Alison Lester – Addicted to Antarctica

I’m going to make a big call, I believe that Alison is the Godmother of Australian Children’s Literature.  I feel blessed to have spent a couple of days with her, and was so glad to meet with friends before the session and realise that they felt the same way.

Alison talked about the Antarctic Arts Fellowship.  She explained that during the trip she would email kids every night to tell them about her journey.  The kids would email Alison with their thoughts and examples of their artwork.  The idea was to make a compilation to be exhibited at the end of the journey of her and the children’s artwork.  She encouraged everyone at the Conference to apply for the Fellowship, I for one will be giving it a go.

She told us that when she received the letter about the Fellowship she tossed it in the bin thinking it was a politician’s letter.  Her husband saved the day, she fished the letter out of the bin and received the good news that she was on her way to Antarctica.  She shared tales of her journey accompanied by a fantastic slide show, opening our eyes to a world unknown to most.

Alison said at one of the most exciting thing about Antarctica was seeing the icebergs and imagining what they were, much as a lion, a castle or monster.   Alison explained that making friends with the other passengers was a pleasure too, and that she is still in contact with a couple of the people she met on her trip.

We discovered that “Sophie Scott Goes South” was not part of the original plan, but when she got back Alison realised that it was too good an opportunity to miss out on.  Alison thought it was important that a child feature in the book.  The Antarctic Division were deadset against it, they were concerned that a child would never be allowed to go to Antarctica.  They fretted about what would happen to her if she got hurt, or lost.  I think they were oblivious to the fact that it was a children’s story, not a proposed journey.  P&O, the owners of the Aurora Australis, were all for it and were very helpful, giving Alison all sorts of information including detailed plans of the ship.

Alison shared a tip for children who are not confident illustrators. She said that if you take a photo and reduce it to black and white, you can print it out and colour it in with water colours.  Here is the example she showed us


Alison continued to delight us with tales and images from her multiple journeys to Antarctica.  Can you believe that she has been there 5 times?!  It almost felt like we were on the journey with Alison, she really is that good at recounting her experiences, paired with images of waves, animals, buildings, ships and icebergs.

The audience were in awe of Alison’s journey.   She has a gift for sharing anecdotes and snippets of experiences that enthral audiences, including some pretty graphic sound effects.  From talking with everyone before the session, I knew that everyone considered themselves incredibly lucky to hear from the Godmother of Australian Children’s Literature herself.

To finish, here is a snap of Alison imitating penguins.




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