Summer News 2024

Anthony Hill’s Newsletter

Summer 2024

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Dear friends

Welcome to my Summer 2024 Newsletter. In this edition:

•   Best Wishes for 2024: Back in business 

•    Vale Bill and Dallas Hayden

•   Young Digger statue plans, Tim Tovell Shield

•   Franklin Expedition photographs, Franklin Week at Spilsby

•   Soldier Boy play developments, Young Digger play

•   Literary Awards

•   Short Story: A Last Nowell

Best Wishes for 2024

First things first. Let me hope that everyone had a happy and relaxing break over the Christmas-New Year season, and offer my best wishes for a successful and – so far as is possible – peaceful 2024.

For our part, the break was a time of frantic busyness. Many years ago we ran an antique shop full-time in rural New South Wales (1977-82). It was an escape from political journalism and in fact provided the material for my first three books. It turned me into a novelist.

The experience also taught Jill and me that we were traders, that we could survive: and once you know that, they can’t hurt you. Ever since, we’ve been dabbling in antiques on the side at local markets and online. Most writers need many strings to the bow.

So, just before Christmas we heard we’d been allocated a cabinet at the Camberwell Antique Centre in suburban Melbourne: a prestigious venue and a lucky piece of good fortune. It would be available from the beginning of January.

With the family on holiday at The Grampians in central Victoria, the two of us spent Christmas week rummaging through the boxes of old stock, sorting, washing, pricing, arranging the cabinet display shelf by shelf, wrapping, unwrapping and at last on the day after New Year, setting it all up at Camberwell.

A Sample Shelf

It was a solid ten days for a couple of octogenarians, and will probably be the last time we’ll do it. But golly, it’s nice to be back in the business again; and as the time is our own, we were quite at leisure to spend the next week sleeping it off. And catching up with the Newsletter.

P.S. Two valuable discoveries emerged. One was a piece of Meissen porcelain (pictured) I’d forgotten about. The other was Christmas Dinner at our local hotel by the bay. It was excellent – the first time for some years that grandpa hadn’t cooked it himself. And a pleasure that certainly won’t be the last.


Vale Bill and Dallas Hayden

I was about to send out this Newsletter when news came through of the death of Dallas Hayden, for 63 years the wife of the late Bill Hayden, former Governor-General of Australia, Foreign Minister in the Hawke Government and Minister for Social Security and Treasurer in the Whitlam Government. One of the best Prime Ministers this country didn’t have.

I first came to know Bill and Dallas when I began working in the Canberra press gallery for the old Melbourne Herald in June 1972. But both Jill and I became closely involved with them when I was on his personal staff as a speechwriter during his term as Governor-General (1989-96).

I travelled widely with him around Australia during his official visits to regional and outback communities. Memorable tours were to the Torres Strait, the Pilbara and the Kimberleys, during which I was to discover stories, landscapes and people about whom I would come to write, or at least be influenced by, in my later books.

Importantly, I was with Bill and Dallas when they represented Australia at the 80th Anzac Day Commemoration services at Gallipoli in 1995; and when a few years later I came to write Soldier Boy, the tragic images of those rocky, blood-soaked heights rising from the blue Aegean Sea were resonating in my mind. I have dedicated the play of Soldier Boy to Bill’s memory.

Bill and Dallas were always very good to us, both privately and in our professional relationships. I will ever be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to have a view of Australia and the Australian people from a perspective – a privileged perspective – granted to few other people.

Bill always said that, as a politician, people usually told him what they assumed he wanted to hear. As Governor-General, with no more political votes to chase, they told him what they really thought. And in that vein, Jill and I pay tribute to Mr and Mrs Hayden for some of the most interesting, rewarding and significant times of our lives.

They have gone to their rest within three months of each other. God grant them peace. They are a loss to the entire nation.


Young Digger statue plans

Exciting news came during the year of a proposal by some members of 4 Squadron RAAF, to replace the missing statue of the little war orphan that once stood atop Henri Tovell’s (‘Young Digger’) headstone in Melbourne’s Fawkner Cemetery.

The  2 foot 6 inch (72 cm) bronze statue, by the sculptor Wallace Anderson, was erected in 1932 and disappeared sometime during the 1950s – whether purloined for a garden ornament or melted down for scrap is anybody’s guess.

The grave was vandalised, and the headstone itself now stands outside 4 Squadron HQ at Williamtown air base NSW, following the unveiling of a new gravestone in 2009.

The original squadron made the French boy its mascot and his guardian, Flight Mechanic Tim Tovell, smuggled him to Australia in 1919 and raised Digger with his own children. The squadron honours both of them as a significant part of the unit’s early history.

