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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Figure 1: Cover of Possum Magic

Once Upon a Time in Australia


Classic Australian Children’s Literature;
Possum Magic and Other Stories.
Alicia Cassar

Student ID: 19903986

I have always been in love with children’s literature. There is something so hopeful,
warm and full of wonder in stories written for children; and something so unique about
those that are classically Australian. Sitting on the lap of my grandpa as a child,
listening to stories like Possum Magici (1983) and Wombat Stewii (1984) were some
of my most treasured memories and it is so important that we continue to produce
stories like this for our young ones. So much of what people see and hear about
Australian culture is fuelled by film and television that help perpetuate stereotypes
such as outback adventures and cuddly Koala bears. Now any true-blue Aussie would
know that unless you’re in a wildlife zoo where you can pay to hold a koala, the truth
is you are likely to be viciously attacked and possibly contract chlamydiaiii. That being
said, growing quality of Australian children’s literature not only broadens the
understanding of Australian culture, it appreciates and accentuates its wildlife and its
beauty.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Using a small but representative she continued to call Australia home


sampleiv, focussing specifically on Mem and strongly identify as an Australian.
Fox’s, ‘Possum Magicv’ (the best- Arriving with her English husband and
selling Australian children’s book of all her seven-year-old daughter, Chloe,
time). It will look at the ways in which Mem came back to Australia as a
the story came about and the reasons migrant despite her Australian
for it as well as a look into the authors xii
passport. Upon return, she was filled
life and intentions. The other selected
with, “almost a rage,” about the “cultural
texts vary across genre, style and
content. Making use of many iconic cringe,”xiii Australia seemed to have
Aussie animals, locations and people, about itself. As stated in her 2018
children’s authors have made it their interview with ABC radio, she has left
mission to tell stories that truly bring Australia thinking, “the beaches were
Australia to light.vi Despite Australia everything, the food was wonderful,
being a multicultural nation, the and yet I came back to find that
uniqueness of Australian culture is Australia didn’t feel that way about
something that should be celebrated.vii itself.”xiv
Throughout all of my research I firmly
Figure 2, mem fox images for press
believe that nothing conveys this idea
better than classic Australian children’s
literature. I have included some books
that portray indigenous Australians and
animals as a main theme. However, the
majority of the stories I will explore
teach children something along the
way, however as Mem Fox, the author
of Possum Magic stated, “the trick is to
do so when they are having too much
fun to notice.”viii

Mem Fox
In 1983 Mem Fox became Australia’s
best-selling children’s author after
writing her bestselling children’s book
Possum Magicix. This was her first
book of many, and it is still available in
hardback after over 36 years.x She has
become a champion of children’s
literature for millions of Australian
families. Having written over 40
children’s books and several non-fiction Wanting her daughter to identify as an
books. Mem Fox was born in Australian, and an already avid reader,
Melbourne, grew up in Africa, went to Mem was determined to find some
drama school in England, and returned traditionally Australian stories for Chloe
to Australia in 1970, aged 23.xi Despite as there “weren’t really any Australian
spending her adolescence overseas, books for [her] Australian child.”xv

