I was thrilled to launch my latest book, Charlie’s War at the Queensland State Library last night, here is what I had to say:
I’d like to talk about breadcrumbs … All of us have been handed little breadcrumbs as stories from our families, or ancestors, at some point in our lives. Small fragments of information, or sometimes large pieces of a puzzle.
And you may not have picked up those potential diamonds as yet, or done anything with them, but they are waiting to be discovered, so you can to leave them as a trail for others who come after you. My granddaughter Ruby recently reminded me of the importance of storytelling in families. I was recounting a story to her, about my childhood dog, and as I was leaving, she said, ‘Could you tell me more stories when I come over on Sunday?’
Your children or your grandchildren may not be interested right now, but someday your great-grandchildren, and their children’s children, will come looking to find out where they’ve come from, so they might understand themselves better.
I began my extensive journey to Charlie Bird’s story through a breadcrumb my father, George told me many times throughout my life. George’s story is about how as a little boy, between World War I and WW II, he and his friends at the Middle Park State School in Melbourne, used their pocket money to help rebuild the Victoria School, in Villers Bretonneux in France.
This narrative ignited a fascination within me, leading to the creation of five ANZAC children’s picture books,
- Following Two Pennies I found the story of The Little Stowaway, where a little French orphan was saved from the battlefields of France in WW1, then hidden in an oat sack, and brought him to his new home to Jandowae, Queensland.
- Next came The Flying Angel – where agroup of handpicked nurses rescued injured soldiers from the frontline of Papua New Guinea WW2, and brought them safely back home to Australia.
- The Promise, another children’s picture book, is also set in Milne Bay Papua New Guinea in WW2, where a local mission nurse cared for a wounded Australian airman and brought him to safety.
- And now this book, Charlie’s War.
All of these books tell stories of determination, love, courage, kindness, compassion, and showcase how one persons’ action can make a profound difference.
My next step with these stories began when I wrote and co-produced a documentary, Never Forget Australia. This film sheds light on seven lesser known, yet poignant stories which emerged from World War 1, and reminds us of how Australian soldiers stayed to help rebuild villages in France after WW1 and as a result, the love and affection which grew between these two countries, Australian and France.
One of the significant chapters in this documentary unveils the stories of Australian Aboriginal soldiers who enlisted in this war, and through my research, I had the privilege of meeting Des Crump, and interviewed him for this documentary.
It was then that Des told me about a welcome home ceremony that was given to Charlie Bird, and George Bennett, and held at the Euraba Aboriginal settlement on the Queensland-NSW Border. He said it was one of the few welcome home ceremonies for aboriginal soldiers after The Great War. Charlie’s experience stuck with me, and together with Des, we crafted Charlie’s War, this amazing story of hope, resilience and community.
My personal connection with WWI began when I was a little girl sitting in my grandfather’s vegetable garden. Grandpa William McCauley, told me about a friendship forged in the trenches between him, and an aboriginal solider who fought alongside him in the Somme.
So when Des first told me about his Uncle Charlie, I wanted to think that Charlie Bird and William McCauley may have met somewhere on those battlefields of France, and we were connected somehow through our ancestors, unfortunately that was not to be. This story is a tribute to the 1,250 aboriginal soldiers who fought in The Great War.