I’ve had a lot of terrific jobs over the years, and one of the nicest was working on the Nestlé Write Around Australia creative writing program for kids. For those of you who don’t know it, it was a national program for kids in (equivalent of) Years 5 and 6, that involved sending authors to 50 regional centres across Australia, where they gave creative writing workshops to local schools, based at the public library, and a master class to the kids from that zone who were finalists in the competition component of the program.
I worked on the program from 1999 to 2001 (when I received my Churchill Fellowship from The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia and headed off overseas for 4 months). My job on NWAA was to develop teaching support materials for the delivery of the program in schools, and I also selected the books for the prizes. It was run by the State Library of NSW and I worked with the program coordinator Val Noake, who ran the program for nearly its entire life (except for the initial establishment phases, under the late and much missed Marion Robertson) and Virginia Mason. We were a good team, and it was a fun job—and I can tell you I learned more about Australian geography than I ever imagined possible!
I imagine the number of kids that went through the program must number in the tens of thousands. A lot of the stories are held in the collection of the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW, but, like many of these kinds of programs and jobs, you never really know what happened to those kids, even the ones who won.
So imagine my delight to see this photo posted today on the page of my Facebook friend, writer and poet Omar Musa. Turns out Omar—whose novel Here Come the Dogs is soon to be published with a blurb by none less than Irvine Welsh—was one of the first finalists in Nestlé Write Around Australia, way back in 1995.
Omar tells me that Allan Baillie took the workshop he attended, and that he was very encouraging—I’ll be sharing this with Allan, who I am sure will be thrilled. How wonderful, though, to have discovered that one of the Nestlé kids has gone on to be such a highly regarded writer. You so rarely see this kind of follow through in my line of work (even though I wasn’t actually working on the program when Omar was involved), and this has really made my day.
I have no doubt that Omar would have become a writer anyway, but I also believe that the knowledge and experience that Allan shared and the encouragement, support and guidance he gave was no small part of that journey.
And when I posted this on my Facebook page, author-illustrator Briony Stewart left a comment to say that she too had been a NWAA finalist, a year after Omar, in 1996.
Which makes me wonder—how many more of our finalists went on to become writers? Please leave me a comment here if you know of any!
It all serves to remind me—the work I (we) do is important, and it does change lives.