During the past year the official records have been examined for details of the original statue and gravestone, and approaches made to three sculptors. Visually, the only known photo is a rather distant image from the 1930s, but apparently it is sufficient for a decent replica to be made and cast.

The next step is to raise the necessary funding. Squadron Leader Michael Keaney advises that so far about $10,000 has been raised, but another $20,000 is needed to undertake the commission. One issue with funding from official sources is that the headstone is presently on defence land not normally open to the public.

The project to create a replica statue for Young Digger’s grave is dear to me, and I commend it to you.

We’ve offered to contribute $500 to the fund, and if any other readers are interested to make a donation, let me know and I’ll pass their contact details to Mike Keaney. And I’ll keep you informed of  progress in subsequent Newsletters.

Despite the earnest endeavours of many people since the Great War, we still do not know Young Digger’s real name. I believe it to be Honoré, the name he wrote as a child; but absent any proof I’ve long considered him to be our Unknown War Orphan, as we have the Unknown Soldier, representing the hundreds – thousands –  of war orphans who we all know are still suffering in the world every week of the year.

Tim Tovell Shield


Meanwhile, Squadron Leader Keaney kindly sent me a photograph of the annual Sergeant Tim Tovell shield, presented annually to a  member of 4 Squadron who best demonstrates the qualities of loyalty, dedication, compassion and pride in the unit and the broader Air Force, as exemplified by Tim and his care for Young Digger.

Instituted in 2011, it contains the names of previous winners of the shield, one of whom is Mike Keaney himself. The 2023 winner was LACW Christina McCallum. I congratulate her, and thank Squadron Leader Keaney and the unit commander, Wing Commander Steve Duffy for permission to use the photograph.

Previous winners have been: 2011 SGT P Ward; 2011 (Dec) SGT R Devlin; 2012 SQNLDR J Greig; 2013 SGT K Jeffery; 2014 SGT C Morris; 2015 CPL J Anderson; 2016 CPL A Williams; 2017 CPL L Stanyer; 2018 FLTLT S Rendell; 2019 CPL L Kay; 2020 FLTLT M Keaney; 2021 CPL V Voyzey; 2022 SGT B McLoughlin Wilden.


Franklin Expedition photographs

Sincere thanks also to Max Gibson of Spilsby, in Lincolnshire, who alerted me to the very significant sale of 14 historic photographs of members of the ill-fated 1845-48 Arctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin, one of Spilsby’s most illustrious sons.

The photographs were sold by Sotheby’s last September for £444,500 ($A845,000), double the higher estimate. Here is the link:


The daguerreotypes (an early form of photograph on a silvered copper plate) were taken by Richard Beard at the request of Lady Jane Franklin of her husband and 13 fellow officers of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, just before the expedition left England.

From the Franklin family, they are considered to be among the most important historic photographs to surface in recent times. The only known photograph of Sir John (1786-1847) is from the set.

The expedition achieved Franklin’s life-long ambition to discover the Northwest Passage around the top of Canada, but tragically Sir John and the entire expedition died after having been frozen in the pack ice for some three years. The sunken wrecks of the two ships have been discovered in recent years, and now form part of a national historic site.



Franklin Week at Spilsby

While John Franklin is today more famous for his death in the Arctic ice, his youthful voyage as a midshipman with his cousin Matthew Flinders was the subject of my last book The InvestigatorsMax Gibson was enormously helpful to me with his local knowledge at a time when Covid made a research trip to England impossible.

He recently sent me some photographs from Spilsby relating to this favoured son. Apart from his fame as an Arctic explorer, Franklin was Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and posthumously promoted to the rank of rear-admiral.

Every year Spilsby – where he was born on 16 April 1786 – remembers his achievements and also St George’s Day, during a week of celebrations.

As a Spilsby Town Councillor, Max sent a me a number of photographs, including one of the banners used during Franklin Week; a ceramic model of the shop where John was born (it is now a bakery); and Franklin’s statue in the Cornhill market square. Behind it stands the old town hall, painted white. The new Town Hall, out of shot, has been named Franklin Hall, a community-owned building of which the Town Council is a tenant.

They say prophets are not always honoured in their native land. But this one most certainly is.

Matthew Flinders: By the way, the remains of Matthew Flinders, whose coffin was discovered in 2018 during excavations at London’s Euston station, are to be reinterred in his home town of Donington, not far from Spilsby, later this year. I’ll report more fully in a future Newsletter.

As a writer, it’s a wonderful thing to me that both these stories of Young Digger the war orphan, Matthew Flinders and John Franklin the Investigators, continue to develop and evolve on the world stage. The End is rarely the end of any book.