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

According to her self-produced website, Australia and the bestselling picture


Mem states that as a means of keeping book ever in this country.xxiii Possum
up with her daughter’s passion for Magicxxiv remains in hardback after
books she had decided “to take a over 36 years which is unheard of, most
course in children’s literature to find out picture books remain in hard back for a
about as many books as possible that period of about two years. Mem Fox’s
might interest her.”xvi It was in this class
tale of two possums’ and their quest to
that she was given her first assignment
undo bush magic, has gone on to sell
which was to write a children’s book.
This is where Possum Magicxvii was more than five million copies.xxv The
born. opening paragraph alone took 23 re-
writes likening it to crafting a picture
book is “like writing War and Peace in
haiku”xxvi.
Mem states
that she had
chosen
possums as
her
protagonists
for the book
Figure 3. This is a photo of mem (left) and Julie Vivas, the due to the
illustrator, at the launch of Possum Magic at the Sydney Opera possums
House in May 1983.
which had
Possum Magic taken up
residence on
Originally titled Hush the Invisible her roofxxvii. Figure 4: Inside of Possum Magic
Mousexviii, she set out to write the most
Australian book she could. When asked When asked why she did not include
by the ABC reporter why she decided to Canberra, the nation’s capital, in Hush
fill Possum Magicxix felt as though she and Grandma Poss’ delightful
had “to write all of the Australian gastronomical tour of Australia, she
animals, all the Australian foods, replied simply, “because it wasn’t a
everything that [she could] possibly put state capital.”xxviii She goes on to say
into the book to make it a rah rah that she had chosen “the casino in
Australian book.”xx After being rejected Hobart because it was famous at the
nine times over a five year period for time for being new and for being the first
being “too Australian”xxi, the book was legal casino in Australia.”xxix When
finally picked up by Omnibus Books in asked about the pumpkin scones as
Adelaide, whom accepted upon they are not known for their Australian
agreement that she cut the story down notoriety, she states that she had
to 500 words, make it significantly more chosen them because at that time “the
Australian and change the mice to a wife of the premier of Queensland was
commonly associated Australian Flo Bjelke-Petersen, [was] nationally
animal. “I chose possums” . The book
xxii famous for her pumpkin scones, which
was published early in 1983 and is now was an in-joke for the parents who read
the best-known picture book within the book to their children.”xxx The other

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

foods were chosen for their alliterative Propaganda vs Art


qualities and also because they are
renowned Australian. Throughout classic Australian literary
works it is vital that authors subtly
Bush Tales thread their own values and ideals into
their texts. Mem Fox had stated that
Tales of bush animals have always
she has “observed children to be the
been popular in Australian picture
wisest and most perceptive of critics”xlii
books.xxxi Blinky Billxxxii is a prime
as they are extremely quick to reject a
example of this. The image of cute and
text for it being too boring. Hence any
cuddly koalas has captivated readers
injection of preaching, while often well-
and audiences for centuries and is no
meant, will lead to a book’s demise. If
surprise that is still one of the motifs of
propaganda outweighs the art the child
choice for authors.xxxiii Both Mem Fox’s
will take no interest in the story and it is
Possum Magicxxxiv and Koala Louxxxv,
all for nothing. Gender plays a big role
emulate this perfectly. Her creation of
in todays society and a significant role
bush animal characters with a fondness
in the texts written my Mem Fox. When
for feasting on Aussie "tucker"xxxvi is
a child has been indoctrinated into a
what has created such a fondness
white, male-dominated society it is too
across Australia and worldwidexxxvii.
often that we see them only gravitate to
Like most stories that fall into the
male characters even if they do not
classic Australian children’s literature
exist. In Mem’s article she quoted three
genre, they unashamedly draw on
letters from first graders in Texas whom
traditional Australian motifsxxxviii, yet are
all had referred to the characters in
underpinned with the warm universal
Koala Lou as, “He.”xliii The three main
theme of family love and security.xxxix
characters in this text are all very
obviously female. Mem states that it is
“alarming to see that in the lives of
these children this sexist assumption
has already been established: Anyone
who is dominant or interesting in a story
must be male.”xliv

Figure 5 and 6: Koala Lou


Figure 7: Inside Koala Lou
(left) and Wombat Stew cover (right)

