Elaine Forrestal

Student life

Elaine For­re­stal pre­sent­ing at the Perth Con­ven­tion Centre

This week I have had to put all my other projects on hold and do a mas­sive catch-up with my stud­ies at UWA.

Through a major mis­un­der­stand­ing I sud­denly found myself hav­ing to pedal really hard to catch up on the read­ing for the Unit I am enrolled in this Semes­ter. For­tu­nately for me the ‘pow­ers that be’ at UWA could see how the mis­take had hap­pened and I am now almost back on track with a pre­sen­ta­tion to do on Mon­day and two assign­ments by the end of Octo­ber. There may be a cou­ple of gaps in my reg­u­lar blog posts, but I will make con­tact when­ever I can.

Wish me luck!

Prizes for Young Writers

Elaine For­re­stal con­duct­ing a writ­ing work­shop at St Mary’s Angli­can Girl’s School

On Sat­ur­day the annual Award Cer­e­mony for the Young Writer’s Con­test took place at St Mary’s Angli­can Girls’ School. It is always fas­ci­nat­ing for me to go along and see those excited young writ­ers, whose ages range from Kinder­garten to Year 12, walk­ing up onto the stage to receive their prize in front of the whole audi­ence in the The­atre at the Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre. Hav­ing read and ago­nised over their anony­mous work dur­ing the judg­ing process, I love to finally be able to match the real per­son to their story or poem. This year one of the prize win­ners in the youngest age group, K-Yr2, is a girl from a Kinder­garten class. She looked so tiny and frag­ile, walk­ing up onto that enor­mous stage, but what a strong young writer! She is def­i­nitely some­one to watch out for and hope­fully has a long writ­ing career ahead of her.

Sadly, just over a year ago, Eric Car­lin died. Eric was essen­tially the father of the Young Writer’s Con­test, hav­ing gone to The West Aus­tralian and Chan­nel 7 with the idea back in 1976, then pas­sion­ately sup­ported and guided the com­pe­ti­tion through a suc­ces­sion of changes. While oth­ers fell by the way­side, The West Aus­tralian has always remained a loyal spon­sor and, these days, promotes the con­test through its News­pa­pers in Edu­ca­tion ED! Mag­a­zine. Sev­eral years ago, when Hawai­ian and Fre­man­tle Press joined the list of spon­sors, Eric was delighted. He had always main­tained that  the win­ners should receive money prizes because he felt it added legit­i­macy to the com­pe­ti­tion. I’m glad that he lived to see the day when Hawai­ian not only agreed to con­tinue that tra­di­tion, but dou­bled the prize money!

The Young Writ­ers Con­test is the longest run­ning com­pe­ti­tion of its type in Aus­tralia and for many years now one of the high­lights of the Award Cer­e­mony has been Eric’s read­ing of the Michael Rosen poem, ‘The Choco­late Cake’. With his wicked chuckle and lots of expres­sive lip-licking and cake-eating sounds, Eric has enter­tained us with this poem, which is so evoca­tive of child­hood mem­o­ries, while pre­sent­ing the Eric Car­lin Award to the Sec­ondary School that is judged to have made the biggest con­tri­bu­tion to the com­pe­ti­tion in terms of qual­ity writ­ing from its stu­dents. As this years cer­e­mony approached our usual antic­i­pa­tion was tinged with sad­ness, not only because of the loss of Eric, but because we thought that we would never again hear the ‘The Choco­late Cake’ read out dur­ing the presentations.

Then along came a knight in shin­ing armour. Paul Dono­van, son of Syd Dono­van who, as a jour­nal­ist with The West Aus­tralian, cham­pi­oned the com­pe­ti­tion idea from the begin­ning, vol­un­teered to read the ‘The Choco­late Cake’ at this year’s cer­e­mony, as a trib­ute to Eric. it was a brave offer. Eric’s shoes were big and dif­fi­cult to fill. But to his enor­mous credit Paul, who is not unlike Eric in some ways, chan­neled his pre­de­ces­sor per­fectly. The lovely tra­di­tion which has devel­oped around the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Eric Car­lin Award can now continue.

Thank you, Paul. I’m sure that Eric is hav­ing a good chuckle, with the rest of us, whilst admir­ing your skill and courage.