Soldier Boy the play

My literary work this past half year has been wholly concentrated on developing the draft play based on my novel Soldier Boy about 14-year-old Jim Martin, the youngest Australian Anzac and almost certainly the youngest Australian soldier to die in war.


As mentioned in my last Newsletter, I’ve been working closely on the script with my cousin, the actor Laura Iris Hill, and benefitting greatly from her experience.

I’d completed a third draft by late September when Laura arranged a reading with three of her actor friends at our place. It was wonderful.

Hearing the lines spoken by professionals, the piece began to come to life, even in that first read through. More importantly, I could tell at once which parts of the drama were succeeding and which needed further work.

What was so splendid from my point of view, the actors stayed on for a couple of hours afterwards. And while half of the discussion was on matters concerning the script, the other half was about production values … the various effects and theatrical techniques that could enhance a performance.

It was so valuable, I included most of the suggestions in the fourth draft of the play. I completed it towards the end of the year, and it is now I think as good as I can make it, short of seeing the piece in rehearsal on a stage. That will really show what more needs to be done in terms of tweaks or wholesale revisions.

Since then, I’ve shown it to a director whom we met during our theatre-going with Laura as she re-establishes her career at home after a decade in New York. The response from the director to the play was really very enthusiastic.

The next step will be to see if we can get Soldier Boy into performance. And that will be a key focus for the year ahead.


New Work

This shift in literary direction from printed page to the live stage, has been such an exhilarating and refreshing experience, that I’ll continue with it (although printer’s ink will doubtless always flow through my veins).

Soldier Boy text: First up will be to progress plans to offer the Soldier Boy play as a text for the many schools around  Australia who still study the novel. While actual production may always remain a slender chance, I feel that if students can act out the key scenes and inhabit the characters for a little, the dilemmas, arguments and issues they faced will become far more real and complex to them.

Young Digger: Second, I plan to substantially revise the draft play based on the companion book, Young Digger, in the light of all that I’ve learnt with Soldier Boy over the last 12 months. I know now what needs to be done, especially strengthening the character and sub-plot involving the mother at home.

Depending on her own commitments, I’m hoping Laura will continue to assist me with her good advice and experience, and that of her friends as well.

Theatre, by its very nature, is a collaborative art, unlike the novelist who leads a fairly solitary life. I’m lucky that since my first day in journalism I’ve been used to editors and blue pencils, and understand that there is a hardly a sentence written that cannot be improved.

Which is something I’ve often heard publishers and editors complain that not all new writers quite grasp. Our words are (generally) not hewn in stone, but on the contrary are the most flexible of all art forms.

Young Digger is his miniature uniform.


Literary Awards

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators of the books considered for various literary awards announced from July. The winners include:

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards: Fiction, Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au (Giramondo); Non-fiction, My Father and Other Animals by Sam Vincent (Black Inc Books); Young Adult, The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle (Allen & Unwin); Children’s, Open Your Heart to Country by Josephine Seymour (Magabala Books); Poetry, At the Altar of Touch by Gavin Yuan Gao (UQP); Australian History, Unmaking Angas Downs by Shannyn Palmer (MUP).

Miles Franklin Award: Chai Time at Cinnamon Garden by Shankari Chandran (Ultimo Press).

National Biography Award: My Tongue Is My Own: A Life of Gwen Harwood (LaTrobe University Press, Black Inc).

Children’s Book Council of Australia, Book of the Year Awards: Older Readers, Neverlanders by Tom Taylor, ill. Jon Sommariva (Penguin Random House); Younger Readers, Runt by Craig Silvey (Allen & Unwin); Early Childhood, Where the Lyrebird Lives by Vikki Conley, ill. Max Hamilton (Windy Hollow Books); Picture Book, My Strange Shrinking Parents by Zeno Sworder (Thames & Hudson); Eve Pownall Award, Information Books, DEEP: Dive Into Hidden Worlds by Jess McGeachin (Welbeck Publishing); New Illustrators, Tiny Wonders by Sally Soweol Han (UQP).


Short Story

I know it’s a bit late, but Twelfth Night when we pack up the Christmas decorations has just passed. Perhaps you’ll excuse my including a little story from my Growing Up collection that still has something seasonal to remind us. I think I may have reprinted it many years ago, but it’s worth another read.

A Last Nowell

Anthony Hill

We passed another milestone on the journey to growing up, the other night.

It was bed-time. And after the evening story her mother said, 'Your daughter wants to ask you something.'

Please God, I thought, let it not be How Are Babies Made? Not just yet. I am not ready for it, and she is only eight. Give us another year or two before we pass from the broad picture to the details. ('Yes, I know they come from mummy's tummy, but how do they get  there?')

