Kathryn Favelle: Good afternoon and welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Kathryn Favelle, and I'm Director of Reader Services and I'm really delighted that you have joined us for this National Library Fellowship presentation.  

To begin, I acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and I give my respect to elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

Today's presentation, ‘Christobel Mattingley: Life, worlds, words’, will be delivered by Dr Melanie Duckworth, a 2024 National Library of Australia Fellow. Our distinguished Fellowships program supports researchers to make intensive use of the National Library's rich collections through residencies of up to 12 weeks. These residencies are made possible by generous philanthropic support, and we're grateful to the Stokes family for making Melanie's fellowship possible.  

Dr Duckworth is Associate Professor of English Literature at Østfold University College in Norway. Her research focuses on the overlapping fields of Australian literature, children's literature, and echo criticism, with a particular interest in Indigenous literature and contemporary poetry. Melanie's published widely on these topics, and her recently co-edited anthology, “Storying Plants in Australian Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Roots and Winged Seeds”, touches upon all of them.  

Her fellowship however, has focused on the life of Christobel Mattingley, the much loved award-winning Australian children's author. And I know my colleagues and I, there are some of us here in the Library who well remember meeting Christobel, and having lunch with her and David in Bookplate, and occasionally receiving the odd acerbic email from her as well. Melanie's been delving into our extensive collection of Mattingley's manuscripts, papers, and published works, many of which are now out of print, as she begins to write a literary biography of one of Australia's grade children's writers. Please join me in welcoming Dr Melanie Duckworth. 

Melanie Duckworth: Okay, I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal People as the traditional custodians of the land we're meeting on today, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. And also extend my respect to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be here or listening online.  

I'd like to thank the Stokes family for the fellowship that has enabled me to be here today. I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I'd like to thank all the Library staff, Sharyn, Simone, Kathryn, and all the others, for organising everything so smoothly and being so welcoming. I also want to mention the other fellows I've been fortunate to work alongside, in particular, the three women biographers who are all here at the same time. Eleanor Hogan, Susan Wyndham, and Bernadette Brennan; that was a real treat being here with the three of them. I want to thank Christobel Mattingley's children, at least one of them I know is listening right now, Rosemary, Christopher, and Steven, for supporting my project with such enthusiasm and allowing me to access Christobel's archives.  

I've so enjoyed being here in Canberra, and I've also felt that the galahs and white cockatoos that flock around the Library, birds that Christobel loved and wrote about in some of her books, have been keeping me company.  

And I need to put a word in for my family. My three school aged children, got one of them here, for enduring all sorts of disruption. My husband back in Norway, for having some time alone with them and some time alone without them. And my parents who've gone above and beyond in helping to care for my kids and for me, and whom I'm very pleased to have at least one of them here with me today.  

The other thing I need, I'd like to say before I begin, is that I do have a stammer, which may or may not be evident in this talk. And I find that it's helpful often to kinda mention that at the beginning and then I can stop wondering when someone's going to notice it.  

Okay, and this also brings me to my first meeting with Christobel. She used to give a lot of talks in schools and she came to visit my school in Mount Gambier in July of 1996 when I was in year 12. We all sat in the school library and listened. She talked about how when she was a child, she had been shy about speaking, an issue exacerbated by having to change schools several times as her family moved around for her father's work. Although speaking was sometimes challenging, the written word gave her the freedom and the power to say anything she liked. I related to this very deeply and I still do.  

Okay. The title I chose for my project, ‘Life, worlds, words’, was meant to indicate that while I wanted to research Christobel's life, the ultimate aim is to write her biography, I also want us to pay attention to the words she used and the way she used them. Words written and spoken from the core of Christobel's work. Like Christobel herself, I'm partial to a bit of alliteration, but worlds here also serves a purpose. As well as writing children's books, Christobel wrote biographies, and she was deeply attuned to the worlds and the voices of the people she encountered and the people she wrote books for.  

Christobel believed passionately in oral history. She was a skilled interviewer, and sought in her books to honour the voices, the worlds, and the words of those who spoke with her. I'm not gonna have too much time today to talk about her biographies, but I've put some covers up on this slide to give you a sense of some of the people who she wrote about, and she’s actually written an engaging article about the experience, and I've listed it here on the slide. And it's available as an electronic resource from the Library, you can all access it. And it's called “A Country Post-Mistress, Women Artists, Aboriginal People, a Tin Miner, a Bomber Pilot, a Refugee: Publishing Their Stories”.  

