South Gippsland’s Alison Lester’s lovingly crafted illustrations and children’s books have engaged generations. Are We There Yet?, the 2005 Children’s Picture Book of the Year Award winner, is a classic tale that has simultaneously saved parents by entertaining their kids on their current travel adventures and sparked new love for future Australian road trips.
Alison has created over 30 books since her first, Clive Eats Alligators, in 1985, and you can lose yourself in her beautiful stories and illustrations at her gallery in Fish Creek — an area very dear to Alison, her many animals and her family.
Gippslandia enjoyed a conversation with Alison in-between her hiking of Italy’s Dolomites and time with remote Aboriginal communities, where she assists children and adults in bringing their stories to life.
Alison can’t remember a time when she didn’t love drawing. Even before she’d begun school, she’d practice drawing horses on a blackboard on the back porch. Alison’s drawing was guided by How To Draw Horses by Walter T. Foster as, “It showed how to build up the general shape of a horse with geometric forms and then curve the detail over that. It’s a technique I still use”.
Renowned artist Elizabeth Paterson was the mother of Alison’s best friend and a great inspiration. Alison describes her studio as like a “Treasure cave of pencils, paint, pastels and pens and I loved to visit it”.
Alison finds it difficult to explain her books, “I make them in an organic and instinctive way. Something catches my attention and as I roll it around in my head it sometimes turns into a book. I always try to make the words and pictures of my books perfect but of course that never happens”. Instead, it’s usually the responses to her books that make Alison realise what they’re actually about.
In listing the general qualities of her books, Alison believes they would be:
– That the world is a wonderful place and that all our lives are interesting and unique.
– Your imagination can take you anywhere.
– Kids can be brave and adventurous.
– There is fun to be had.
The inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate (Gippslandia chatted with 2016–17 Laureate Leigh Hobbs in #5), a role shared with Boori Monty Pryor, the pair travelled across Australia and overseas for two years. Alison believes that the experience reinforced something that she’d observed from working in schools, “The sad truth that all kids don’t get a fair go”. Alison continues, “I usually work with very small children: prep, grades one and two. At that age they are all jumping out of their skins with intelligence and creativity — they could become anything. But for the socioeconomically disadvantaged that’s not true. Lack of support, resources and opportunity means that many of them won’t even learn to read, let alone grow into the fulfilled adults they could be”.
It’s a situation that needs addressing, especially in our remote and Aboriginal communities, and the power of personal storytelling shouldn’t be underestimated in overcoming this divide. Alison believes that, “We all love seeing our lives reflected in books — the landscapes we are familiar with and the games we play.
“It kind of validates us, and it’s why I spend a lot of time in remote indigenous communities helping kids and adults turn their stories into books”.
May Alison continue to assist in telling our stories, showcasing the South Gippsland hills, Waratah Beach and the captivating Wilsons Promontory for many more years to come, especially because we can’t wait to see what adventures Noni the Pony gets up to next!