge was paid by a wealthy San Fransisco horse owner to try and prove whether at some stage when running horses had all of their feet off the ground. He built a long shed, with a gridded wall on one side and a battery of cameras at close intervals on the opposite side as it ran through the shed. If you place photographs in the order they were taken and flick them rapidly you will see an image of a moving horse, with its feet off the ground at a certain point.

Eadweard Muybridge, Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 626, thoroughbred bay mare "Annie G." galloping

Eadweard Muybridge, Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 626, thoroughbred bay mare “Annie G.” galloping

He certainly changed the way artists painted horses. Now they had photos that froze them in mid-stride, no more merry-go-round horses.

Wow, that’s fascinating stuff, Andrew.

A big thank you to you, Neridah, for writing this wonderful story and to the editor Sue Flockhart, the designer, Sandra Nobes and all at Allen and Unwin for doing such a marvelous job with the production. The look and feel of the book is beautiful.

Thanks Andrew, it’s been my pleasure. And yes, I agree, a big thank to everyone at A&U.

Thanks for coming onto my blog today. I’ll keep you posted when the date of the book launch has been finalised.

‘Fabish: the horse that braved a Bushfire’ can be found in any good bookstore w/c 29th July
Category: Picture books
ISBN: 9781925266863
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: August 2016
Page Extent: 32
Format: Hard Cover
Age: 6 – 9

 

Coral Vass and her new picture book ‘Meet Don Bradman’

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I feel very lucky today to welcome Coral Vass to my blog to celebrate the launch of her latest book. It’s part of the Random House ‘Meet Series’ about the extraordinary men and women who have shaped Australia’s history.

Meet…Don Bradman is a children’s picture book about cricket’s greatest ever batsman, Sir Donald Bradman. It’s the story of how he first came to play for Australia, and how his record-breaking feats in the Ashes series became a source of pride and hope during the hard years of the Great Depression.

As we’re huge cricket fans, it’s very exciting to see more picture books about cricket!

Coral’s book has been beautifully illustrated by Brad Howe. Don’t you think his style suits the era of this story perfectly? I do.

Congratulations Coral and Brad – it’s such a beautiful book.

Now Coral, tell me…

  1. Were you a cricket fan before you wrote this book? 

I wouldn’t say I was a die-hard fan, but I have always enjoyed watching cricket on TV. My three sons however, utterly love everything there is to love about cricket.

And since writing this book, I have gained so much more appreciation for the game.

How good is that?

  1. What did your research involve?

I had a lot of fun researching the life and career of Sir Donald Bradman. The internet is not always a reliable resource, so I visited the libraries frequently; borrowing countless books on Bradman, as well as watching old footage of the game and various interviews.

Sounds like great fun.

  1. What was the most interesting fact you found out about Sir Donald Bradman?

Despite his relatively quick rise to fame, Donald Bradman actually had many knock backs. Most Australian cricket selectors initially didn’t see his cricketing potential; thinking his batting style was unconventional. But with persistence, hard work and a little bit of luck, Donald went on to become cricket’s greatest ever batsman. Don’s story offers a great message of hope, hard work and persistence for all children.

What a fabulous fact? I did not know that…

  1. What was the best part about working with Brad Howe and Random House?

It was an absolute honour and thrill to be given the opportunity to profile such an amazing Australian legend. And watching Brad Howe bring this story to life with his phenomenal illustrations was a joy.

Brad’s illustrations work perfectly with your text, Coral.

  1. Did your opinion of Don Bradman change or deepen as you wrote the book?

My appreciation of Donald Bradman grew immensely as I researched and wrote this book. I definitely have much more admiration and a deeper respect for him as a sportsman and a person, as I gained insight into his character. As well as being a phenomenal talent, Sir Donald Bradman was a man of enormous integrity and humility.

  1. What was the most challenging part of the project?

The most challenging part was making sure I got it right. The hardest thing about writing non-fiction is checking, double checking and triple checking that all the details are correct. Added to that was the pressure of writing about and making sure the story honoured this extraordinary man -Sir Donald Bradman.

I definitely think you’ve got it right. Well done you.

