Kim Vanessa Scott, Growing up … Katherine style (#BookReview)

Growing up .. Katherine style is the second self-published book I have reviewed from this Katherine-based artist and writer, the first being her book about some of Katherine’s historical housing, Katherine’s tropical housing precinct 1946-1956. There are a few reasons why I have broken my no-self-published-books rule. One is that both books had some Northern Territory government sponsorship, which gives them some authority. Another is that this book speaks closely to my own experience of childhood that I couldn’t resist sharing them. Moreover, the book is being sold by established outlets like The Bookshop Darwin and the Katherine Museum. Finally, Scott used a desktop publisher/designer to ensure the book looks good – and it does.

So, with all that out of the way, I’ll get to the content, and why it appeals to me. Scott was born in the small outback Northern Territory town of Katherine in the 1960s, while I was born in a slightly bigger but still rural country town in Queensland in the 1950s. The first 14 years of my life were spent in Queensland, and over half of those in country towns, the last three being in the outback mining town of Mount Isa. From there I went to Sydney, where, although I enjoyed my high school and university days, I never really felt home. I left as soon as I finished my studies for Australia’s “bush capital”, Canberra, which has always felt like home. However, I’m getting off-track, so back to the book.

Growing up … Katherine style is both written and illustrated by Scott. It takes the form of a series of little illustrated vignettes from Scott’s life, each comprising an image accompanied by a short piece of text commenting or reflecting on the image. Scott’s art is delightful, bright but not garish, with strong outlines and a somewhat naive aesthetic suited to the childhood theme.

The vignettes take us from her babyhood in 1961 to Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Ending on this event is inspired because the cyclone, which occurred in Darwin a bit north of Katherine, was life-changing for the Northern Territory – and because, coincidentally, Scott would have been entering puberty by then, making it a good time at which to end a book about her childhood. Scott told the Katherine Times, linked below, that the book was at least partly inspired by the catastrophic Katherine flood of 1998 which

took away all our images and a lot of our family history, so I tried to think of a way to record the childhood without the images.

In the book’s introduction, she explains further that the “objects” she chose to illustrate her childhood “had many layers of meaning”. They demonstrate, she says, the way she “interacted with them on an emotional, physical and spiritual level”. What I so enjoyed is that many of them mirror memorable times in my own life – the family’s first car and tv, the importance of the radio, her first plane ride, not to mention those horrible sanitary belts we had to wear for our periods! There are also those little events from childhood that can remind us all of our own misdemeanours and accidents. Take for example, “Mulberries”, in which she describes finding a sixpence and carrying it in her mouth while running. The only trouble is that she then climbs a mulberry tree and puts mulberries in her mouth too:

I had my mouth full of fruit and the coin when I accidentally tipped upside down and swallowed the lot. Rather than tell Mum, I decided to just die.

Don’t you remember times like that? Anyhow, “fortunately”, she writes, “I woke up the next morning …”

I flagged many vignettes to share with you, like “Nursery Rhymes” in which she shares her “Little Miss Muffet” mondegreen. How many of us had those in our childhood (and, I have to admit in my case, beyond.) There’s another on “Slide nights” which tickled my fancy because last night we dined with two other couples and we had an impromptu slide night of both couples’ recent, separate holidays to the Kimberleys. The technology might have been different – thumb drives to the smart TV – but the impact was the same. Scott writes that:

I miss this form of entertainment where we built our oral family history with images.

There’s the reference to family history again.

In another blast from the past for me, she writes in “My first real jewels” of the “bluebird lockets earrings” that were given to her and her sister as their first piece of “grown-up, real jewellery”. As she writes, “they were considered a charm”, and oh, how I had wanted some bluebirds too. One birthday I thought I had been given a bluebird bracelet, but when I looked more closely, the little charms were blue angels. Not the same! I was most disappointed. I could go on but you are surely getting the drift. This book offers both a lovely trip down memory-lane (for most baby-boomers) and an engaging picture of childhood in a different place and time to now.

The book ends on Cyclone Tracy, as I’ve already said. Scott writes that “the path to self-government started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1974. The warning sound on the radio is burnt into my psyche”.

You can hear an interview with Kim Scott on the ABC Radio Darwin website, and read an article on the book’s publication in the Katherine Times. The Times also advises that the illustrations were put on exhibition at Katherine’s Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre. Scott is described as a local Katherine artist who enjoys “showcasing all facets of life in the NT through visual arts, poetry and story telling.”

I love histories told through objects. Scott has shared her childhood in a way that captures her personal experience while also speaking to the universal. Delightful.

Kim Vanessa Scott
Growing up … Katherine style
Katherine: Kim Vanessa Scott, 2022 (with sponsorship by the Northern Territory Government)
ISBN: 9781642045444

(Copy received from the author via a mutual friend.)