The story of discovering and claiming the power of words, especially written words, is a story returned to in several of Christobel's` picture books. In “Tucker's Mob”, an Aboriginal boy, Sam, who likes to draw but is still learning to read, makes his very first book in Creole with his teacher's help. In “The Race”, a deaf boy, Greg, meets a teacher who notices his difficulty hearing. Greg can run fast but can never win a race, until his teacher changes the start signal from a whistle to a visual sign. Christobel's original title for “The Race” was “Lost and Found”, and what is lost and found are words. And I quote, ‘He knew she would help him find what he had lost before, the other words he somehow didn't hear.’ And in the autobiographical unpublished "Big Sister, Little Sister" a little sister who is shy and quiet feels as though big sister has spoken all the words, smiled all the smiles, there are none left for her. But when she goes to school and learns to read, her life changes. The original manuscript ends ‘soon she would know how to write all the words for everything she was too shy to say’. And that's an image of Christobel and her sister.  

Okay. I've realised that as I've been speaking with people about my project, that a lot of people these days haven't heard of of Christobel Mattingley. So now I give a very brief overview of her life and major achievements. Christobel Mattingley nee Shepley, born 1931 and dying in 2019, was a much loved award-winning Australian children's writer. She was the author of more than 50 books, most of them for children, on topics such as social justice, refugees, and the environment. She published picture books, children's novels, adolescent fiction, and biographies, and the occasional poem. She was particularly known for her books for younger readers, the long picture book or the short, a novel. And she had a knack of capturing a child's perspective on everyday family family dramas. She was also an advocate for Indigenous Australians, researching and editing "Survival in Their Own Land", 1998, " Maralinga: the Aṉangu Story ", 2009, in which she worked together with the Aṉangu people to tell the story of British nuclear testing on their lands.  

And despite Christobel's prolific publications spanning the years 1970 to 2017, there's been surprisingly little critical engagement with her work. She received the Advanced Australia Award for service to literature in 1990, and in 1996 was made a member of the Order of Australia for service to literature and and social justice. And she also received honoree and doctorates from the University of South Australia in 1995, and the University of Tasmania in 2015. She was nominated for the prestigious Hans Christian Anderson Award in 2011. Despite this, Christobel never received the recognition of some of her contemporaries. I'm hoping my project will go some way towards reappraising her work and giving it some of the scholarly attention it has missed. Her longevity of her career is itself of interest, and examining it reveals insights into the changes and developments in Australians children's publishing over half a century. There's the archives themselves.  

Finally, her archives themselves are really are quite something. She had a historian's eye for detail, as well as a belief in significance of her work and its deep connection with her life and her memories. So her archives are vast: 184 boxes in all, deposited in five instalments. The most recent instalment’s unprocessed and not yet visible on the Library website. In addition to this, there are two oral history recordings of Christobel. She was interviewed by Hazel De Berg in 1978, and by Diana Rich in 1990.  

The archives contain first of all, manuscripts and drafts of all her published and unpublished work. They contain all the correspondence surrounding these publications, every single rejection slip going back years, and then emails about contracts, about editing, and illustrating her work, and some of which are highly entertaining, which hopefully I get time to show you later. And Christobel was a prolific correspondent, and kept copies of every letter she wrote as well as the letters she received. And not just physical letters either, there's reams and reams of printed out emails.  

They are all her notebooks and her autograph books, image here. Every time she visited a school, or attended a book launch, or gave a public speech, she invited those present to sign them. And she had copies of these books at home as well, and every time anyone visited her, you were invited to sign as if you were this celebrity. I must've signed several in the times I visited her house, and I remember feeling a little self-conscious doing so, and not really understanding what the point was, but at the same time feeling I guess, loved. And they're remarkable, all these names, all these words, all these individual imprints of selfhood and connection through marks on the page.  

In a newspaper article published in 1983, she reflects that people are like sand. Her dear friend, Max Fatchen quotes her as saying, ‘I still think about sand. It's so infinite. It represents so much in time, motion, and substance. All those little grains moving around, taking effect on each other. People are a bit like that.’  

