24 December 2023

Capital Nanima country inspires storyteller to educate children - the best way

| Sally Hopman
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Children’s author Rhian Williams writes from the heart – the heart of her country, just outside Canberra. Photo: Supplied.

Writer Rhian Williams doesn’t have to look far when it comes to inspiration for her stories – just out her window will do the trick.

The children’s book writer lives the picturesque lifestyle in a farm cottage at Nanima, just over the Canberra border into NSW – a dream location between Poachers Pantry and the Murrumbateman Chocolate Co.

In between writing books, she has had her fair share of life experiences: from driving a Mr Whippy van to working as a tour guide in the Great Barrier Reef to teaching youngsters about our culture at national institutions.

But her greatest love is storytelling. Living in the country, she says, inspires her stories – from her latest, Surprise at the End of Onkaparinga Lane, about the joys of starting school, to her first book, Ten Little Figs – an ode to the Australian landscape which tells the story of a special backyard fig tree.

She credits the fig tree with providing the initial inspiration for the book – “my clever little fig tree grew some little figs that grew into a story that grew into a book called Ten Little Figs, which is all about counting and sharing a garden and figs with some very hungry Australian animals”.

But it is her second book, Emergency! Emergency! that really carries a message from her heart. It’s a story for children, teaching them about the importance of all the emergency vehicles used for fires – like trucks, water bombers and helicopters.

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As a volunteer with her local bushfire brigade, Rhian knows well the importance of such vehicles in the bush when it comes to saving lives and property.

“I’ve been at Nanima for about 16 years – it’s an area where I was struck straight away by how brave and selfless our volunteers are,” Rhian said.

Before that, she lived in Hall where she also helped the local bushfire brigade, using her skills as a writer to put a newsletter together, letting people know what was going on.

“I guess I always wanted to be a journalist, so I started doing the newsletter, providing information for people, especially those who had moved out to the rural areas from urban areas. It is so important out here for people to know what to do in times of fire,” Rhian said.

Two pages of a children's book

Rhian Williams’ latest book, Surprise at the End of Onkaparinga Lane, is dedicated to all the grandmothers of the world. Photo: Supplied.

She has also loved reading for as long as she can remember. “Books have taken me on adventures to places near and far, they have kept me warm when the world has seemed a cold and difficult place and their characters have been my constant companions who have made me laugh, see and believe.”

Rhian’s family is originally from Wales. Her father came to Australia in the 1950s to work on the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Rhian came to Australia on her third birthday, claiming the same hometown as former prime minister Julia Gillard, Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan.

“Dad came out here to work on the Snowy and fell in love with the place,” she said. “He went back to Wales and met Mum and came back – and I’m eternally grateful that he did. Wales is very wet and cold – it’s great if you like that kind of weather,” she laughed.

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There has never been another career goal than writing for Rhian. “In Grade Three I decided I wanted to be a writer – and a scientist. I’m still working on the scientist part,” Rhian said.

But she’s not abandoned that interest completely. Her books look at native Australia, its animals and environment, some featuring a scientific angle. They have also proven an added boon to children with special needs.

“My first book, Ten Little Figs was a CBCA [Children’s Book Council of Australia] Notable Book and a finalist in the Speech Pathology Awards. My second, Emergency Emergency – Vehicles to the Rescue was also a CBCA Notable Book and was shortlisted in the Educational Publishing Awards … it is a truly Canberra book, featuring our big yellow fire trucks,” Rhian said.

More information about the author is available on her website.

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