26 May 2023

Canberra author tackles the children's book game – and scores

| Sally Hopman
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Man with glasses

From farmer to rugby player to public servant – Canberra’s Bruce Walker is now a children’s book author. Photo: Supplied.

As a sheep farmer, rugby player and public servant, Bruce Walker was always likely to have a few yarns up his sleeve.

Bruce, who spent his early years on a sheep property near Mountain Creek just outside Yass, collected these stories over the years. Some, particularly the rugby ones, probably best suited to an older audience.

“I played rugby for about 30 years,” the author, known as “Cookie” in local sporting circles said. “It could be a bit of a rough job sometimes, a bit verbal.”

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Bruce had been storing up such yarns in his head for years. But in the early 2000s he twigged there must have been a reason such tales always stayed with him.

“Back then, there was a story going around about an elephant and a centipede playing rugby,” he said. “It’s the sort of thing you don’t forget. It was doing the rounds as a bit of a joke.”

It struck a chord with Bruce who said he started writing about it himself – all rhyming verses. And he didn’t stop until he hit 50.

Book cover

The World’s Greatest Tackle is the first book for Canberra author Bruce Walker. Photo: Supplied.

He initially wrote it for his sons Grady, Clayton and Ty. And based on some good feedback, he ran it by the publisher Woodslane Press – resulting in the happiest of endings. (That is, after the publisher suggested he cut back the 50 verses to a more child-friendly number).

His first book, which appeals to children of all ages, The World’s Greatest Tackle, has just been published.

It features stunning illustrations by artist Nettie Lodge – “I couldn’t have done this without her,” Bruce said. “She brought the whole thing together.”

The illustrations bring the book to life: their bright, happy colours making even the largest of the animals, despite playing such a physical game, bordering on cuddle-able. From the yellow elephant with green boots to the lion in striped socks who flattens everything in sight with the hairiest of paws, the animal characters are hard to resist.

Bruce tells a unique story about a great Aussie pastime – what could be an ordinary tale if not for the magic he weaves through it.

Woman with glasses

Artist Nettie Lodge has illustrated Bruce Walker’s new children’s book. Photo: Supplied.

It’s the story of a game of footy in which the insects of the world take on the animals. The match, most years, ends with the insects being trampled into a mess. But one year, it was all to change – and become the world’s greatest tackle.

Sure, the lion flattened the cricket and the cockroach proved no match for the bear and bull, followed by a steady, squashy departure of almost every other insect.

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You could just imagine the sad, slow trail they took to nurse their wounds, physically and emotionally, into, we’re guessing, the refreshment tent.

You’d think the story ends there, but in Bruce’s book, not so much. No-one had prepared them for the centipede – and what would happen after the lifetime or so it took for him to lace up all those football boots.

“I wrote this for my boys,” he said. “But other people seem to like the book, too.

“That’s really what it’s all about.”

The World’s Greatest Tackle will be launched at the Book Cow, Kingston, at 2 pm on Saturday 3 June.

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