Children’s Book Week, 2014

Dolly Petit’s House in the His­tor­i­cal Precinct, Albany

Offi­cially, Children’s Book Week begins tomor­row but, hap­pily as usual, I have already done some Coun­try Book Week ses­sions in Albany where I was invited to talk specif­i­cally about Black Jack Ander­son, because of his strong links with the town.

Of course an enor­mous amount has changed since Ander­son deserted the whal­ing ship he arrived on, early in 1827. But to their credit the peo­ple of Albany have man­aged to pre­serve three sig­nif­i­cant sites that are closely con­nected to the story of West­ern Australia’s only pirate.  And since I would be talk­ing to groups who may well recog­nise my pho­tos of those sites, taken while I was doing my research in the town, I decided to develop a new work­shop espe­cially for the visit.

The site of the trial of Black Jack Ander­son in 1835, in a room at the Mil­i­tary Bar­racks because there was no Court House, is now Law­ley Park. But the orig­i­nal town plan is very reveal­ing and shows where the Bar­racks were sit­u­ated, over­look­ing the harbour.

The house of Patrick Tay­lor JP, how­ever, has been pre­served and lov­ingly restored by the Albany His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety. It was there that the tor­mented Nim­ble Gim­ble knocked ner­vously on the door in 1837, two years after the death of Ander­son, and made a statu­tory dec­la­ra­tion to the JP. The events lead­ing up to the mur­der of Ander­son had been play­ing on his mind so much that Gim­ble felt the only way to be free of the dreams that haunted him was to tell what he knew. Because Gim­ble described to Patrick Tay­lor, in detail, what life was like on Mid­dle Island with Ander­son and the band of pirates we have, to this day, a reli­able eye-witness account of those peo­ple and events.

The other build­ing that has sur­vived in Albany, pre­served by the Her­itage Trust but sadly not open to the pub­lic, is the one where Dorothy Newell, Anderson’s mis­tress, lived and died. This is not her orig­i­nal fam­ily home, which was a very rough tumble-down cot­tage and was barely still stand­ing in 1835, when she returned from Mid­dle Island to try and sal­vage what was left of her fam­ily. Some years after Anderson’s death, Dorothy (who was also known as Dolly) mar­ried George Petit and moved in to what is now known as Dolly Petit’s house. Dolly sur­vived her hus­band by more than twenty years, liv­ing alone in the house and, at one time, mak­ing and sell­ing sweets from the premises. It is here that her ghost has been seen, hud­dled in a chair in front of the fire­place, on stormy win­ter nights. And some­times, also on stormy win­ter nights, a large male fig­ure is seen to come up from the sea and enter the house, which is very close to the har­bour. This fig­ure is said to go around the house, as if check­ing that all is well, before return­ing to the sea.

I don’t know about you, but I think there can be no doubt that this is the ghost of Black Jack Anderson.

Revisiting Beverley

The con­verted Road Board Office where Elaine For­re­stal lived with her fam­ily as a child.

Some ideas just grow and grow on the spot, and oth­ers take you off to the most unex­pected places.

My new inter­est in the life story of Charles Ulm and the other Aus­tralian pio­neer avi­a­tors is tak­ing me to Bev­er­ley. This small town, 143 kms from Perth on the edge of the wheat belt, is where I lived for four years dur­ing my child­hood. In the fam­ily col­lec­tion we have mul­ti­ple pho­tographs of me and my two broth­ers out­side our house, which was orig­i­nally the Road Board Office. The seat of local gov­ern­ment had already been moved to larger, more mod­ern premises and even the  name Road Board has now been replaced by Shire Coun­cil. But the actual build­ing is made of stur­dier stuff and has been con­verted to a rather unusual fam­ily dwelling. One that pre­sented some sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to my end­lessly inno­v­a­tive and thrifty mother. The large and rather grand Board Room, which was more like a ball room in size, became our lounge room. The three front win­dows, which looked out onto the street, were fif­teen feet high. My mother, a child of the depres­sion, always used the same cur­tains in every house we moved to. Bev­er­ley was the fifth, but she never regarded any of them as per­ma­nent. ‘We will just have to make do,’ was her catch cry as she let down hems, added pel­mets and solved what­ever prob­lems pre­sented them­selves in her own way.