The fair hair on the pillow, the chin resting on the bed-clothes. A smile, that is part flirt and part innocence, playing around her lips.

'What is it?'

'Daddy,' she says, 'is there really a Father Christmas?'


There was a time when I would have said, 'Of course there is, everybody knows that!'  Without thinking twice, for the dreams will go soon enough. But somewhere along the paths of childhood, this past year, that time had slipped by. Where or when I could not tell. Or had it? Perhaps, I thought, it might still be found again.

'Why do you ask?'

'I just wondered. The girls at school said...'

Oh, yes. That time had gone. And before long it will be the other. The girls at school say all kinds of things of which they know very little, don't they?

'And then there was this card to post to Santa. It says printed by somebody in Tasmania, on the bottom.'

She is smart, at least. Santa Claus may try to be all things to all people, but he is not yet in the printing and publishing business, not so far as I know.

'Besides, he couldn't read all those postcards could he? Not in Tasmania.'

The doubts are alive in her eyes.

'Do you really want to know?'

Of course.

So I sit on the bed and think back to the time when, at about the same age, I asked the same question of my own father. It was at the Christmas Dinner table. He leaned back in his chair wondering, as I am now, if the truth will hurt too much. And then he said, most gently, 'All boys and girls have their own Father Christmas.'

I can hear the words again. But more than that, I remember struggling to grasp their meaning. My reason was trying to overcome the remains of belief, and to accept what it already knew to be so. And it did not hurt. Not all that much.

'What do you mean?' she asks, when I have repeated my father's words. Her voice told of the same conflict, inside.

'I mean that every mother and father has to be Santa Claus to their own children.'

'I thought so.'

Growing up. Her mother sitting on the other side of the bed.

But that doesn't mean we won't still do the same things. We'll still hang up our pillow-cases on Christmas Eve, and put out the glass of milk for Santa because he's sure to be thirsty.

We'll still cut the Christmas tree and decorate it with streamers and tinsel, and put the angel with the floppy head on top. And we'll still sing the carols, Away In A Manger and The First Nowell, for the season of love and goodwill.

We'll still do these things, even though we know now, because ... well, because they are part of the bond between us. And after breakfast on Christmas morning, we'll hand out the parcels that have been placed around the tree with the winking lights. They may not have been brought by Santa, but the truth is not everything. Some matters are more important.

'Yes,' she says, 'I thought so. I didn't think there could be so many Santas. The men in the shops are all dressed up, aren't they?'


'Just pretending.'

'That's right.'

'With so many girls and boys in the world, he couldn't visit them all on the same night by himself, could he?'

'No, not even with flying reindeer.'

'So I suppose the mothers and fathers have to deliver the presents for him.'

'Something like that.'

She was thinking it through.

'Father Christmas makes all the toys, and the people have to give them to their children for him. Is that right?'

'More or less.' I begin to retreat.

'I'm glad you told me. It's what the girls at school said.'

I tell myself that I am not the first, nor will I be the last, parent to have got it wrong.

'Goodnight, daddy.'

'Goodnight, dear.'

And then turn out the light.                                                       


Books in print:

Personally-signed books still in print can be ordered through the website here.

Animal Heroes ($33 plus $10.60 postage) print on demand.

The Burnt Stick ($17.00 plus $3.60 postage).

Captain Cook’s Apprentice ($33 plus $10.60 postage) now print on demand.

The Investigators ($33 plus $10.60 postage).

The Last Convict ($33 plus $14.50 postage).

The Story of Billy Youn($23 plus $10.60 postage) print on demand.

Soldier Boy ($20 plus postage $3.60).

Young Digger ($30 plus postage $10.60).

I will refund any excess postage if multiple books are purchased.

Please Note: I have to advise that I no longer have Visa or Mastercard facilities. Payment should be either by Paypal (preferred) to or by direct deposit to Passwords: BSB 012984 Acc No. 440294364. 

Books out of print:

I have a very few copies left of some of my older titles that are now out of print. They include Antique Furniture in Australia; The Grandfather Clock; Growing Up & Other Stories; River Boy; and a couple of Harriet and Spindrift. If readers are interested in any of them, please contact me directly at and I’ll let you know prices, postage and payment.

The next Newsletter will be the Winter 2024 edition.

With every good wish


Photo credits:

Book covers, courtesy Penguin Random House; Young Digger photographs, courtesy the Tovell family; Tim Tovell Shield, courtesy Squadron Leader Michael Keaney; Franklin daguerreotypes, Sotheby’s website; Spilsby Franklin Week, courtesy Max Gibson, Christmas Tree, author.