To start sorting through these archives, even though they're well organised, has been mammoth task. I've been reading in layers, starting with her manuscripts and correspondence with publishers, and then going back over the same period as represented in her more personal correspondence. And it's also been a moving experience on a personal level. I knew Christobel a little in the last 20 years of her life, but lost touch in her final few years to my great regret. There's a folder with my name on it containing emails I wrote her 20 years ago when I was an idealistic 24-year-old heading off on adventures in England. Stumbling across the raw enthusiasm of this former self was at once, enchanting and confronting. And my name pops up in other places as well.  

Christobel took notes of all her phone calls, there are lists of people she's trying to call, and ticks on whether she's got through or not. In 2002, I'd asked her for a reference for a scholarship application, and my name is listed in a notebook over and over again as she tried to ring, I seem to have been hard to reach. And it felt a somehow profound experience to be in the archives, trying to reach and to understand her. And there she was, more than 20 years ago, trying to reach me.  

Christobel Shepley, as she was was born in the Adelaide suburb of Brighton. She describes a happy childhood with loving parents, gardens, and picnics in the bush. She moved with her family to Sydney at the age of eight, and then to Hobart where she went through high school and university and where she met, and this is no exaggeration, the love of her life, David Mattingley. We have here. David and Christobel were married for more than 60 years, and when I knew them, their relationship was evidently one of support, companionship, love, and respect. David was a gentle, humble, courteous man, quietly witty. Christobel referred to David as her tower of strength. And one of her friends told me that he was the love of her life, but also the light of her life.  

Some of the most special boxes in her archives contain their letters. Hang on, I'm gonna wait for that. They met on the, actually I’m gonna go through, there we are. They met on the ides of March, 1948. No, there we are. Christobel aged just 16, had just begun a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Tasmania. David was already 25 and had returned an injured hero from flying Lancaster bombers above Germany in the Second World War. Christobel's parents were understandably a little cautious about their, no, their daughter's relationship with an older man whose war injuries had unclear implications. Christobel however, was devoted to David, but also to her parents. She was sensible and prepared to take things slowly.  

David was hospitalised again in the second half of 1949, and in 1951 he moved to Canberra, and then to Brisbane to work in the archives. Christobel then moved to Canberra after David had left, to work in the Department of Immigration, and then to Melbourne to undertake a year of library training, and finally to Yallourn, which is here, to work in a regional library.  

All this time they wrote, three letters a week, sometimes more. Their letters are infused with longing, and their mutual love of nature, especially birds and flowers, and chatty detailed descriptions of their daily lives. The envelopes even contains sprigs of plants, wattle, violets, a boronia. Occasionally, especially in the early years when her parents were known to check her post, Christobel would ask David to tone it down, urging utmost discretion. Her parents would not agree to an engagement before she turned 21 yearsn old, and Christobel herself was okay with this. She welcomed the opportunity to mature and work out who she was outside of her parents' house before she committed to marriage.  

After reading almost six years of letters, I find the broad smiles of their wedding photo incredibly moving. It was a long and happy marriage, lasting until David's death, just two weeks short of his 95th birthday in June, 2017, and Christobel lived only two years longer.  

As we’re in Canberra, I wanted to share a little bit more about about Christobel's experience of Canberra in 1951. And this image obviously is bit later than 1951, it's actually a postcard that Christobel sent from a holiday in Canberra in 1978. But I thought, well, any image of Canberra is good, right? What emerges from Christobel's letters from Canberra is a girlish enthusiasm to grasp life with both hands. She was homesick and missed David, and was mildly horrified by the privations of living in Reed house, her singles hostel.  

But she took advantage of everything Canberra had to offer. She walked to Kingston for ice cream, she observed sessions at Parliament, she made friends, she watched movies, she rode bikes, she swam in Manuka pool, andw ent sailing on Lake George. She attended balls with new and old acquaintances, being especially impressed by a young world travelled Pakistani man who owned a car, could partake in interesting intellectual discussions, and was happy to drive her around. And despite this, she reassured David that the men in Canberra did not compare to him.  

