Tag Archives: Jeannie Baker

Jeannie Baker’s Desert Jungle

Jeannie Baker, Desert Jungle (Walker Books Australia 2023)

There are no books quite like Jeannie Baker’s. For four decades she has been creating picture books that are immediately recognisable as hers. Where the Forest Meets the Sea (1988) was the first one I encountered. In it, a small boy wanders through the Daintree rainforest in North Queensland. The forest is recreated in collaged materials, most of them gathered in the real-life rainforest, to stunning effect. The book is meant for young readers, but readers of all ages are intrigued and delighted by the extraordinarily detailed work that has gone into the images.

Since then, every couple of years, a new book using similar collage techniques has appeared. All of them reflect a deep concern and love for the natural environment. Window (1991) traces the changes to a rural environment brought about by urban sprawl as seen through a child’s window. The Story of Rosy Dock (1995) features a beautiful but destructive invasive weed. Circle (2016) is about migratory birds.

Jeannie Baker has made short films of Where the Forest Meets the Sea and The Story of Rosy Dock – both of which are available from the National Film and Sound Archive. And there have been many exhibitions of her original artwork.

Which brings me to Desert Jungle. I read the book at the Penrith Regional Art Gallery, at an exhibition of the collages for this book. The gallery website describes the work (and the book) in these terms:

In this new story, Jeannie explores the Valley of the Cirios in Mexico, through the perspective of a young child and his grandfather. In parts of the Valley, towering stands of Cardon Cactus – some of the largest cacti on Earth – and Elephant Trees, mix with Cirios and other unique desert plants as a ‘forest’, almost a desert jungle. These cacti and other plants form both subject and material for Jeannie, who incorporates clippings from plants in her intricate and stunning works


The collages are in effect dioramas, displayed behind perspex that is curved to accommodate their depth. Part of the fascination is to read the labels, to see that most of the images are made from parts of the plants they represent. Even, in an image of the young boy sitting with his grandfather, the hairs on the old man’s arm are actual human hair meticulously glued in place.

In the context of these wonders, the book’s story is almost of secondary interest. When the boy visits his grandfather, he doesn’t like to go out into the surrounding desert because he’s afraid of coyotes, so he stays by the house and plays on his tablet. A coyote steals his precious technology and when he wanders out to search for it, he finds the desert isn’t so scary after all. He even encounters the coyote and nothing bad happens. It’s an understated little drama about facing one’s fears, and at the same time has something to say about the importance of engaging with the natural world.

I haven’t read it with a small child yet. I’ll be interested to see how it goes.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist

The 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist seems to have been announced without the usual Macquarie Street gathering for PowerPoint and photo ops. That probably makes sense, given that the Premier has a lot on her mind just now, and barring a total windfall for the bookies she won’t be Premier when the awards are presented in May. Or maybe I just wasn’t invited this year. But I’m not bearing a grudge, and I was busy that day anyhow. For those who find it irritating to have to flick back and forth to read the different short lists on the Awards site, here they all are at the bottom of this post – the links take you to the NSWPLA website’s discussion of the title.

I haven’t read, or in the case of the plays seen, very much from the list at all. Speaking from the heart of my prejudice, I don’t much want to read any of the Christina Stead titles except Utopian Man and Night Street, both novels about eminent Victorians (the State rather than the era). I’m tempted by all the Douglas Stewart titles – this is where literary awards really do serve a purpose, by drawing attention to books like Tony Moore’s history of political prisoners among the Australian convicts, Death or Liberty, which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, at least by me. I’m glad to see Jennifer Maiden’s book on the Kenneth Slessor list, but I haven’t read any of the others. In the past the NSWPLA lists have led me to interesting poets, so I’m inclined to go in search of Susan Bradley Smith, Andy Jackson, Jill Jones (of whom I’m ashamed to say I’ve yet to read a book), Anna Kerdijk Nicholson and Andy Kissane.

Of the remaining lists, what can I say? I’m out of touch with writing for ‘young people’ (a term I understand here as designating teenagers), but my friend Misrule was an Ethel Turner judge, and I’m confident in her judgement. Though I’ve only read one from the Patricia Wrightson list,  I know the work of five of the six writers, and will be delighted whichever of them becomes several thousand dollars richer come mid-May. If the other books are as good as The Three Loves of Persimmon, it’s a vintage year. I’ve seen four of the six scripts produced for the big or little screen, and wouldn’t know how to choose between them for excellence – another vintage crop. I heard Ali Azadeh read from Iran: My Grandfather at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, and it’s been on my TBR list since then.

Here are the lists:

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Peter Carey – Parrot and Olivier in America
Stephen Daisley – Traitor
Lisa Lang – Utopian Man
Alex Miller – Lovesong
Kristel Thornell – Night Street
Ouyang Yu – The English Class

The Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction
Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons – Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs
Anna Krien – Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests
Tony Moore – Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788-1868
Ranjana Srivastava – Tell Me The Truth: Conversations With My Patients About Life And Death
Maria Tumarkin – Otherland
Brenda Walker – Reading By Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Susan Bradley Smith – Supermodernprayerbook
Andy Jackson – Among the Regulars
Jill Jones – Dark Bright Doors
Anna Kerdijk Nicholson – Possession
Andy Kissane – Out to Lunch
Jennifer Maiden – Pirate Rain

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature
Michelle Cooper – The FitzOsbornes in Exile: The Montmaray Journals – 2
Cath Crowley – Graffiti Moon
Kirsty Eagar – Saltwater Vampires
Belinda Jeffrey – Big River, Little Fish
Melina Marchetta – The Piper’s Son
Jaclyn Moriarty – Dreaming of Amelia

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature
Jeannie Baker – Mirror
Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood – Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House
Cassandra Golds – The Three Loves of Persimmon
John Heffernan – Where There’s Smoke
Sophie Masson – My Australian Story: The Hunt for Ned Kelly
Emma Quay – Shrieking Violet

Community Relations Commission Award
Ali Alizadeh – Iran: My Grandfather
Anh Do – The Happiest Refugee
Maria Tumarkin – Otherland
Ouyang Yu – The English Classm
Yuol Yuol, Akoi Majak, Monica Kualba, John Garang Kon and Robert Colman – My Name is Sud

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
Stephen Daisley – Traitor
Ashley Hay – The Body in the Clouds
Lisa Lang – Utopian Man
David Musgrave – Glissando: A Melodrama
Kristel Thornell – Night Street
Gretchen Shirm – Having Cried Wolf

Play Award
Patricia Cornelius – Do Not Go Gentle…
Jonathan Gavin – Bang
Jane Montgomery Griffiths – Sappho…In 9 Fragments
Melissa Reeves – Furious Mattress
Sue Smith – Strange Attractor
Anthony Weigh – Like a Fishbone

Script Writing Award
Shirley Barrett – South Solitary
Glen Dolman – Hawke
Michael Miller – East West 101, Season 3: The Hero’s Standard
John Misto – Sisters of War
Debra Oswald – Offspring
Samantha Strauss – Dance Academy, Episode 13: Family