To reach the Board Room from the street it was nec­es­sary to enter the build­ing through a tiny square porch. This porch, which was smaller than most walk-in wardrobes, had three doors. It set the tone for the rest of the house which, as I recall, was full of doors. The kitchen was so long and nar­row that it was almost pos­si­ble for my father, who was over six feet tall, to stand in the mid­dle and touch the walls on either side. The main bed­room was iden­ti­cal to this in size and shape. Nei­ther of these rooms had win­dows, just a door at either end, although I seem to remem­ber a small win­dow, which was obvi­ously a late addi­tion to the main bed­room. It looked out onto the enclosed veranda, which wrapped its pro­tec­tive arms around the core of the house on three sides. This enclosed veranda con­tained the bath­room at one end, an open laun­dry (cop­per and troughs only) on the south east cor­ner, and two bed­rooms, on long and rec­tan­gu­lar, the other short and square. Although the pro­por­tions of the house were bizarre, liv­ing in it did pro­vide my mother with a degree of lux­ury she had not had since she mar­ried my father and left the city, where they both grew up. Always a keen gar­dener, my mother inher­ited the Road Board Rose Gar­den. This col­lec­tion of mag­nif­i­cent rose bushes flour­ished in soil con­ve­niently enriched by the Avon River, which reg­u­larly broke its banks and invaded our yard. And to Mum’s even greater delight the town of Bev­er­ley was sup­plied with per­ma­nent water from the Kal­go­or­lie pipeline. She no longer had to live in con­stant fear of our rain­wa­ter tanks run­ning dry. Those years she spent in the drier, north­ern wheat belt towns did, how­ever, develop in her a habit she could never quite shake off. The fam­ily returned to live in Perth, but for the rest of her long life she could not bring her­self to waste a sin­gle drop of water.

When I go to Bev­er­ley next week to visit the Aero­nau­ti­cal Museum, I will be research­ing those mag­nif­i­cent men, our Aussie heroes who went where no man had ever gone before. But for me it will be a nos­tal­gia trip as well.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Elaine For­re­stal with copies of To See the World: a voy­age of dis­cov­ery aboard the sail­ing ship Uranie.

The CBC WA is a remark­able group of vol­un­teers who pro­mote children’s books and read­ing while also pro­vid­ing a range of oppor­tu­ni­ties for authors and illus­tra­tors to con­nect with their read­ers. Dur­ing the week I had the great plea­sure of shar­ing my research and talk­ing about my book, To See the World with the CBCWA Book Dis­cus­sion Group. While I always enjoy talk­ing about my books it is par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing when the audi­ence is as well informed, knowl­edgable and inter­ested as this one.

Of course we didn’t only talk about To See the World. My lat­est project, which is still in its infancy and has the work­ing title of Those Mag­nif­i­cent Men, also came in for some dis­cus­sion and com­ment. This will be, I hope, a bio­graph­i­cal fic­tion telling the story of Charles Ulm. He was a pio­neer avi­a­tor who flew with Charles Kings­ford Smith, as co-pilot, on all of his early recored-breaking flights. Together they were the first men to fly across the Pacific Ocean, the Tas­man Sea and the first to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent by air. Like the sto­ries of Black Jack Ander­son and Rose de Freycinet, this one is also full of adven­ture. Between 1926 and 1934 these men flew incred­i­ble dis­tances through every kind of storm — dust, rain, hail, even ice and snow (dur­ing the Tas­man cross­ing). They often flew through the night, with only the stars to guide them. Their plane, the redoubtable South­ern Cross, had an open cock­pit and only the most rudi­men­tary instru­ments. There were times when they had to land on incred­i­bly small patches of ground and take off from long beaches because run­ways, when they existed, were not long enough. Firmly believ­ing that avi­a­tion was the way of the future they per­formed hair-raising stunts, in those most basic of planes, to raise pub­lic aware­ness and estab­lish reg­u­lar air ser­vices for pas­sen­gers and freight. Then, dur­ing a flight from Amer­ica to Aus­tralia in 1934, Charles Ulm and his plane dis­ap­peared with­out trace. His son, John, was only 13 years old when he lost his father, who was not only his hero, but one of  Australia’s bravest pioneers.

So stay tuned. You will be hear­ing a lot more about those mag­nif­i­cent men, Charles Ulm and Charles Kings­ford Smith, in the near future.