She complained of the dust, and the mud, and the limited cultural life. She won a specialised position in the library in the Department of Immigration, she found a weekend job in a bookshop, and she visited at the National Library on Saturdays to read. One book she discovered was called "A Guide to Marriage" by Leslie Kaiser, published in 1948. She told David it was highly illuminating, and she recommended it strongly. The book still appears on the catalogue here, and I was eager to have a look at it, but unfortunately it couldn't be found. I was going to say that perhaps it was forgotten, perhaps she forgot to return it, but that's entirely out of character for her. And besides, you can't take books home from the National Library.  

Anyway, in any case, she developed some fondness for Canberra, and when she came to leave in early 1952, it was with some regret mixed with excitement. And I come to my quotation on the slide here, ‘Why exist in Canberra when you can live in Melbourne? No longer will I feel like a vegetable, a Canberra cabbage.’  

Of course, Canberra is very different now. And Christobel was proud to have her papers housed here in the National Library. And she did a lot of writing for the National Library in her later years. Authoring many biographical articles for the National Library news, and authoring four books published by the National Library of Australia press.  

So after marriage, here we are. Christobel and David lived in in the UK for a couple of years before settling in Adelaide in 1955. David got work as a history teacher at Prince Alfred College and Christobel worked as a librarian, and before taking time off to be with their children. Their first child, Rosemary pictured here, was born in 1958, followed by Christopher in 1961, who's not in this particular picture, and Steven the baby here in 1965. And there's also the little dog. I gonna use my cursor there, little dog who's called Piccolo who appears in in her first published book.  

While raising her children, Christobel was writing stories and sending manuscripts to publishers all through the 1960s. During this time, she wrote ‘Watchers at Wirrumbirra’, 1963, about four siblings who protect the Christmas bells in a national park from poachers, and "Red and Blue Summer", 1966, about twin girls on holiday on Bruney Island. Both of these were full length novels aimed at children around the age of 10, and the tested themes that remained constant throughout her work. The significance of the environment, birds, plants, animals, and a child's perspective. Neither of these novels were ever accepted, but the publishers were sufficiently encouraging for Christobel to keep trying.  

After years of rejections, "The Picnic Dog" was published in 1970, and "The Windmill at Magpie Creek" was published in 1971, to much acclaim. "The Windmill at Magpie Creek" was highly commended in the Children's Book Council and Book of the Year Awards for 1972. A reviewer at the time called ‘a treasure of a book, a deceptively simple piece of work’, and praised the way that Christobel depicted life on a small Australian farm without overdoing its Australian-ness with lashings of kangaroos, koalas, and bush fires. She qualified, ‘One must not perhaps make too much of this novel. It's short, and not particularly weighty, but here is a novelist who writes with economy, and vigour, and honesty, who knows her country background, and who also knows how to interest the young. I hope she continues to write.’ And she certainly did.  

After years of trying and being knocked back, in the 1970s Christobel published title after title. The books in this image were all published between a 1970 and 1974, and it just keeps going. As her children grew older and Christobel accepted more travelling engagements connected with her writing, she was sent on the literature board tour of schools in remote Queensland in 1975, as she travelled to New Zealand in 1979, and to Munich in 1976 on a research fellowship at the International Youth Library. In 1982, yep, Christobel's picture book "Rummage" illustrated by Patricia Mullins, won the inaugural Children's Book Council of Australia Awards, junior readers category. And this was quite a big deal, but Christobel was ambivalent about the honour. She found the title ‘junior readers’ somewhat patronising. It's since been changed.  

Also in 1982, Christobel wrote two of her best loved picture books, both fables about hope amidst the ravages of war, each anchored lightly in the mystery of the Christmas story, which she shines a quiet light on her own deep Christian faith. "The Miracle Tree", illustrated by Marianne Yamaguchi, which Christobel wrote after a visit to Nagasaki with her daughter Rosemary who was studying in Japan, tells of a beautiful pine tree that draws together three people whose lives have been damaged by the nuclear bomb. And "The Angel With a Mouth Organ" is a story of European refugees inspired by the stories of several people that Christobel knew.  

