From Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef with a Traveling Children’s Book Author
Caring for Kangaroos at the Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane
By Melissa Williams
I once told a friend that my goal in life was to never work a “nine to five.” I live that quote everyday, working till midnight at times and taking weeks away from my office in tropical settings to work remotely across multiple time zones. I look at my laptop clock and it’s 6:30 pm in my home city of Houston, Texas. But in my present moment of reality, it’s 8:30 am the next day as I sit at a little coffee shop staring across the street at the Whitsunday Islands of New South Whales, Australia.
A month ago I didn’t know there were eight states and territories on the continent of Australia. Today I know how to use the entire transit system to travel across the Down Under. Yes, the Australian transit system is as superb as you’ve heard. From Air trams, to rivercats, trains and friendly bus drivers, the dreaded part of most out-of-country experiences was quite brilliant in Oz Land.
As the writer of a series about a surfing box shell turtle who travels across the world to catch the perfect wave, I too must travel the world. That’s why I spend weeks upon weeks in places like the Gold Coast, Hawaii and Southern California. It’s all for the turtle. I grasp the culture and become an anthropologist half the year – one major perk of being a writer … it’s in fact important to become your characters and see the world through their eyes, especially when writing hundreds of pages of realistic fiction for eight to twelve year old readers. Am I on holiday, as it is called in Oz Land? When you tour the Great Ocean Road and see sights like the breathtaking Twelve Apostles rock formation sitting in the middle of breaking waves, I’ll admit, it feels like a vacation.
The Twelve Apostles, Victoria, Australia
I will say that I’m the only person befriending the tour guide and carrying around a tiny notebook as I learn about the thousand-year-old Mountain Ash Trees of the Otway Rainforest and gaze up at the sleeping koalas in the Eucalyptus near the Kennett River. I had no idea that those cute little things slept twenty hours a day, an effect from eating eucalyptus. As I drive through the rolling countryside of Victoria’s dairy farms to the city of Melbourne, I notice patches of cows and sheep to my left and wallabies to my right. The creatures of Australia are absolutely delightful. I spend an entire day holding koalas at a sanctuary and discover that a wombat is not a bat, but rather looks like an overgrown hamster and then sit in the grass with a troop of grey kangaroos eating out of my hand while others bounce around with their joeys in their pouches. My head floods with potential character development ideas.
The animals are only the beginning of my creative inspiration. The real jewels of priceless knowledge and spirit come from chats with locals and surrounding myself with the culture. So many hosts have opened their homes and hearts to me during my years of research. I find that staying with locals is the best way to embrace the heart of a setting. There is so much to learn sitting on a patio drinking what they drink and eating what they eat.
Finding ‘Me’ Time
As much as I enjoy spending time with the locals, I must also seek out my own quiet, reflection time. Some of my favorite “me time” experiences have been early in the morning, when the world is quiet. There is something special about a sunrise at Sunrise Beach and watching the surfers surf the morning glass. A sense of calm so deep, you almost feel as if you are a part of the ocean. These are the moments I draw from when sitting in front of a computer, reaching deep into the mind and feelings of a character … a character who’s entire inner passion thrives on Mother Ocean’s mood. I’ve gotten to see the surf in some of the most well renowned beach communities on the Gold Coast: From the high-rise strip of Surfer’s Paradise, to the hippie town of Byron Bay and home to the Quick Silver Pro surf competition at Snapper’s Rock in Coolangatta. However, it’s not until I reached Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach that I started to feel the surf spirit explode. And it’s no wonder … Bondi Beach is where the heart of surfing started for Australia. In 1915, the great Duke of Hawaii came over and locals begged him to show them the sport of surfing. Not having a board with him, he carved and shaped one up and hit the swells. Since then, surfing has become legendary at Bondi, and on most days you’ll see patches of surfies sitting on their boards in the ocean waiting on the perfect wave.
Famous Bondi Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
As my days of research came to an end, I saved the best for last … a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Upon a liveaboard boat, I embarked on yet another adventure from a different point in the Pacific with a delightful group of people from all over the world.
That night under a clear black sky of glowing stars, I looked up at the Southern Cross constellation and reflected that we all might share the same sky, but our travels will always provide a different view of perception.
All photos courtesy Melissa Williams
About the Author
Melissa Williams is the author of the Iggy the Iguana chapter book series, the Turtle Town chapter book series and the Little Miss Molly picture book for kids, the owner of LongTale Publishing and founder of the Literacy Non-Profit Foundation–READ3Zero.