Marcia Vaughan's, Wombat Stewxl,


sees a richness of traditional, if
somewhat stereotypical, bush animal
motifs, for example, the platypus in his
cork-bobbed bush hat scooping up "big
blops of billabong mud" into a "bubbling
billycan" of stewxli. This language and
imagery are uniquely Australian and
helps to establish the traditional image
of Australia to our young children. This
helps shape our cultural identity and
strengthen it for generations to come.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Classics Dreamtime
Even in Australia, there are still very few
published Aboriginal Australian
Authors. Dick Roughsey produced an
award-winning series of picture books
alongside his white mentor, Percy
Trezise, based on the mythology of
Roughsey's forebears. Among these
works was the celebrated text, The
Rainbow Serpentxlviii (1975).
Generations of Australian school
children have learnt about Aboriginal
dreamtime stories through the
treasured text. The Aboriginal story of
creation which has been passed down
through oral histories tells us of “the
connection between snake and
rainbow” and how it is “used to
Figure 8, 9 and 10: Book covers of Tales of Snugglepot
and Cuddlepie, Blinky Bill and The Magic Beach
represent the cycle of seasons and the
significance of water in human life.”xlix
One of the earliest classic australian When a rainbow is seen in the sky, it is
children’s books was The Tales of supposed to be the Rainbow Serpent
Snugglepot and Cuddlepiexlv (1918) traveling from one waterhole to
by May Gibbs. It is the story of two another. This is used as a means of
miniature babies whom live in gumnuts explaining why some waterholes never
and was one of the first books to portray dry up even during a drought.l There
Australian bush life with her inspiration are countless names and stories
stemming from the beauty of the Blue connected with the serpent. They all
Mountains in NSW. When discussing illustrate the importance and
the classics Blinky Billxlvi (1939) by dominance of its presence within
Dorathy Wall cannot be ignored. The Aboriginal traditionsli. Since
larrikin koala with little respect for the Roughsey's untimely death, Trezise
law has been adored by generations
and immortalised in both Tv and
animated films as well. Unlike many
others, The Magic Beachxlvii (1990) by
Alison Lester was not a bush tale.
Instead this was a book inspired by her
childhood trips to Walkerville in south-
eastern Victoria and tells tales of
splashing in waves and building
sandcastles while exploring a child’s
wild imagination and what these simple
beach activities could become.
Figure 11: The book cover for the Rainbow serpent

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

has continued to produce. Dream time But there is something so very special
stories and interpretations in the same about classic Australian children’s
attractive format. Aboriginal elders in literature. There is a uniqueness to our
the Northern Territory always shared culture that is unlike any other. We must
their dream time stories with the next understand who we are as a community
generation, more often than not, in the face of historylvii. Children’s books
through musiclii. But some indigenous are a terrific way of inspiring love for
languages are dying out. There are new and cultivating our national identity. It is
projects hoping to preserve their history pertinent that we have authors like Mem
by archiving the traditional songs. While Fox who continue to not only inspire
this is a great way to share their history, young children to love reading but to
it is also important that we are able to love their country and their culture.
find creative ways to teach our children
the traditional stories from the original
custodians of the land which we call
home.
Conclusion
There is an awful lot that goes into the
writing of a children’s book. Despite
being a composite of around 500
words, within those lines requires a
complexity of knowledge and love that
will engage a childliii.
As stated by Mem Fox herself; “I try not
to be boring.”liv Beyond every tale with
implications of values and beliefs, even
that of political correctness, the great
mission of her life as an author is to
cultivate a passion and lifelong love of
readinglv. “If I have failed in other
aspects as a writer, I hope I have at
least succeeded in helping children to
absolutely love to read,”lvi she says.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Bibliography

Primary Sources
Fox, M. (2019). About. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/about/
[Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Fox, M. (2019). All About Mem. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/all-
about-mem-too-much-information/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Fox, M. and Lofts, P. (1988). Koala Lou. HMH Books for Young Readers.
Fox, M. (2019). Koala Lou. [online] Memfox.com. Available at:
https://memfox.com/books/koala-lou/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at:
https://memfox.com/books/possum-magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Gibbs, M. (1918). The story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Pymble, N.S.W.: Angus &
Robertson.
Lester, A. (1990). Magic beach. Allen and Unwin Children’s.
Morse, L. 2018. "Q & A with Mem Fox." Publishers Weekly Online, 23 Oct. ABC
Roughsey, D. (1975). The rainbow serpent. Sydney, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson.
Townsville Bulletin; Townsville, Qld. (2017). MEM FOX MAGIC. p.17.
Van, D.W. & Adcock, F. 2016, Possum Magic author Mem Fox encourages parents to read
to children from infancy: Beloved children's author Mem Fox uses her visit to regional
Queensland this week to encourage parents to read to their children, Sydney.
Vaughan, M. (1984). Wombat Stew. Gosford: Scholastic Australia.
Wall, D. (1933). The Adventures of Blinky Bill. Angus & Robertson.