And Christobel kept publishing children's books all through the 80s, but stopped writing them in 1983. At this point, she was working on an adult historical novel set in Tasmania, but she put this to one side when asked by an Aboriginal committee to edit a publication telling the history of South Australia from the Aboriginal perspective. Since the lecture tour to schools in outback Queensland 1975, Christobel had become increasingly distressed about the historical and continuing injustices perpetrated by white colonists against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 1978, she began studying for a graduate diploma in Aboriginal studies, to understand more about Aboriginal culture, history, and people. And it was here as she came into contact with those who asked her to work on the book. She saw this as an enormous honour.  

The publication was initially planned to be completed for the sesquicentenary celebrations in South Australia in 1986, but was not ready to be published until 1988. Even in the 1980s, it was contentious for a white person to lead an Aboriginal history project. And Christobel offered to step down when challenged, but others urged her to continue, so she did. Together with members of the committee, she collected over a hundred oral histories and collated further stories and photographs from the archives in the South Australian Museum. The National Library holds a five and a half hour oral history of Christobel explaining the process of the book's creation and publication to Diana Rich. Even after completing the book, there were conflicts and controversies over the publication process, as the government sold the rights of the book to the Adelaide Review without consultation. And Christobel and co-editor Ken Hampton fought fiercely to maintain Aboriginal ownership.  

And I wanna say here that researching this matter further is gonna be quite delicate, there's a lot to unpack, and I'll need to talk to people in South Australia. Yeah, and if there's anyone listening who has any experiences or memories of relating to this book in any way, I'd love to hear from you.  

For Christobel, work on this book was all consuming, traumatic, and completely overwhelming. She saw it as the most difficult period of her life, and also as her most meaningful achievement. In 2002, as she recovered from an operation to remove bowel cancer, she reflected in a notebook about how she envisaged her funeral. She asked for a copy of “Survival in Their Own Land” to be placed on her coffin.  

After working on this book, Christobel thought she would never write anything of her own ever again, but she did. Here's another stack of books. And it's not, they aren't all the books of the period, just a handful of them. And Christobel attributed the return of her words partly to a meeting with a gifted editor and publisher, Erica Wagner, or Irving as she was then, who went on to work with her on several significant books, and partly to a period of rest and respite in Tasmania.  

Throughout the 1990s, Christobel worked on the biography of Denny King, a bushman from Tasmania, and wrote the immensely successful Asmir trilogy, which told the story of a true story of a family of Bosnian refugees. In the midst of these extensive and all consuming projects, she also wrote numerous other children's books, including "The Sack", "Work Wanted" and "Cockawun and Cockatoo", which is based on the true story of two baby white cockatoos rescued from a tree chopped down to build Old Parliament House here in Canberra.  

In the 2000s Christobel returned to Aboriginal stories, creating " Maralinga: the Aṉangu Story " together with the Yalata and Oak Valley communities, and writing "Maralinga's Long Shadow: Yvonne's Story". And also, as you can see here, this Aboriginal art book called "Our Mob, God’s Story". And she also wrote countless articles and several books for the National Library, as well as a story of David's time in the war. And there's a lot to say about all of these books, but I don't have time now.  

To finish my talk, I'd like to return to the 1980s, and to an unexpected and moving story I encountered in the archives concerning Christobel's tall tale, "McGruer and the Goat" which is here. Christobel took delight in being idiosyncratic, and wrote stories from the heart, ‘Not,’ she frequently explained, ‘to fuel market trends.' When one of and Christobel’s favourite publishers explained that he could not see a market for "McGruer and the Goat", as it was too long for a junior story, and too short for a novel, Christobel replied, and I quote here, ‘You write such charming letters of rejection, and you gave me my New Year's resolution which I probably always subconsciously held, but never had the occasion to put into words. May I never write a story which is easy to categorise.’  

This rather odd but intriguing little book was published in 1987, but written in 1982 in the rocking chair of Mulberry Cottage, the family holiday house. It is a fable of unlikely friendship, and also of words. Captain Duff, a retired sea captain, has stories to tell, and Mrs. Dumpling longs to hear them, but neither of them know this at the beginning of the story. Mrs. Dumpling is horrified by Captain Duff's pet octopus called McGruer, who is good-hearted and tries to be helpful, but as an octopus, is rather alarming. Her own pet goat who's called McKeleket, is a frisky little creature, often causing trouble. At the end of the story, a Mrs. Dumpling and Captain Duff are dear friends, and so are the octopus and the goat. They wander off on their own to explore the mountains.  

