River Boy Q&A
Why did you write River Boy?
I was asked to write River Boy by the National Museum of Australia as part of the 'Making Tracks' series. A group of authors and illustrators have written a number of small chapter books for young independent readers up to about 10 years. Each book takes an object in the National Museum collection as a starting point for a story. I chose the paddle steamer Enterprise. And I was very lucky to have Donna Rawlins as an illustrator.
Why the Enterprise?
The Enterprise is a famous boat. It's one of the oldest working paddleboats in the world. She was built at the river port of Echuca in 1878. After a long life on the Murray River she's now part of the National Museum collection and still steams from time to time around Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin. I felt she needed a book of her own. There's an interactive section about the Enterprise at the National Museum's website.
How did you research River Boy?
I went for a ride on the Enterprise, smelling the oil and smoke, watching the steam and the pistons driving the paddle wheels. I also went to Echuca for several days where a number of steam boats still ply the river, mainly for tourists.
The river port is not as busy as it was in the old days, but you can still get a sense of what it was like, watching the river flowing by the wharf on its high wooden stilts.
What do you think River Boy means?
River Boy is first and foremost an adventure story ... a tale to interest visitors to the Museum and say something of what it was like to live and work on the paddle boats in their golden age. It's a story about Nat Shannon's first voyage as a river boy.
But it's also a story of his inner journey ... Nat's growing up. We all have to make that journey from a child to an adult. Interestingly, this is also the theme of my book Captain Cook's Apprentice ... another story of a lad who embarked as a cabin boy, and returned home a man. In a strange way River Boy turned out to be a practice piece for the much longer novel about the Endeavour voyage.
Paddle boats at Echuca, 2004