THE GREAT EXPEDITION - Guest Blog by Peter Carnavas

We are very excited to be featuring The Great Expedition in December 2011, by one of our favourite author and illustrators, the incredibly talented Peter Carnavas. Imagine our delight when Peter wrote an exclusive Guest Blog for us to share with you. Thank you Peter!

The Great Expedition – the Burke and Wills story for kids

 Story ideas come from all sorts of places.  They grow from conversations, newspaper articles or even other stories told in books, songs or films.  Last year I read a wonderful book about the Burke and Wills expedition – The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd – and halfway through the book, I had the idea to base a picture book on this brave yet tragic adventure.  I decided the text should mirror the dramatic, factual storytelling of The Dig Tree, accompanied by whimsical illustrations of children – the explorers – crossing a playground.  My intention was to use this contrast between text and illustration to provide humour, introduce new vocabulary to children and create something that would appeal to both adults and kids.

My challenge was to link the story to the original expedition while also creating a story that would be strong enough by itself.  As a teacher, I know that children don’t usually learn about Australian explorers until around Year 5 and although I had a lot of fun presenting the book to children of this age, most picture book readers are younger than this.  That’s why the story had to be interesting enough on its own and why I left the Burke and Wills reference until the very end. 

For younger children, there is a lot of play that can result from The Great Expedition.   Some start drawing their own maps, others go outside to explore and some children act out the story with toys. 

For slightly older readers, I hope the strength of the book is the discussion that occurs afterwards, focusing on the links to Burke and Wills.  Here are some of the connections I like to talk about with children:

- In The Great Expedition, our young explorers set off on August 20 – Burke and Wills left on the same date in 1860;

- The main characters, Robert and Will, are named after Burke and Wills (yes, his name was really William Wills);

- The young explorers have trouble containing their pet dog – Burke and Wills had similar difficulty with their camels;

- Both stories have members responsible for particular duties – navigator, botanist, biologist, animal handler;

- Both stories involve exploring parties that experience difficulty with weather, direction and supplies;

- The young explorers stop to rest under a coolabah tree – Burke and Wills’ famous Dig Tree still stands in the middle of Australia with some of the carvings still legible;

The big difference, of course, is that the children in The Great Expedition are rewarded with a much happier ending.  However, I still feel it is important to talk with children about the real demise of Burke and Wills, as their fate may have been different if they had demonstrated more respect and understanding towards the indigenous people they encountered along the way.  One party member, John King, survived primarily because he accepted help from the Aborigines, as they possessed an incredible understanding of the land and how to live in that part of Australia.

Hopefully there is much fun to be had and some important historical lessons to be learned with The Great Expedition.  Books are excellent tools for learning and picture books can be just as important as traditional non-fiction texts, especially for those older children who may believe picture books are something from which they must progress.  After all, you’re never too old to read picture books.  


 You can find out more about Peter here