The seeds of the story were sewn in 1979 during a lecture tour of New Zealand, a period during which Christobel was grappling with an inner darkness. According to the blurb of the book, while travelling in Otago on the south island, she saw a signpost saying "McKeleket chimney sweep," which pointed off into the mountains, and later spent a lonely hour in the North Island aquarium, observing an octopus, which returned her stare with intriguing awareness. And Christobel often discussed the ways in which her stories grew out of her own life, but this is the only instance I've come across in which she's also provided a page-and-a half of analytic reading notes. In these, she describes her encounter with the octopus in more detail.  

‘At Napier, rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake and that's exactly my age and so quaintly antiquated, I made the acquaintance of the octopus, donated by McGruer's Ltd, in the Aquarium which is the main tourist attraction in the town. I did not want to go in there to gaze on imprisoned creatures of the ocean in glass boxes, but local feelings, mainly pride, would've suffered if I had refused their pressing recommendations. And I was saddened by their plight and incensed by the stupid reaction of other viewers including one who began to treat me also like an exhibit when I stood and wrote a poem. But at least I could walk out of the den, but the octopus is still no doubt there in his glass prison.’  

Christobel was feeling vulnerable when she visited the aquarium. She hated the idea of the sea creatures being trapped, and she also identified with them. She felt observed, and she felt people were trying to force her into boxes. The dedication of the book planner ready in 1982, I'm gonna skip the names at the beginning there and move on onto the second half of it, is to ‘all the Cushla's and their families, for whom nothing is impossible, especially Cushla Y and hers.’ And I have to admit that this stumped me for a while, but the reference is to a book by New Zealand author and books seller, Dorothy Butler, called "Cushla's and Her Books". And it tells the true story of how a disabled child, Cushla, is shaped and transformed by loving access to children's books. It's a remarkable story, and Christobel had met Dorothy and corresponded with her. And the octopus is not a metaphor of a disabled child, but these associations sort of hover together side-by-side. Her own sense of vulnerability and strangeness linked with her identity as a writer. The intrinsic worth and potential of a disabled child. And the alien beauty and attentiveness of the octopus in the tank.  

Christobel felt very deeply for her story, and was hurt when the publishers she most trusted did not share her vision. The book was finally accepted by Angus and Robertson, and Christopher's deep connection to the octopus is evident again years later, in her reaction to the proposed illustrations. And she had been disappointed by illustrations in the past and insisted on the right of veto. And she exercised this. She rejected at least three illustrators, including I was amazed to discover, Terry Denton. For any of you who don't know, Denton is today, a wildly successful illustrator of children's stories, best known for and immortalised by a the 13 Storey Tree House series he created together with Andy Griffiths. The style he's best known for is slap dash and hilarious. In 1984, he was just starting out, and the archive actually contains copies of all these rejected illustrations, but I was unfortunately not able to get permission to share them in time. And the editors were thrilled with Terry's illustrations, but Christobel was not.  

She appreciated his human characters, but: ‘In these sketches, McGruer appears to be a direct descendant of the Magic Pudding. Even allowing for some artistic licence and caricature, plus the problems of characterising an octopus, I feel that something more like an octopus is appropriate. McGruer was in fact inspired by an octopus I watched for more than an hour "n a famous aquarium in New Zealand in a tank donated by a local hardware firm named McGruer. Its appearance and movements were both beautiful and baleful, so smooth and sinuous, its head and eyes particularly distinctive and watchful. An octopus has such character of its own it doesn't need to borrow from a mythical pudding.’  

What I love here is Christobel's vivid description of the nature of the octopus. A real octopus had inspired her story and she wanted a real octopus in her book. And not to be defeated the editors asked Terry to have another go. And I just add here that her descriptions while hilarious, are accurate of illustrations as well. But in 1985 and Christobel rejected his new images as well.  

‘An octopus, with its unique head, eyes, and arms, is a lithe, lissom, undulating, infinitely adaptable, incredibly fluid and manipulative creature. Terry's drawing makes McGruer look like a Ned Kelly starfish, a spiky amoeba, and a toadstool on legs.’  

