13 Jul 2009

Terrific Thiele Tales

Colin Thiele died on 4th September 2006. You can be forgiven if you missed it though - his death was ignored for another 'far greater Aussie', Steve Irwin. I remember hearing only one report of his passing throughout that long day of media coverage, and wondering why it was that one of the true greats of Australian children's literature had been passed over for...er...crickey...the bloke who hunted crocodiles. Later during our nation's Lady Diana-like outpouring of grief, John Howard our then Prime Minister, called the lovable larikin Steve Irwin a quintessential Australian. About gentle, civilised Colin Thiele, he said nothing at all.

Which was a shame.

About Colin Thiele I can truly say he was a quintessential Australian, and I continue to hold him in my affections. I hope that his work will soon enjoy the revival that it truly deserves - that we will again be able to buy his work in new bookstores instead of combing the shelves of the second hand; that today's children will again read the pages of this amazing wordsmith. For that's what he was - a truly remarkable Australian storyteller. He wrote more than 80 of them too, not just Storm Boy, although I must admit that this, along with Sun on the Stubble, remains my favourite.

In common with Charlotte Mason, Thiele favoured living books for teaching children. One of my favourite of his quotes is truly Masonesque:

Poetry is more powerful than polemics and tales more effective than tracts.
I like it.

His list of awards goes on and on:

W.J. Miles Poetry Prize,1944, for the manuscript of Progress to Denial Commonwealth Jubilee Literary Competitions,
1st prize in radio play section, for Edge of Ice 1951
South Australian winner in World Short Story Quest, 1952
Fulbright scholar in the United States and Canada, 1959-60
Grace Levin Poetry Prize, 1961, for Man in a Landscape
Miles Franklin Award, 1962
Children’s Book of the Year Award, 1962
Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship, 1967-68
Hans Christian Andersen Award , international honours list for Blue Fin in 1972
Writers Award, 1973, for The Fire in the Stone
Children’s Book of the Year Award, 1974, for The Fire in the Stone [commended]
Edgar Allan Poe Award, Best Juvenile Mystery, runner-up, 1975, for The Fire in the Stone
Visual Arts Board Award for Illustration, 1975, for Magpie Island
Children’s Book of the Year Award, 1975, for Magpie Island [commended]
Netherlands Award of the Silver Pencil ,1976, for the film of Storm Boy
Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to literature and education, 1977
Austrian State Prize for Children’s Books, 1977, for Magpie Island
Austrian State Prize for Children’s Books, 1979, for The Hammerhead Light
Austrian State Prize for Children’s Books, 1979, for the Sknuks
Advance Australia Award, 1980
Children’s Book of the Year Award, 1982, for The Valley Between
German Publisher Award ,1984
Austrian State Prize, 1986, for Pinquo
Christian Blind Mission International Book of the year, 1988, for The Seed’s Inheritance
Great South Australian Award – Services to the Arts, 1989
Family Award of Children’s Books – New South Wales Family Therapy Association, 1989 The International Board on Books for Young People Certificate of honor, 1992, for Blue Fin
Christian Book of the year, Children’s Award- Australian Christian Literature Society, 1994 , for Martin’s Mountain
Christian Book of the year , Children’s Award, 1995, for Gemma’s Christmas Eve
YABBA Shortlist, 1996, recommendation for Jodie’s Journey
New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards 1997
Wilderness Society Environment, 1997, Award for High Valley
Dromkeen Medal was awarded in 1997 for his contribution to children’s literature

Surely that beats getting chased by a crocodile...

I've just introduced Jemimah to the works of this excellent author. We began with Thiele Tales - Three Long Stories for Children - a marvellous collection of two long short stories, Flash Flood and Flip-Flop and the Tiger Snake, and one story in verse, Gloop the Bunyip.

Flash Flood

Flash Flood is the story of Even-Stevens. He is nine years old the year he and his family go on a caravaning holiday in the Flinders Ranges.

For three weeks they travelled the Ranges. They camped in places with names that mooed like cows and rang like bells: Aroona Gorge and Bunyeroo, Wiloolo, Wertaloona, Balcanoona and Moolooloo; they rested by places with names that sounded as flat as a slap, or clicked on their teeth like sticks: Yapala Range and Patawerta, Paralana and Branchina Gorge, Pichi Richi and Parachilna, Oraparinna and Angorichina; and they passed by names that sounded so harsh and dry that the names rattled around in their mouths like gibbers or karked like the cries of crows: Artimore Bore and Arkaba Hills, Kanyaka and Arkaroola.
One night they decided to camp in an old creek bed...
Mr Stevens should have known better.
Mrs Stevens should have warned him.
Granny should have clicked her tongue.
For in the hard rocky watersheds of the dry northern ranges you never camp in a creek-bed, you never sleep in a washaway, you never trust to a gully if your eyes and ears are shut. No, never.
And then it started to rain...

