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WINNER SMALL PUBLISHERS' KIDS BOOK OF THE YEAR - AUSTRALIAN BOOK INDUSTRY AWARDS 2015
WINNER MUSEUMS AUSTRALIA PUBLICATION DESIGN AWARD, CHILDREN'S BOOK AWARD 2015
HONOUR BOOK CBCA 2015 EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS
The Tea and Sugar train only came once a week on a Thursday. But the special Christmas train only came once a year.
Today was Sunday.
Four more days without sugar.
Four more days until the Christmas train. Please, please be on time. Please don't be late.
Join Kathleen in the outback as she eagerly awaits the Christmas Tea and Sugar train. Will she meet Father Christmas? Will she receive a Christmas gift from him?
A delightful, heart-warming story from the National Library of Australia that will intrigue, captivate and introduce readers to a slice of the past.
Wonderful sensitive illustrations, including a beautiful double fold-out image showing the shops inside all the carriages.
Robert Ingpen was an inspired choice of illustrator for this delightful book, Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly. Awarded the Hans Christian Anderson in 1986 for his lasting contribution as a children's book illustrator, Ingpen has transformed a simple Christmas story about outback life into a work of art that teachers will love to share with their students at any time of the year.
Teachers in metropolitan areas know that it's not easy to convey a sense of the outback to urban children. But the cunning design of this book does it well. Each page of text is accompanied by a B&W drawing of the characters in the story, but it opens out to reveal a double page colour spread of the landscape and of the train which brought goods and services to the remote Aussie outback until as recently as 1996. And so we see little Kathleen holding an empty tin of tea on the first page, which then opens out to the muted colours of the small settlement where she lives, the town bisected by the all-important railway line.
As the illustration shows, if the family ran short they went without. There was no shop, and no other source of goods and services than the ‘Tea and Sugar' train. It ran along the Nullarbor Plain between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie just once a week, its vans stocked with household goods, groceries, fruit, vegetables and meat. People could do their banking, use medical and welfare services and catch up with news from elsewhere. And once a year, there was a special Christmas train...
The text and the illustrations work well together to convey the sense of anticipation. Kathleen - shown through the pictures to be the child of a mixed-race marriage - is an active, independent child. Barefooted, she climbs the hill-face at the back of the house and sits on a rocky outcrop staring into the distance across the vast plain. When it arrives she is ecstatic:
Katherine slid down the hill and ran through the drowsy town. She burst inside.
‘It's coming! It's coming!' she shouted.
Dad looked up and his eyes danced a jog.
‘Now, what might be coming, girlio?'
‘You know, Dad. Come on. Let's go.'
‘At last, more tea and sugar,' said Mum, from the end of a paper chain.
Kathleen grabbed the wheelbarrow and started running with it. Her feet pounded the hot track, searing like scones on a griddle. She could hear the screeching of the train as it pulled into the siding. As she ran, others emerged from their tin castles, cheering and calling out across the shimmering landscape.
The portrait of Kathleen when it's her turn to see Father Christmas is stunning. Just beautiful.
At the back of the book there are photos accompanied by historical information about the train, including the migrant men who worked on it after World War II, and the way that the people dressed up to meet it because it was the highlight of their week. The endpapers are used to show a map of the route.
As a window onto a vanished lifestyle, Tea and Sugar Christmas is brilliant.
Highly recommended. Christmas. Australian history. Nullarbor. Aboriginal themes. Kathleen is eagerly waiting for the train. But this is no ordinary train. It is the Tea and Sugar Train which runs each week between Port Augusta in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, a vital lifeline for those living and working on the Nullarbor Plain. But today is the first Thursday of December, and each year, this train brings a special visitor for the children along the line. They are not interested in the goods or the equipment, the groceries or the fresh vegetables or the banking facilities, not even the gossip offered by this train. They are waiting to see Father Christmas.
Jane Jolly's charming story tells of the girl and her family and through their conversations we see why they live where they do, what Dad does along the line and how eagerly Kathleen waits for this train.
Each double page has a black and white illustration of one of the characters in the book, and the facing page has the text, but opening the illustrated page reveals a double page of colour, an illustration of the life of these communities, so isolated from the rest of Australia. Ingpen's illustrations are uniquely different, presenting people readily identifiable, giving the Australian Outback a presence within the story. The corrugated iron, the wooden walls, the dust and the saltbush, the few houses at the siding, all tell of the life lived by people in the past, a time when the steam trains needed to stop to take on water, and gangers lived in these houses to repair the track.
But now, steam is replaced by diesel, timber sleepers by concrete, and the Tea and Sugar Train no longer needs to run, closing down in 1996. This is a wonderfully vivid part of the story of Australia and those who had a role to play in building the Australian character.
Reading this will add to the knowledge of Australia's history, increase student awareness of the part played by a small group of people, and fill the reader with wonder at the vastness of Australia's landscape. And of course give a different perspective on the celebration of Christmas.
Occasionally there arrives a book for which superlatives are inadequate. This title should truly make ‘Australians all' rejoice-for so many reasons. It is innovative in format as well as content; and it is, among many other factors, a tribute to our National Library and its resources upon which author and illustrator have scrupulously drawn with brilliant effect. An abundance of history and fact flows harmoniously in text and illustration via a simple tale of the expectations and excitement of a young girl who is part of a tightly knit community living post WWII in a settlement situated along ‘the line'-the railway track linking Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. The inhabitants rely on the ‘tea and sugar' train, not only for supplies and news from the outside world, but as an integral part of their all-important sense of community in their physical isolation. The ‘folk' embody the Australian concept of mateship and inter-dependency; yet they are strongly drawn individuals, as alive as any from our own rich and diverse literature.