Secondary Sources
Alderman, B. 2012. The Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature. Papers:
Explorations into Children's Literature, 22(1), pp.120–133.
Anderson, B.R.O.G., 2016. Imagined communities : reflections on the origin and spread of
nationalism Revised.,
Anon, 1991. The Authors & illustrators scrapbook : featuring 24 creators of Australian
children's books., Norwood, S. Aust: Omnibus Books.
Birns, N., & McNeer, R. (Eds.). (2007). A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900.
Boydell and Brewer.
Cohen, J., Cohen, Hilary & Riverina-Murray Institute of Higher Education. Centre for Library
Studies, 1987. A history of children's literature, Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.]: Centre for Library
Studies, Riverina-Murray Institute of Higher Education.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Daozhi, X., 2016. Australian Children's Literature and Postcolonialism: A Review Essay. Ilha
do Desterro, 69(2), pp.193–205.
Daozhi, X. 2016. The gift and the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children's
literature. Australian Aboriginal Studies, (2), pp.33–45.
Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The
Reading Teacher, 46(8), 654-658.
Galda, L., & Tobin, B. (1992). Children's Books: Dreamtime Downunder: Exploring
Australian Books. The Reading Teacher, 46(2), 146-156.
Holden, B. & James Hardie Library, 1988. Koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras : 200
Australian children's books and illustrations: 1857-1988, Granville, N.S.W.]: James Hardie
Industries Limited (Australia).
McCallum, H. et al., 2018. Assessing the significance of endemic disease in conservation—
koalas, chlamydia, and koala retrovirus as a case study. Conservation Letters, 11(4), p.n/a.

Images
Figure 1. Book cover for Possum Magic
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at:
https://memfox.com/books/possum-magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Figure 2. Mem Fox photos for press
Fox, M. (2019). About. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/about/
[Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Figure 3. This is a photo of mem (left) and Julie Vivas, the illustrator, at the launch of
Possum Magic at the Sydney Opera House in May 1983.
Fox, M. (2019). All About Mem. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/all-
about-mem-too-much-information/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Figure 4. Inside of the book Possum Magic.
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at:
https://memfox.com/books/possum-magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Figure 5. Koala Lou book cover
Fox, M. and Lofts, P. (1988). Koala Lou. HMH Books for Young Readers.
Figure 6. Wombat Stew book cover
Vaughan, M. (1984). Wombat Stew. Gosford: Scholastic Australia.
Figure 7. Inside of Koala Lou book
Fox, M. (2019). Koala Lou. [online] Memfox.com. Available at:
https://memfox.com/books/koala-lou/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
Figure 8. Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie book cover
Gibbs, M. (1918). The story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Pymble, N.S.W.: Angus &
Robertson.
Figure 9. Blinky Bill book cover
Wall, D. (1933). The Adventures of Blinky Bill. Angus & Robertson.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

Figure 10. The Magic Beach book cover


Lester, A. (1990). Magic beach. Allen and Unwin Children’s.
Figure 11. The Rainbow Serpent book cover
Roughsey, D. (1975). The rainbow serpent. Sydney, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson.

