A teddy's outback adventure
In her new book, Where's Jessie?, children's author Janeen Brian writes about cameleers, the outback and Bertie Bear
7 December 2015
When I first saw Albert, the star of Where’s Jessie?, my heart leapt. He was sitting quietly on a chair in an old church hall, legs straight out, arms by his sides and head tilted slightly, as if staring somewhere in the far distance. He had a look about him as if he’d been places, but had only aged with time, not been beaten by it. I read from the information card taped to the base of the chair:
Albert Bear (Bertie). Bertie is 101 years old, he was sent to my mother, Jessie, when she was born in 1907. She lived with her parents at the Telegraph Station at Alice Springs. Bertie had to travel by train and then by camel train to get to his new baby owner.
I tried to imagine the cameleers of old packing a big soft toy into a large saddlebag or a wooden box. There was something quite intriguing about the idea of cameleers, camels, a bear and long, unpredictable outback treks.
The cameleers were strong, hardy men mostly from places such as India, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and along with their camels they plied the spiderweb of tracks throughout the inland of Australia. They carted all manner of goods to and from outback townships, far-flung homesteads, sheep properties, cattle stations and settlements. They were the only form of transportation before cars, trucks and road trains took over around the 1920s. The Library holds many interesting photographs and drawings of these men and their camels, dating from the late 1800s to as late as 1989, when Jeff Carter took the wonderful image below left.
My brain started to whir and the idea of a children’s picture book, based on Bertie’s story, began to form. I was thrilled when Susan Hall and the NLA Publishing team agreed to publish my story, using contemporary illustrations by Anne Spudvilas and using the Library’s collection to inform and illustrate a historical section at the back of the book.
Bertie’s story in Where’s Jessie? differs from the real story in many ways; the most significant difference is that Bertie stayed packed and safe on the camel transport until his arrival at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station in 1907. The Bertie in my story falls off the camel transport during a blinding sandstorm and the cameleers move on, unaware that Bertie is now lying alone on the ground. What will happen to Bertie? Will he remain lost in the vast, unfamiliar Australian outback?
Will he ever find Jessie again?