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.)

Kim Scott, Katherine’s tropical housing precinct 1946-1956 (#BookReview)

Book CoverDo you have a favourite house that you lived in? I do. It’s the lovely old Queenslander my family lived in for most of my primary school years. It was in Sandgate, Brisbane, and I still have vivid memories of those days, and that house and garden. Kim Scott, the author of Katherine’s tropical housing precinct 1946-1956, also has such a house, the one her family moved into in Katherine when she was three years old. It was a 1956-built Type D1 N.T.A. (Northern Territory Administration) house and she loved it so much that many years later, she bought herself a similar house, a Type L “New Series” house.

The thing about these houses – like my Queenslander – is that they were built for the tropical climate. For a start, they were elevated, and had louvres, both of which facilitate the management of airflow so essential to cooling. The effect of this is that they are comfortable to live in – and are energy efficient – but what Scott most loves is “the feeling of the outside coming in” that comes with this design. It’s none too soon, I’d say, to produce a book about building environmentally-suited houses, particularly when, even in Katherine apparently, the ubiquitous brick house has been taking over. Scott is very aware of this as she writes in her introduction:

My hope is that the historical significance of these first, high quality, permanent houses, which are a key part of Katherine’s housing career will be recognised. Additionally, I hope they might spark some interest in the construction of houses that are more suitable for living in the tropics and for the remote living conditions of outlying communities. Houses that use easily available, sustainable materials and are designed with a smaller footprint, specifically to make the most of the environment, as an alternative to the brick and concrete housing built today.

Now, a book like this risks being very dry but, while a lot of information is imparted in this just-over-100-page book, Scott’s personal engagement with the subject enables her to inject the book with some local flavour, with a sense of who lived in (including her own family) and built these houses. The book is logically structured, and liberally illustrated as you really want in a book like this. There are copies of original plans, old and contemporary photographs, and artist’s illustrations by Scott herself. The book starts with a brief history of tropical architecture in Australia, including the work of Beni Burnett in Darwin in the 1930s. (We loved seeing his houses there, in Myilly Point.) She then writes about land ownership in Katherine and the Commonwealth government’s housing program for Katherine, before getting onto more practical matters:

  • the house designs and plans;
  • the building contractors;
  • the building materials; and
  • the provision of essential services (like water, electricity, sewerage and rubbish collection).

In her final chapter, “Living in Commonwealth houses”, she shares her family’s experience of living in these houses, using both her own memories and documentary and verbal evidence from her family.

Scott also refers, at times, to the “local Aboriginal people”, noting, for example, some ongoing hurts “from Aboriginal families who owned titled property in Katherine but could not produce the title after the war, so lost their land”. Early in the book she notes that there is no heritage protection for the government tropical houses still remaining in Katherine. Maybe this book will provide an argument for rectifying this oversight!

It’s clear that this book was a real labour of love, one that Scott worked on for a long time. One of the things I greatly enjoyed about reading it was her sharing of her research process, not only because it was interesting but because it also assures the reader that the work is as authoritative as she could make it. There were many reasons why the book took a long time to write, one of which was being told, falsely as it turned out, that the original houseplans for these government designed and built houses had been lost during Cyclone Tracy. She engaged family members in the on-the-ground information gathering process in Katherine; she scoured archives and libraries in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth, as well as Darwin; and she read books on the subject, such as David Bridgman’s on Beni Burnett (BCG Burnett, architect). I loved her comment, after describing yet another serendipitous discovery, that she “was beginning to feel the whole process was dependent on the serendipity phenomenon”. I suspect that research is often like this, particularly in the early stages of projects that don’t have obvious (or easily available) paths to follow.

In her Conclusion, Scott returns to the points I quoted from her Introduction, but this time with a more personal spin. She writes:

If we had continued to build tropical housing that was specifically designed for Katherine’s climate, we would today have a town with a unique architectural style. One that perhaps may have drawn more people to our town and projected a more open, inclusive image of Katherine. I have seen the town develop from elevated, open homes with little privacy and security, with windows and doors flung open, to solid brick houses with their thick walls and windows tightly shut and barred. I know what image I would rather see.

Katherine’s tropical housing precinct 1946-1956 is a self-published book, but Scott has done the sensible thing and used a graphic designer and an editor. The result is a book that is nicely produced and that makes an excellent contribution to both the history of Northern Territory architecture and the local history of Katherine. Scott’s labour of love has, I’d say, borne worthwhile fruit of which she can be proud.

AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeKim Scott
Katherine’s tropical housing precinct 1946-1956
Katherine: Kim Scott, 2019
ISBN: 9781642045420

Monday musings on Australian literature: Bookseller turns publisher

Book Stack

Books anyone? (Courtesy: OCAL, from

Bookseller-as-publisher (and vice versa) is not an original idea but, in our digital environment with its plethora of production and distribution technologies, this combination clearly offers new possibilities – one that the Australian bookchain, Dymocks, has announced it is going to try. Its aim? To “support Australians with stories to tell” … and, of course, “grow the book industry”.

Dymocks is calling its new publishing arm D Publishing. (Original eh?) Chief executive Don Grover said they do not see it

as building an operation to compete with standard publishers, and he said the systems and service it offered would separate it from other self-publishing companies.

These services include “editing, design, production and printing of finished books”. It’s not, in other words, big-end-of-town publishing, nor is it exactly self-publishing, but something in between …

The service is expected to start in October. According to the news report in Bookseller and Publisher, it is web-based and will work like this. Writers will:

  • upload their manuscript online
  • choose features for their book, including cover design, editing and typesetting
  • decide how to publish: print version using a print-on-demand option and/or e-book

It’s not clear how much input there’ll be from experts in, for example, this editing and design aspect. And there is a bit of a catch. Distribution. Grover does not guarantee that books published through this arm will be sold by Dymocks, and sees it all still as a bit of a work in progress:

It’s something that will evolve over time [and] will start as a tool for people who have a story to tell. As far as distribution is concerned we will wait to see what the market brings forward.

So, what say you? It all depends on the economics, of course, but I can see possibilities for local authors publishing local histories for their communities, family historians producing family histories, schools and local writers’ groups producing collections of writing … as well as of course the novelist or poet (or other writer) trying to break into the market. It sounds exciting but history tells us that it’s not that easy. To what extent will this new model with its more immediate technology make the whole business of getting your story out there easier? Time will, I suppose, tell.

For more on this, read blogger Megan Burke who got to talk to Grover and ask him some questions.