i
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
ii
Vaughan, M. (1984). Wombat Stew. Gosford: Scholastic Australia.
iii
McCallum, H. et al., 2018. Assessing the significance of endemic disease in conservation—koalas, chlamydia,
and koala retrovirus as a case study. Conservation Letters, 11(4), p.n/a.
iv
Anon, 1991. The Authors & illustrators scrapbook : featuring 24 creators of Australian children's books.,
Norwood, S. Aust: Omnibus Books.
v
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
vi
Anon, 1991. The Authors & illustrators scrapbook : featuring 24 creators of Australian children's books.,
Norwood, S. Aust: Omnibus Books.
vii
Alderman, B. 2012. The Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature. Papers: Explorations into
Children's Literature, 22(1), pp.120–133.
viii
Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The Reading Teacher,
46(8), 654-658.
ix
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/possum-
magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
x
Fox, M. (2019). About. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/about/ [Accessed 21 Oct.
2019].
xi
Fox, M. (2019). All About Mem. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/all-about-mem-too-
much-information/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xii
Ibid
xiii
Morse, L. 2018. "Q & A with Mem Fox." Publishers Weekly Online, 23 Oct. ABC
xiv
Ibid
xv
Fox, M. (2019). All About Mem. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/all-about-mem-
too-much-information/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xvi
Ibid
xvii
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
xviii
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/possum-
magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xix
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
xx
Morse, L. 2018. "Q & A with Mem Fox." Publishers Weekly Online, 23 Oct. ABC
xxi
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/possum-
magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xxii
Ibid
xxiii
Ibid
xxiv
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.

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Alicia Cassar Student Id: 19903986

xxv
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/possum-
magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xxvi
Morse, L. 2018. "Q & A with Mem Fox." Publishers Weekly Online, 23 Oct. ABC
xxvii
Fox, M. (2019). Possum Magic. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/possum-
magic/ [Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xxviii
Ibid
xxix
Ibid
xxx
Ibid
xxxi
Holden, B. & James Hardie Library, 1988. Koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras : 200 Australian children's
books and illustrations: 1857-1988, Granville, N.S.W.]: James Hardie Industries Limited (Australia).
xxxii
Wall, D. (1933). The Adventures of Blinky Bill. Angus & Robertson.
xxxiii
Holden, B. & James Hardie Library, 1988. Koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras : 200 Australian children's
books and illustrations: 1857-1988, Granville, N.S.W.]: James Hardie Industries Limited (Australia).
xxxiv
Fox, M. and Vivas, J. (1983). Possum Magic. Adelaide: Omnibus Books.
xxxv
Fox, M. and Lofts, P. (1988). Koala Lou. HMH Books for Young Readers.
xxxvi
Ibid
xxxvii
Fox, M. (2019). Koala Lou. [online] Memfox.com. Available at: https://memfox.com/books/koala-lou/
[Accessed 21 Oct. 2019].
xxxviii
Galda, L., & Tobin, B. (1992). Children's Books: Dreamtime Downunder: Exploring Australian Books. The
Reading Teacher, 46(2), 146-156.
xxxix
Holden, B. & James Hardie Library, 1988. Koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras : 200 Australian children's
books and illustrations: 1857-1988, Granville, N.S.W.]: James Hardie Industries Limited (Australia).
xl
Vaughan, M. (1984). Wombat Stew. Gosford: Scholastic Australia.
xli
Ibid
xlii
Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The Reading Teacher,
46(8), 654-658.
xliii
Ibid
xliv
Ibid
xlv
Gibbs, M. (1918). The story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Pymble, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson.
xlvi
Wall, D. (1933). The Adventures of Blinky Bill. Angus & Robertson.
xlvii
Lester, A. (1990). Magic beach. Allen and Unwin Childrens.
xlviii
Roughsey, D. (1975). The rainbow serpent. Sydney, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson.
xlix
Daozhi, X. 2016. The gift and the ethics of representing Aboriginality in Australian children's literature.
Australian Aboriginal Studies, (2), pp.33–45.
l
Ibid
li
Ibid
liilii
Ibid
liii
Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The Reading Teacher, 46(8),
654-658.
liv
Galda, L., & Tobin, B. (1992). Children's Books: Dreamtime Downunder: Exploring Australian Books. The
Reading Teacher, 46(2), 146-156.
lv
Van, D.W. & Adcock, F. 2016, Possum Magic author Mem Fox encourages parents to read to children from
infancy: Beloved children's author Mem Fox uses her visit to regional Queensland this week to encourage
parents to read to their children, Sydney.
lvi
Fox, M. (1993). Politics and Literature: Chasing the "Isms" from Children's Books. The Reading Teacher, 46(8),
654-658.
lvii
Anderson, B.R.O.G., 2016. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism
Revised

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