I wrote Tom Tom because I love children, I love language and I love writing. At the time I wrote Tom Tom, I was the teacher at the Clyde Fenton Mobile Preschool in Katherine, so I was teaching Aboriginal children every day. I wanted to write a book which was about the daily life of these children, so they could see themselves and their way of life in a book. I also wanted to bring the life of Aboriginal people more vividly to life; I’m always disappointed by the general ignorance which exists about our own indigenous people.
I also love the quirkiness and peculiarities of the way Aboriginal people use language, such as their use of repetition. You see this in their own languages, in words like mukmuk or putput, or names like Bett-Bett in We of the Never-Never. You see it in Aboriginal place names in Australia, like Wagga Wagga, Grong Grong and Walla Walla. This penchant transfers to their use of English as well, such as cry-cry (cry), bigibigi (pig) and chook-chook (chook).
Lemonade Springs is not based on a specific community but combines a whole range of places I’ve lived in or visited over many years. I did write it when I was the mobile pre-school teacher visiting Rockhole and Binjari, near Katherine, and you can see elements of these places in the book.
But it is also like almost every other community I’ve been to. There are a couple of different camps (areas of housing). There’s a school or preschool, a clinic and a shop, brick houses and tin sheds, and a watercourse or swimming spot nearby.
I came up with the name Lemonade Springs because I thought of some of the great place names we have in the Territory, like Argadargada, and Seven Emu, and my favourite, Bubble Bubble Springs, which is in the Keep River National Park.
I thought of Lemonade Springs. There is actually a Lemonade Springs somewhere in WA, but it is not a well-known place.
No doubt, you have many questions about Tom Tom and his adventures. The following Frequently Asked Questions section will help to satisfy your curiousity about this special little boy. If you have a question that isn’t covered in the sections below, you may contact the Author here >>
I have lived and worked at Nganmarriyanga (Palumpa), Mataranka, Hodgson River, and in Katherine while working at Rockhole and Binjari. I’ve also visited or had associations with Amanbidji, Kalkaringi, Maningrida, among others.
Initially I started thinking about the book, especially on my drives to and from Rockhole and Binjari. I almost wrote it in my mind before I ever sat down and wrote it out. Then I just sat down at the computer and the story came flowing out. It took me a few hours to write, and I have played around with it somewhat, but in essence what you read is what I wrote that day in 2002. Then I took it out and read it to some of the families whose children were an inspiration and they were all quite happy with it, and happy for me to try and get it published.
After I was satisfied with my manuscript, I sent it off to a publisher and promptly received a rejection. Then I left it in the cupboard for a few years, read a few books about writing children’s books, and finally attended a children’s writing workshop with Kim Caraher, from the NT Writer’s Centre. She gave me some feedback and so I made a minor adjustment or two, and after not getting around to it for a year, finally sent it off to a couple of publishers in January 2007. Within six weeks I had a tentative ‘interested’ response from Jane at Working Title. The biggest challenge was to find an appropriate illustrator, because the book needed a very specific artistic approach.
The publisher Working Title Press organised the illustrator. Dee had previously done You and Me: Our Place with Leonie Norrington. Dee is not only an exquisite illustrator, with a particularly vivid style, but she works quickly and is very professional .
Indigenous people usually live in a community in or near their traditional country, and they rarely move away from these places. Consequently, they are related to most people with whom they live. Because their extended family lives close by, they remain in close contact with them. While most Australians wouldn’t know their second or third cousins, Aboriginal people often live in the same community as these relatives. Thus they are able to track relationships and kinship much further afield. Relationships have more importance to them.
While most of my extended family is scattered across Australia, Aboriginal people have those family members close by. Also, Aboriginal people have a larger family size, which only adds to the impression of a multitude of relatives!
Tom Tom, like many Aboriginal children, spends time at the houses of various close family members. The story doesn’t make it clear if his parents live with him or not, and this omission is deliberate. He may live in a house with his mother or he may stay with his grandparents. This is a reality for many children, and not just Aboriginal children. I wanted to avoid a picture of an Aboriginal ‘nuclear family’ because I wanted the book to be grounded in the reality of life, not a romanticised ideal.
A mobile pre-school is an NT invention in which a pre-school teacher visits small communities and conducts a regular preschool session for 3 and 4 year old children. A mobile pre-school attempts to overcome the disadvantage Aboriginal children face in accessing preschool services. Despite coming from a different linguistic and cultural background, they often receive less early childhood educational services, rather than more.
When I was teaching at Nganmarriyana, during the Culture Activity Week the people built a traditional paperbark shelter in the school grounds. The children used to play in it and use it like a cubby and even referred to it as a ‘cubby house’.