Coral Vass and Brad How‘s book ‘Meet Don Bradman’ can be purchased from any good bookstore.

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So, as Molly would say, do yourself a favour…and go out and get it!

‘Meet Don Bradman’ written by Coral Vass and illustrated by Brad Howe

ISBN: 9781925324891
Published: 18/04/2016
Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s
– See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/coral-vass/meet-donald-bradman-9781925324891.aspx#sthash.wBX24DC4.dpuf

Month of Poetry 2016

6th January

 ‘Saudade’

A yearning

for childhood.

As days merge

Into one another.

No concept of

passing time.

Days are of

no consequence.

Loved in a way

that will never

come again.

I watch my son.

So achingly sweet

As history

repeats itself,

And my childhood

becomes his.         

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‘Saudade’ is a Galician Portuguese word with no direct translation into English. It’s a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.

 

Month of Poetry 2016

Shark alarm went off at PF today. Scared the pants off us, but it was only a small, white tipped reef shark. Happy to get out of the water though 🙂

5th January

‘Underwater’

 I’m underwater.

Bobbing, floating.

Swaying with

the kelp

Flowing

with the tide,

the swell.

Wrapped in

muted silence.

Fizzing salt.

Clicks and squeaks.

Popping ears.

My heart beats.

Lungs burning.

Re-surfacing –

Where is everybody?

I’m alone.

Swimming in,

people splashing,

frantic wading,

foaming white water.

Shark alarm!

I must have been

Underwater…

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Image: Ron & Valerie Taylor ‘Shadow Shark’

 

 

Month of Poetry 2016

4th January 2016

‘Hope’

A bird awakes

inside her chest.

Cautiously,

it spreads it’s wings,

amazed to find

it’s still alive.

It wants out.

It wants to burst

from her chest,

taking her heart

with it,

Soaring up

into the sky.

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(I would so love to give credit to the person who took this pic, but I found it on someones Pinterest board.  Well, whoever you are, thank you)

 

Month of Poetry 2016

Last year I did a poetry challenge for the month of January, created and convened by Kathryn Apel.

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The idea was to write a poem a day. Every Saturday there was a poetry challenge where you get to write in a different style of poetry. It’s great fun and it’s oh so challenging. It was quite inspiring and it gave my writing a real kick start for the year. I’ve had six poems published since (all from MoP2015) and I’m still polishing some of them.

So, this year I’d thought I’d have another crack at MoP2016. I’ve stuck with the same group of writerly buddies I made last year and we have our own FB page where we publish them. Unfortunately, it’s a closed page, so I thought I’d post my poems here, on my blog, as the month progresses.

I encourage anybody who wants to write poetry to do this challenge. It gets you into good writing habits and it’s a real opportunity to get your work critiqued, and trust me, you get some excellent feedback from some fabulous poets. So be BRAVE and do it!

This is my first poem for MoP2016…my youngest (11 years) stayed up on NY to see his first fireworks. He slept in in the morning but he was totally wrecked.

1st January 2016

‘Happy New Year’

A barking dog,

most likely ours

wakes those

sleeping in.

My youngest

staggers,

aimlessly,

down the hall.

Hair salty stiff,

Sticking up,

At all angles.

Dark circles,

Shadow his eyes.

His first fireworks.

A proud moment,

staying up so late.

Happy New Year, Mum.

And he tumbles

towards me

curling up

in my arms,

as he falls

sound

asleep.

Our first poetry challenge for MoP2016 was the french form of poetry, the ‘Villanelle’ It’s a fascinating structure and, quite frankly, I found it terrifying. I don’t mind what I’ve come up with though…

I have a cheeky little Jack Russell who often nicks off on me…so it was inspired by him.

2nd January 2016

‘Come back!’

I hollered and yelled, come back!

But he scarpered off without a look,

Into the wildness, dark and black.

 

The little devil changed his tack,

Through the marren grass he took.

I hollered and yelled, come back!

 

I searched my pockets for a snack.

Running hard I saw a white foot.

I hollered and yelled, come back!

 

I hoped he’d run along the beach track

So I doubled back around the brook.

I hollered and yelled, come back!

 

Thunder boomed, a frightening crack,

A dash of white blurred and shook,

Into the wildness, dark and black.

