The Book Farm - 'Growing' books on the Sunshine Coast
A south-east Queensland farm that grows books and inspires children to interpret their feelings about the natural environment has been recognised nationally for its contribution to nature-based tourism. The picturesque Book Farm surrounded by rolling green hills and reclaimed rainforest at Maleny in the hinterland of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, has been awarded EcoCertification.
EcoCertification is a joint initiative of the Ecotourisim Association of Australia and the Australian Tourism Operators Network. It is one of the first programs of its type in the world designed to identify genuine nature-based tourism operators in Australia. It focuses on operators who encourage people to experience nature in ways that lead to greater understanding and appreciation of sustaining the environment for future generations.
About eight kilometres from Maleny in a story-book setting covering 20 hectares, The Book Farm is believed to be a unique concept in Australia. It is the home of acclaimed children's author Jill Morris and her partner Richard Dent, who does most of the necessary hands-on work around the property, as well as assisting locals from the community to make walking tracks.
Writers of all ages explore the rainforest with published authors and illustrators and learn how to grow books. Ms Morris works from the grass roots, linking literature to the natural environment and taking children on a journey through the complete writing, illustrating and publishing experience. She describes publishing as a "bottomless pit of learning". She says publishing is about "handing everything on".
"We really do grow books - we plant the creative seeds encouraging and inspiring children to appreciate nature and put their thoughts and impressions down on paper," Jill Morris said from her magnificent open-plan timber home high on a hill in the green Maleny countryside.
"Our mission statement is to produce high quality materials for children across all media and to encourage writers of all ages by linking writing and the natural environment," Ms Morris said.
The Book Farm is the home of Greater Glider Productions, an independent, publishing house that welcomes a range of groups by appointment. School holiday workshops are also conducted in interpreting nature in writing and illustration by Ms Morris and other writers, editors, publishers and teachers.
Activities include gallery talks with colourful original artworks from prize winning books on the environment and creative writing and art workshops for all ages.
Ms Morris is author of more than 80 books including illustrated non-fiction on Australian kangaroos, bats, frog, and owls. Titles such as Mahogany the Mystery Glider, Harry the Hairy-Nosed Wombat and The Wombat Who Talked to the Stars, the journal of a northern hairy-nosed wombat, one of a critically endangered species reduced to a small group in one colony outside Clermont in Queensland, have become classic favourites with readers of all ages.
Ms Morris went in search of the hairy-nosed wombat and set up a wombat breeding program before she started to write the wombat books. She has also produced a range of children's colouring books about Australian fauna.
A former ABC producer, scriptwriter and film writer, Ms Morris wrote her first poem as a child at Binna Burra Mountain Lodge, where she experienced her first rainforest and first waterfall.
"After my father died, my mother took me and my sister to Binna Burra to help us get over the loss. Mum and my sister went for a walk and I stayed behind. I sat thinking beside a waterfall for more than an hour. I think the poem wrote itself in my head," Ms Morris said. "'Who dares to stop its tumble, who dares to stop its fall...' - I still wonder if I wrote the poem or if the waterfall wrote it," Ms Morris said. From then on she knew she wanted to involved with the natural environment. "I still believe if you find the environment you find out about yourself. It opens a file."
Now children clamber up inside an ancient strangler fig tree at the Book Farm and write stories about their experience. They all climb the same fig tree but every story is different. Then they run down the hill and whoever finds the frogs' eggs first is the star. They all shine at something different and find out something about themselves.
Ms Morris who was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1972 for Creative Activities for Children, believes the environment can empower you, that you can carry it with you. She has named the major Book Farm rainforest walk to Obi Obi Creek and the Strangler Fig after children's writer, Michael Noonan, who influenced her as a child.
The 'enchanted cabin' on the property is a venue for clay sculpture workshops and storytelling and the Poolhouse is a major teaching space complete with printers' plates and python poo as well as a view of chooks and goats. There is also caravan accommodation for writers and illustrators in residence.
Children also help by planting rainforest trees and time capsule poems where cleared farming land is being returned to native forest.
As well as regular workshops for groups, The Book Farm also hosts an annual Open Day and an annual Teachers' and Teacher Librarians' Lunch.
Groups of up to 30 children make one-day excursions with parent or teacher supervision on a ratio of one adult to five children. Workshops focus on the group's particular needs such as story structure, getting ideas, being an author, fiction or non-fiction, poetry writing, playwriting and radio work. A day may involve a talk by an author or illustrator, morning tea, a walk in the rainforest, lunch, writing exercises followed by sharing ideas and feedback.
There are also week long author/illustrator festivals for groups of up to 50 students.
By Maureen Millar
For more information
The Book Farm
Tel +61 7 5494 3000