Award-winning Author Catherine Bauer On Writing Dreaming Soldiers

November 19, 2019

My road to publication was a long one requiring heart, persistence, hope and above all, belief in my story, Dreaming Soldiers. Nothing unique in that.

For as long as I can recall, I’ve been writing. As a youngster I delighted in writing, making my own books, adding colourful drawings and stapling the pages together, pages that made a satisfying crinkling sound when turned.

A rewarding career in journalism and the communication sector followed and then my most important job, raising three wonderful sons. Throughout it all, I continued writing in any spare moments.

The Dreaming Soldiers story, as so many do, came from left field. While helping my youngest son with research for two separate primary school assignments – one of the Anzacs and another on Aboriginal Dreaming stories, I became immersed and somehow the two threats became entwined.

Until relatively recently, little was known publicly about the participation of Aboriginal men and women in Australia’s armed forces. Subsequent research has established a record of Aboriginal service dating back to the start of Commonwealth era in 1901.

I consider myself well educated, have studied Australian history and take a keen interest in current affairs. I grew close to members of the Port Adelaide Aboriginal community through a local community centre when starting out as a young reporter. But I was ignorant when it came to the level of Aboriginal war service and sacrifice until decades later when I was helping my son with his projects. I noted too that of all the Anzac heroes and servicemen he had the option of studying, not one was of an Aboriginal serviceman. So, it would seem, even today’s students remain largely ignorant in this respect. I noted too, that not one of the many wonderful stories written for kids about the Anzacs feature Aboriginal faces.

Through the Australian War Memorial and other sources, I learned these young men joined up for the same reasons as anyone else- to serve Australia and to seek adventure. For the Aboriginal personnel there was the added hope that service would improve their lives post-war. Sadly, it didn’t.

This was a story that had to be shared and so I began researching in earnest.

Many who might have been able to help were reluctant to do so. I am a non-Aboriginal person and have no cultural right to write Aboriginal characters or to tell their stories.

For the briefest of moments, I was discouraged, but eventually came into contact with Carissa Godwin, a wonderful young Aboriginal woman I met through the SA Writers’ Centre. She encouraged me to keep going and generously linked me up with Aboriginal academics and others who agreed that I had the story telling skills to help shed light on some of the stories of Aboriginal war service. They advised me on various aspects and I stuck to the facts and did not use traditional stories or references in my text.

From here, through Reconciliation SA, I met Frank Lampard OAM. Frank is an Aboriginal Elder of Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna descent and Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Veterans SA. Through Frank, I met with members of the AVSA and detailed my aims and plans.

When my MS was finally ready, and had been reviewed by both Frank and Carissa, who each wrote a testimonial in support of the work’s aims, I approached several publishers. In due course I received rejections. But not the standard. While not the writing and the story itself were praised, the general thrust was that it ‘wasn’t commercial enough’. This only made me more determined.

Eventually, the team at Big Sky responded with an email that made my heart sing – not for me – but for the fact that the story would finally have an audience.

For me, this story is not just about issues surrounding Aboriginal war service; it’s about belonging, respect and acceptance – no matter what your creed or cultural background.

I don’t claim to speak for or on behalf of anyone, but I am a teller of stories, real and imagined. All I can hope for is that my story and the incredible illustrations by Shane McGrath enlighten and inspire young readers and encourage them to commemorate the sacrifices of all Australians who have or will serve the nation.

Purchase your copy here and at all good bookstores.

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