The focus from the arresting frontispiece onward is the bright-eyed winsome Indigenous/or part Indigenous girl, Kathleen. She is yet another never-to-be-forgotten Ingpen character with her bright, impelling and expectant eyes: a child who can scramble up a rocky hill-face, containing her impatience while waiting in the breathless heat for the arrival of the train carrying supplies to replenish the family's empty tea caddy and the drained sugar jar. Kathleen, her Dad and Mum stand parched, damp with sweat in the shade of a dropping peppercorn tree decorated by the children on the line to serve as a Christmas tree. All the heat and dryness of a strong yet barren landscape are caught up in the languid ark, ark, aaaaark of the crow watching from the top of a telegraph pole. Little wonder that Kathleen screams with delight when a cheerful Father Christmas waves from the train-there, in the middle of her desert. Dreams become reality as, one by one, eager children climb the steps of the carriage to receive their presents while parents restock essentials and catch up on the news.
Such a brief summary does little justice to the innovative structure of this publication. Pages literally fold in on themselves, but can be opened out to reveal, like a diorama, the rocky outcrops of the seemingly limitless landscape. Or a sketched-in portrait of Kathleen with her watching Mum and Dad unfolds to display both the realism and the drama of the arriving engine with is store of provisions to warm the hearts and feed the stomachs of the eager locals.
There is a judicious use of pencilled, animated sketches of Kathleen and her family; then, over the page (rather the unfolded page), a huge double spread of the Provision Store with its array of practical goods such as pots & pans, as well as edibles hanging from hooks.
This is a book about community and what makes it tick; and how it can function quietly in the most outlandish areas. It is about where the folk, with their divergent natures, coalesce to the benefit of all. As Dad says before the credits metaphorically unroll with pictures of Weet-bix and Billy Tea, No worries, it's Christmas!-then for a ‘cuppa' before Dad picks up Kathleen to spin her around the kitchen. Serenity, after expectancy and excitement, is restored.
A factual postscript assures the studious reader that this is the way it was for generations along ‘the line'. This is part of our history, wonderfully portrayed.
Another picture book that heralds the beginning of the festive season and is a definite keepsake for Christmases to come is Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen.
This is less of a picture book and more of a beguiling glimpse into the yesteryear life of Kathleen, a young resident of a settlement town along the Nullarbor Plain rail link back in the days when the Tea and Sugar Train travelled from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie once a week.
Jolly's substantial prose ably transports us into Kathleen's world past the ‘drooping peppercorn, bent acacias and scraggy salt bush' as she eagerly awaits the provisions train in a heat so torrid her feet sear ‘like scones on a griddle'. Chocolate could only be brought in winter when it was less likely to melt.
Ingpen's glorious line pencil drawings belie a world of colour as each page unfolds into a spectacular double panoramic spread emphasising the breathtaking enormity of the outback and the complexity of the Mixed Goods Train No 5205 aka The Tea and Sugar Train itself.
Tea and Sugar SantaBut what is so special about this week's train, the one that every child on the Plains waits for on the first Thursday of December every year? Take the trip and find out for yourself. You'll be glad you did.Tea and Sugar Christmas truly epitomises a child's anticipation and expectations of Christmas no matter where or how they live. And as with all NLA publications, the fascinating factual inclusions ensure this is one of those special unexpected Christmas surprises you are sure to treasure.
A characterful Christmas for children
On opening the first double-page spread of Tea and Sugar Christmas (NLA Publishing. 36 pp. $24.99) by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen, the reader is confronted by the charming face of a young girl called Kathleen, through whom Jolly tells the true story of the tea and sugar train. Mixed goods train No. 5205 travelled across the Nullarbor Plains, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, until the 1990s, bringing food and goods to isolated settlements along the line.
Jolly's somewhat long text is well-structured and contains some lovely lyrical touches, as she relates Kathleen's anticipation and then her delight at the coming of the train, with its special passenger, Father Christmas. Kathleen and her family are presented in delicate and sensitive pencil portraits by one of Australia's most accomplished illustrators, Robert Ingpen.The initial effect is pared back and somewhat austere, befitting the historical period of the 1950s and the desert setting.
However, this book has hidden treasures for, under each pencil sketch, a flap reveals a full-colour panorama redolent of the time and place. The desert comes to life under Ingpen's deft hand, along with the simple galvanised iron houses of the people who live there. And, of course, there are the outback characters themselves, presented in Ingpen's textured images full of interesting details and historical insights. The two double-page spreads at the centre of the book are a special delight, with their representation of the train and cutaway views of the provisions and fresh meat carriages.
Ingpen's endearing portraits and evocative landscapes, combined with Jolly's engaging story of young Kathleen's excitement at the coming of the tea and sugar train and its very special passenger, provide a wonderful way to introduce today's children to a simpler time in our history. There were no supermarkets and shopping centres just around the corner, nor online shopping, so outback families relied on the weekly train for all their daily needs.
The book concludes with contemporary photographs and advertisements from the collections of the National Library of Australia, along with additional information about the train. Ingpen's final pencil image is particularly telling, showing Kathleen absorbed in reading her new book - fittingly, Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding. This is in keeping with the book's more simple approach to Christmas, where seeing Father Christmas and receiving the very special present of a book can bring just as much joy as all the latest fads and gadgets. The melding of history, a child's story and Ingpen's superb illustrations creates a book to savour and treasure, not just at Christmas but throughout the year.