9 November 2023

The Canberra Bookshelf: celebrations and farewells for beloved local writers

| Barbie Robinson
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Samantha Tidy's When Grandma Burnt Her Bra book cover

Samantha Tidy’s When Grandma Burnt Her Bra is a cheerful book with a message for children. Image: Supplied.

Since moving to Canberra from WA, Samantha Tidy has established herself in the writing and publishing arenas. She’s known and respected in those circles for her energy and commitment to adult and children’s literature.

She leaves us this Christmas for the coast and will be much missed. But she’s also gifted us two new picture books, including When Grandma Burnt Her Bra, illustrated and designed by Design by Aśka (askastorytelling.com) and published by EK Books.

This picture book takes us back to the days of women activists through the eyes of a child, Maggie, who is trying to make sense of her grandmother’s world.

Through the metaphor of bra burning, inequalities for women in history and in the present are highlighted – rates of pay, attitudes to the roles and occupations suitable for women, division of domestic tasks, the right to vote, childcare.

The metaphor of the dinosaur is also employed to make the point – outmoded attitudes belong in the realm of palaeontology, according to Grandma. Soon the child narrator takes up the cause.

Aśka’s bright and expressive pictures with their comic book style work well with Samantha’s jaunty text. They also tell their own story, including the press photo-like image of the marching women.

This is a strong artistic pairing. I especially like the maturity of the language both creators use; they assume the intelligence and curiosity of their readers.

It’s the sort of book that will eventually send young readers to other places for information. The content is age appropriate and hence avoids some of the darkest issues affecting women whilst allowing enough outrage to stir the imagination and perhaps action of the youthful audience.

We join Sam celebrating a new adventure.

Sam Vincent's My Father and Other Animals book cover.

Sam Vincent’s My Father and Other Animals is an engaging local memoir. Image: Supplied.

It is also cause for celebration when our regional writers are recognised in a bigger arena. So cheers for Sam Vincent whose My Father and Other Animals has been shortlisted in the PM’s Literary Awards for 2023 Non Fiction category.

The book has been re-released this year by Black Inc, an imprint of Schwartz Books Pty Ltd with a new cover design by Akiko Chan (cover image Getty/221A).

Sam’s memoir/philosophy about country, community and heritage is a highly readable work which has us both laughing at the author’s self-deprecatory accounts of his introduction to sustainable farming and deeply considering matters of succession, inheritance and First Nations connection with the land.

On one level it is a fond and humorous homage to his dad and mum, whose Gollion Farm he now runs in the hills north of Canberra. Gollion operates with reference to the practices and principles of the likes of Peter Andrews and Charles Massy.

In telling stories of his youth, ineptness at farming and practical pursuits, Sam also points to the inventiveness and resourcefulness of his dad, who could turn his hand to anything, inventing things he needed if they did not exist commercially. What comes through is the author’s sense of inadequacy in the face of so many frequent, repetitive and gruelling “uncitified” jobs.

Amidst tales of farting cows, graphic accounts of calf birthing and eccentric methods of pump priming, there is the serious business of Indigenous ownership.

Gollion under Sam has formally recognised parts of the farm as Aboriginal land, including the renaming/reclaiming of Bald Hill to its Aboriginal name Derrawa Dhaura.

For countless centuries, the ochre quarry on the property provided material for important traditional ceremonies and in 2019 was officially declared the 13th Aboriginal place on a private property.

In discussing these issues of succession, dispossession, inheritance, sustainable practices and community, the author raises much more significant matters than a mere memoir might.

The book is both community history and personal musing, a delight for the reader with its candour and thoughtful examination of things too often left unsaid.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station at livingartscanberra.com.au.

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