 

Come back, my naughty little Jack,

Not sure how much longer I can look.

I hollered and yelled, come back!

Into the wildness, dark and black.

 

3rd January 2016

(I love being back home in the country for our summer holiday)

‘Country Quiet’

Something

was missing.

She felt dizzy.

Her ears hummed.

Relief dawned.

No rush of cars,

No clanking trams,

No roar of the trains.

No buzz of air conditioners.

None of the whirr

and grumble of millions

of machines,

transmissions, lifts, escalators.

No reversing trucks,

trains braking,

heels on gravel or stone.

No base driven music

From hoods two

doors down.

No crackle of skateboards.

No clatter of scooters.

Sunday quietness.

No droning,

booming.

No artificial light,

fake oxygen,

glowing screens,

information overload.

Clean air,

bursting lungs,

popping ears.

Unfamiliar,

peace.

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This is the view from my desk looking onto our little cottage garden. So many birds…it’s so peaceful. No excuse for not writing 🙂

 

Interview with Children’s Writer, Coral Vass, and Illustrator, Heidi Cooper about their new picture book ‘Two Birds on a Wire’

Hi Coral and Heidi, thank you for coming onto my blog today.

Congratulations on your new picture book ‘Two Birds on a Wire’. It’s a beauty. I’ve already had  the pleasure of reading it as Coral was our guest author for July at KOALA Kids Book Club and it was a huge hit with the children.

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Firstly, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, Coral…

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How did come up with the idea for Two Birds on a Wire?

TWO BIRDS ON A WIRE is about two birds, perched on the same wire, both refusing to share the space. I think ‘sharing’ is a universal struggle. And so, one day while watching two little birds fighting with each other up on a wire, I was inspired to write this story.

Cool.

Do you ever get stuck for rhyming words, and if so, how do you move forward from there?

I love writing in rhythm and rhyme. I visit www.rhymes.net and www.thesaurus.com frequently to help me find the BEST word in a sentence. There is nothing worse than an awkward rhyme, so if I can’t find the right word with the right rhythm, I will change the sentence altogether.

 Now, that’s sound advice.

Who’s been the greatest influence in your writing life?

I adore the work of Lynley Dodd and Dr Seuss. Their stories are clever, the rhyming is impeccable and the books are a delight to read.

Is there a book that you’ve read that rocked your world?

There are so many great books around, but there is only one that has stood the test of time….the Bible!

Of course!

And Heidi, I’ve got a few questions for you too, hang on a tick…

HeidiAboutMe

As this is your first foray into children’s picture book illustration, how did the opportunity come to illustrate ‘Two Birds on a Wire?

I’m amazed at how fortunate I have been! When I stumbled across Tania McCartney’s 52 week illustration challenge group in January 2014, I started drawing regularly for the first time since leaving University 20 years ago.

Six months later, I received a message from Koala Books through my Facebook page, asking if I’d like to do a sketch test. The Art Director had been watching the challenge wall and noticed my work. At the time I didn’t realise how big a deal that message was… until the manuscript came through and it was by the wonderfully talented Coral Vass, whose books I had in my collection. I was astounded, and have never been more nervous about creating a drawing!

Luckily Koala books loved the sketch, and a few weeks later I had signed the contract. I’m still pinching myself!

That’s awesome. I love hearing stories like this.

I note on your blog your choice of medium, was coffee one of them? How do you use it?

Coffee is very underrated as a medium. I know some amazing artists who use it like watercolour – mixing up different strengths (using instant coffee) then applying it like paint. I’ve only ever used it as a preliminary wash (after masking very light areas) to give the illustration a uniform warmth and an antique feel. It’s a beautiful colour and gives a slight sheen and texture.

Who has been your greatest artistic influence?

That’s a tricky one. There are illustrators I absolutely love – such as David Roberts and Freya Blackwood – but I don’t try to emulate their styles so I’m not sure I’d say I’m influenced by them. I think my biggest artistic influence is the 52wk challenge! I’m on the admin team now and I frequently look through the wonderful variety of illustrations posted every day. Group members are usually very generous when it comes to sharing their methods and mediums.