Flip-Flop and the Tiger Snake

Flip-Flop was a frog. Well actually, at the beginning, Flip-Flop was a tadpole, but he soon becomes a frog. He was perky and cheeky and quick, but he was not yet very wise...

"Cranes and ibises are the most fearful monsters in the world," Flip-Flop one day declares.

Perhaps he was right but perhaps he was not. For not far away, in the leaves and bark under an old hollow log, was a danger he hadn't even seen yet... Not a tall lancing bird or a beast or a man. Not a beak or a claw or a hard sharp tooth. But something thin and smooth and as glossy as an eel. It was Tiger Snake!

Gloop the Bunyip

Gloop had a wonderful life until the white people came. They chopped up all the bushland around his billabong:

For every day they kept on coming back
To chop and hack
The bush aside, and put their fences up;
To camp and batch,
To build and thatch,
And bring in wife and cow and horse...

It got that way, poor Gloop could not enjoy
A swaggy any more for second course.
It was okay at first - Gloop could frighten the white people away...
And yet, in spite of all the fear and fun
To catch such strangers or to see them run,
Gloop grew unhappy. Only at night
Could he keep them off with fright...
Poor Gloop. Then, just as Gloop expects to be caught and imprisoned forever in the zoo, something really unexpected happens...

I won't tell you what that something is, but I will show you a little of how Thiele describes it:
It flung Gloop out
With roar and rout
And spun him round
And up and down
Enough to drown...

With pots and socks

And bobbing dippers,

Tumbling rocks

And flinging flippers,

Fins and scales

And flailing tails,

Cows and horses,

Bottled sauces,

Sheds and stacks

And sticks and stones,

Cries and shouts

And thumps and moans;

Melons shot like canon-balls

Over shooting


And even sometimes

Here and there

Little tufts

Of bunyip hair...

All gone tumbling

Swish and thud

In that fearful

Summer flood...

Now that's the kind of poetry that kids love...my kid anyhow. We were spellbound, all of us.

This man had an amazing way with words. This book, written for younger children just screams to be read aloud. I loved reading it, my tongue thrilling over the alliteration and the frank Australianisms. It is a true fair dinkum delight.

All of Colin Thiele's books are. You may have trouble getting hold of Thiele Tales, although my mate Abe has 12 of them for as little as $8.00 at the moment, but do fit some of this wonderful Australian's books into your children's childhood. You won't be disappointed.

I'm just going to leave you now with the wonderful scene in Storm Boy where Mike meets Fingerbone Bill for the first time. Storm Boy is truly an Australian cinematic classic as well.


  1. Wow, you've sold me! I obviously didn't grow up with Colin Thiele but my dh has some books and I will look out for more. I can't wait to start enjoying them together with Rebekah:)

  2. As soon as the title came up in the reader, even before looking at the post, my first thought was of how his passing was ignored because of Steve Irwin.
    But hey, Steve doesn't rate much of a mention these days, especialy in our circles, but we still read and wonder at the beautiful stories of Colin Thiele.

  3. Yes, I remember when he passed away. We actually had a thread on the old AussieHomeschool board, and I think it was nearly as long as the Steve Irwin thread!

  4. Storm Boy is my one of my favourites. It will be on my bookshelf forever~!!

    The last time I read Storm Boy I was half way through reading it to the boys when I knew something wasn't right with my pregnancy. Had an u/s and found out baby had died and then I spent the next week crying my way through Storm Boy.

    Shocking that he was ignored while Steve Irwin was all over the place.

  5. David has mentioned how 'Storm Boy' was one of his absolute favourite books as a child. It's on my list for next year! Thanks for sharing Jeanne! xxx

  6. Hi Jeanne,
    Our favourite Colin Thiele book is Sun on the Stubble - we laughed and laughed reading this one.

    He was a magnificent author and will be sadly missed, although he will be remembered through his books. :)

    We have many of his books, and my daughter still loves them.

  7. I know we are totally US-centered here [in fact our "world" maps even show the USA in the CENTER with Asia split in two] but I've honestly never heard of this author. [Steve Irwin--well you couldn't miss him!]Now I'm curious to read something by him!

  8. Mrs Adept, I suppose Storm Boy will always be bittersweet for you, then. I'm glad associative memories haven't spoiled it for you though - it's a great novel, isn't it!

  9. Joyfulmum and Hopewell, I think you'll love him the way the rest of us have! He truly is Terrific Thiele!!

  10. Thank you for the introduction to Colin Thiele.

    BTW, if I have my facts straight, C.S. Lewis died on the same day J.F. Kennedy was shot. It may be that writers never want to become the story.

    btw: I will never get a post done if I use all my computer time reading your wonderful blog.

  11. Now don't blame me, Richele!! I am looking forward to hearing what you've been up to, though...


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