And I reproduce these quotations here, not to mock Terry Denton, he's an amazing illustrator, and my children adore his work. If he had illustrated "McGruer and the Goat", it might have been a funnier story, as well as maintaining perhaps a firmer place in history. But it would not have been the story that Christobel meant it to be. Ultimately, Carol Mclean-Carr illustrated the book, and I think you'll agree with me, that she succeeded in creating the kind of octopus that Christobel was looking for. Hang on.  

I wanted to share this correspondence with you, partly as a quirky encounter between two very significant figures in the Australian children's book industry, but also because it reveals something about who Christobel was. It reveals her wit, her vulnerability, her idealism, her persistence, her belief in the importance of honouring the true beings of animals, an approach she extended to people too, and her knack of writing a rather fierce letters. She employed this skill of fierce letter writing against other targets too, including our former Prime Minister, John Howard, and even some members of this Library’s staff.  

The finished book is a curious thing, McGruer the octopus is attentive and lovable, but also a little disconcerting. The tail is charming, it's zany, it's tender, it's oddly affecting. A portrayal of friendship and connection possible despite, and indeed because of individual quirks, and the power of story to bring people together. It stays in my mind.  

When she was despairing of ever publishing the story, she wrote to her editor at Penguin. She says, ‘I'm consoled by the thought that that my unpublished papers will provide treasure trove for eager delvers after PhD material in the National Library in 2031. Because who after all in their right hip pocket would want to read about an Otago? Where's that? Goat and an octopus called McGruer?’ It's not 2031 yet, and I already have my PhD, but nonetheless I'm glad to have read about an octopus and called McGruer, and I hope you are too.  

"McGruer and The Goat" is just one small piece of a powerful and varied legacy of writing, spanning more than 50 years. It's been a humbling experience to have spent three months coming to grips with the range and the depths of Christobel's words. Christobel knew that words are magic, they can travel far in time and space. And I'll give the last words to her. ‘There are so many people in the world, so many people we will never know. For me, writing is a way of reaching out to them, a way of loving. And I hope there are people who will read and understand.’ Thank you. 

Kathryn Favelle: Thank you, Melanie, that was such a beautiful presentation. And for, as one of those who did receive some of Christobel's sharper emails, it has actually been a joy to be able to talk to you through your residency, and have a reason to think back to those encounters, the good ones, there were some beautiful ones, and there were some that just did make me feel a little bit embarrassed as well.  

We have time for some questions, if you have any questions or any reminiscences of your own about Christobel, please raise your hand and we'll get a microphone to you. Oh look, we've got one in the front row. Here comes Sharyn with the microphone for you. 

Audience member 1: How many books did she publish? 

Kathryn Favelle: Great question. 

Melanie Duckworth: Now I will say more than 50, it could be 54, it could be 52, I can't quite remember, but good question. 

Kathryn Favelle: We've got a lady in the third row here. 

Audience member 2: Just shout? 

Kathryn Favelle: Fran's on her way with microphone for you. 

Audience member 2: I just wondered with that many books... 

-Kathryn Favelle: "Is 12 weeks enough?" That was the question. 

Melanie Duckworth: No, it's really, yeah I heard you, okay go on. 

Audience member 2: I had another question as well. 

Melanie Duckworth: Okay, go? Okay, next question. 

Audience member 2: Well I just found, she obviously was a woman quite ahead of her time writing about refugees and individuals and yeah, we didn't hear about her, did we? So are you gonna write a book about her next? 

Melanie Duckworth: Yes, absolutely. It's, oh, it's trying to write itself, like all the things I talked about today, I kept thinking, oh, but I need to talk about this as well. Like, no, you can't yet. I'm working on a book about her life. And she was ahead of her time. And an interesting example of that is those two picture books I showed right at the beginning, "Tucker's Mob" and "The Race", they both took nearly 20 years to get published. So she wrote them, I think in the late 70s, and they weren't published till the 90s, because yeah, publishers just couldn't work out how to deal with them. 

Audience member 2: Do you think it was the topics that the publishers found difficult? Which was about Indigenous and then a disabled child? 

Melanie Duckworth: Yes, I do, especially the Indigenous one. I mean, that was, that's a great little book, but publishers just weren't quite sure how to publish it in a respectful way, or how to approach it. And they did try for a long, when it ultimately was accepted, they did try for a long time to find an Aboriginal illustrator. They weren't able to do that, so the person who did the illustrations is an a non-indigenous Australian, but someone who spent a lot of time in an Aboriginal community and had published a couple of her own books already about that. And that's how it was made in the end. 