The 52 Week Illustration Challenge does look challenging! I imagine it would keep you disciplined though. Check out some of Heidi’s gorgeous artwork here…

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Tell us about your next project?

I have a couple of projects in the works, but I’m most excited about a joint submission I’m working on – the manuscript is simply brilliant and I’m really enjoying bringing it to life!

Good on you Heidi, I hope it all goes well.

You can see more of Heidi’s artwork here on her website. It’s just beautiful!

A big thank you to Heidi Cooper, and my buddy, Coral Vass, for allowing me to interview them and post it on my blog today. I hope that ‘Two Birds on a Wire’ does awesomely well for you both. I’m sure it will, as all children squabble, and they will definitely see themselves in this story…

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Outback Adventure

I should have blogged this awhile back…never got around to it. I still want to talk about though. So here goes…

Back in April, I had a funny feeling wash over me…another footy season had arrived. It just felt same old, same old. Now, I love my footy but with three footy loving boys and a husband involved with the greatest football team in the world (the Collingwood Football Club), I needed a change of scenery to get me through.

I had to see and do something different…and soon…

I explained this to my husband, who looked completely dumbfounded (this is coming from a man who watches AFL 360 every night and never misses a game of footy – how can one ever get enough football?). So, my husband asked ‘What would you like to do?’

I was reading The Age Travel Section at the time and pointed to an ad for outback adventures. I couldn’t go for long…too much family stuff happening. But, here was a perfect weekend away…with Australian Air Holidays.

A flight over Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Rangers, a night in a cave in Coober Pedy (never been there), a ‘low and slow’ flight over Lake Eyre (I had been absolutely dying to see this since my parents had travelled there in 2009), Warburton Groove, Goyder Lagoon and the famous Simpson Desert, with lunch in Birdsville before flying home. Perfect!

So, this was my birthday weekend. All by myself…

I made some lovely new friends, and yes, okay, they were all over the age of 60 years, but we had a ball. I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed the flight, everyone was so interesting and engaging and they all had wonderful stories to tell, and the…

‘Mrs. McMullin, would you like another cup of tea?’ (man, I could get used to this). ‘Don’t mind if I do, thank you.’

And as I took pics of everything, I appeared to score the best seat on the plane for every leg of the trip.

Wiplena Pound, South Australia

Wiplena Pound, South Australia

I got such a shock in Coober Pedy. The colour of the sky, the vivid red of the desert, the piles of dirt and holes everywhere. It looked so unfamiliar and lunar. And the horizon was vast, a 360 degree view. The wide openness. I loved it. I could breath out here.

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When I quizzed the locals about Opal Mining (Coober Pedy produces 95% of the worlds opals), they said:

‘Nah, no opals out here, love. There’s nothing out here.’

And yet there were holes absolutely everywhere?

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And there were these signs…

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‘Why don’t you just fill them in?’ I asked one local.

‘Oh,’ as if they’d never thought of that? They must have been having me on.

I’d been writing a piece about ‘The Cattle King’ Sir Sydney Kidman and I’d read about how cattle thrived on ‘cotton bush’ and ‘saltbush’. I’d never seen these plants before. And from Prahran, that was kinda hard to imagine. So to be able to see these plants and to be able to touch them and smell them was fabulous (yeah, I know, I gotta get out more).

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On the way to Lake Eyre we flew over Anna Creek Station (still owned by Sydney Kidman’s family) and the Anna Painted Hills. It was just beautiful, check out the colours…it’s from water run off and oxide minerals in the soil.

Painted-Hills-51

I was initially a little disappointed when we flew over Lake Eyre. Only two weeks before the water had completely dried up from the big fill of 2009. All the birds had gone, but as my guide pointed out, the beauty of the drying salt lake was amazing.

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Patterns made by nature, algae, evaporation, wind and cracked crystalline salt were just wonderful.

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And the maze of tributaries of the Goyder Lagoon was spectacular.

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Lunch at Birdsville was fun, the scenery harsh but beautiful.

Anyway, I loved my outback experience…everything I saw, the people I met…all fuel for the imagination and yes, after my adventure, I happily settled back in to another footy season with my boys.