Audience member 2: So given those topics, Indigenous, refugees and disability, are something we reading books about these days, can they be republished? How does that happen? 

Melanie Duckworth: Yeah, I think some of her books could still work in the market, and some are more dated. So, but absolutely. "The Race" is a great book, we have it on our shelves at home still and we read it, still engaging. Her father was deaf as well, that was the connection that she had to deafness. Yeah, and there are, like some of her books are still available. " Maralinga: the Aṉangu Story" is available online. If you go to the War Memorial, you can find the copy of the book "Battle Order 204", written about her husband's time in the war, David, it's, it's there on the shelf, I've checked, there's two copies or there was last time. So yes, certain of of her books are still available in print. 

Kathryn Favelle: Right, we've got one last question. 

Audience member 3: Why did you choose Christobel? 

Melanie Duckworth: That's a great question. And it certainly comes down to my personal connection with her. She was a mentor figure to me after I met her as a teenager, and was quite encouraging, would be a referee for me, and wrote these emails, and I used to visit her with my kids. When I visited Adelaide at Christmas time I'd always, mostly, called in on her and David. So I had a connection with her that way. And then quite independently, my own research interests started to turn towards children's literature, Indigenous literature, and the environment, just happened to do that for about five years. And when she died, I just felt a very strong feeling that this was what I had to do now, this was, it just was absolutely what I had to do, and so that's, that's why I'm doing it, yeah. 

Kathryn Favelle: Great. Thank you for that last question. And I have a suspicion that maybe Christobel chose you Melanie, as well. I think she had a finger in that pie well and truly. Before we finish up today, I hope you might all join us at our next fellowship presentation, you've got a few weeks to get ready for it. It will be called Grief in the Asia Pacific War Expressed in Art and Fashion. And it will be delivered by our 2023 National Library fellow Dr Tets Kamura on Thursday the 13th of June. So keep an eye out for that one.  

You can also catch up on all our previous presentations via our YouTube channel and the National Library's website. But for now, thank you for coming today, and please join me in thanking Dr Melanie Duckworth for such a beautiful presentation. Thank you. 

See Dr Melanie Duckworth as she presents a lecture on her 2024 National Library Fellowship research into award-winning Australian children's author Christobel Mattingley’s manuscripts, papers, and published works.

Dr Melanie Duckworth is a 2024 National Library of Australia Fellow, supported by the supported by the Stokes family.

About Dr Melanie Duckworth's Fellowship research

Christobel Mattingley (1931-2019) was a much loved, award winning Australian children’s author, writing more than 50 books, most of them for children, on topics such as social justice, refugees and the environment. Based in Adelaide, she published picture books, poetry, early readers, middle grade and young adult fiction, and biographies. She was an advocate for Indigenous Australians, publishing Survival in Their Own Land (1988), and Maralinga: the Aṉangu Story (2009), in which she worked together with the Aṉangu people to tell the story of British nuclear testing on their lands. Over the last few months, Dr Duckworth has been delving into the National Library’s extensive collection of Mattingley’s manuscripts, papers, and published works, many of which are now out of print, as she begins to write a literary biography of Christobel Mattingley.

About Dr Melanie Duckworth

Dr Melanie Duckworth is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Østfold University College, Norway, but is originally from Adelaide. Her research focuses on the overlapping fields of Australian literature, children’s literature, and ecocriticism, with a particular interest in Indigenous literature and contemporary poetry. She has published widely on these topics, and her recent co-edited anthology, Storying Plants in Australian Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Roots and Winged Seeds, touches upon all of them. Melanie’s project on Christobel Mattingley draws on these research interests, as well as on her memories of Christobel as a mentor and inspiration, and a shared love of Australian – particularly South Australian – beaches, deserts, and trees. 

About National Library of Australia Fellowships

The National Library of Australia Fellowships program offers researchers an opportunity to undertake a 12-week residency at the Library. This program is supported by generous donors and bequests.

Image credit: Christobel Shepley (Mattingley) in Children's Library, 1953, Papers of Christobel Mattingley, MS Acc21.014, Box 62, nla.cat-vn2708284