Simpson and his Donkey – an exhibition

Illustrations by Frané Lessac and words by Mark Greenwood share the heroic story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick in the picture book Simpson and his Donkey.  The exhibition is on display at the State Library until  27 April. 

Unpublished spread 14 for pages 32 – 33
Collection of draft materials for Simpson and his Donkey, PWC/254/18 

The original illustrations, preliminary sketches and draft materials displayed in this exhibition form part of the State Library’s Peter Williams’ collection: a collection of original Australian picture book art.

Known as ‘the man with the donkey’, Simpson was a medic who rescued wounded soldiers at Gallipoli during World War I.

The bravery and sacrifice attributed to Simpson is now considered part of the ‘Anzac legend’. It is the myth and legend of John Simpson that Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood tell in their book.

Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood also travelled to Anzac Cove to explore where Simpson and Duffy had worked.  This experience and their research enabled them to layer creative interpretation over historical information and Anzac legend.


On a moonless April morning, PWC254/6 

Frané Lessac is a Western Australian author-illustrator who has published over forty books for children. Frané speaks at festivals in Australia and overseas, sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. She often illustrates books by , Mark Greenwood, of which Simpson and his Donkey is just one example.

Simpson and his Donkey is published by Walker Books, 2008. The original illustrations are  display in the Story Place Gallery until 27 April 2017.

  • This exhibition is supported by a self-guided trail and educators guide. For school group bookings visit our website.
  • Copies of the book are available for sale from the Discovery Store at the State Library.


Five minutes with Shaun Tan

Our recent exhibition showcased original artwork from Shaun Tan’s award winning picture book Rules of Summer.  The Perth born artist, writer, and illustrator reveals what he thought about your summer rules, and insights into the mysterious world depicted in the book.

“Never wash your cat” 

I like this one, because we kind of know it’s unnecessary or difficult to wash a cat, but it’s never spelt out, or the consequences discussed. It would be wonderful to see an image accompanying this, where a good and earnest gesture has gone terribly wrong: you were only trying to help the cat! Suddenly it owns you as a pet, has shrunk into a tiny demon, or grown fins and must be set free at the beach, turned to stone, melted, the possibilities are endless. How often has something more or less like this happened in real life? It reminds me of my wife’s story of collecting snow as a child, to make a snowman, from the bonnet of a neighbour’s car: innocent enough, until you realise she was using a snow shovel! Often it’s impossible to know you are making a mistake until you’ve already made it, and not just as a child. It all carries on into adulthood, common sense doesn’t always win.

Never Eat A Turtle

“Never eat a Turtle” 

This is a good one too, because it might draw attention to the arbitrary nature of the human diet. ie. It’s okay to eat tuna or octopus (both quite intelligent and beautiful animals), but we might bulk at dolphins or turtles. Historically, a lot of cultural taboos have revolved around certain foods, without the consequences explained fully. Perhaps in this case, you will become a turtle yourself, or have to carry your own bedroom on your back forever, or simply be known as a turtle-eater and banished from society – and you might never know why. Of course, the real reason is probably that turtles are so vulnerable to exploitation, with many already extinct or heading that way. So any rule that stops people from eating turtles is probably a good one, no matter how absurd it is.


Left: Never drop your jar, Oil on canvas, 2013 Right, Cat person, Never give your keys to a stranger, Oil on canvas, 2013

You grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth. The illustrations ‘Never drop your jar’ and ‘Never step on a snail’ convey a sense of summer heat which could be likened to the scorching Western Australian sun. What do you remember most about growing up in Perth?

Well certainly the heat and light. The jar-dropping scene comes from memories of rock fishing, which was the main past-time of my family during summer holidays, usually either along the northern coast or down in Margaret River, and it was usually pretty hot with little shelter in sight either way. So not unlike fishing from rooftops (the water tanks in my picture come from New York, which can also be stifling in summer). I was not as good an angler as my brother, and prone to dropping things – fish, tackle, bait – among the rocks. He would then come and help me out, being nowhere near as mean or indifferent as the boy in the book. In any case, the overriding memory of my childhood in Perth is space, light and time. Everything seemed so much bigger and elemental, for better or worse. Summer holidays seemed epic back then, whereas everything these days seems more like diminishing little squares on a calendar!

The unnerving crow/ raven features in each of the paintings, often subtle, but always present. Can you explain a bit about why you chose the crow?

I used to paint crows (or Australian ravens, as they are actually are) quite a lot in my early twenties: large landscapes with quiet houses and trees, no people in sight, but lots of crows. In one respect, this is just what I saw when I went for long walks in the northern suburbs. I don’t see them as an evil or sinister presence, but more like something ancient and enduring, as if they are just watching us come and go in daily life as well as in history, and watching our mistakes too. In the Rules of Summer, they don’t actually do anything bad, but I feel that they might, if given a reason. By themselves, they are just crows. Perhaps they find humans to be the dark and sinister ones.


Left: Rescue, Always bring bolt cutters, Oil on canvas, 2013 Right: Never loose a fight, Oil on canvas, 2013

There is something about the rescue scene ‘Always bring bolt cutters’ which reminded one of our visitors of the famous bicycle scene in the film ET.  In the process of illustrating do you think about your artistic and cultural influences deliberately or do they appear automatically?

The E.T. similarity never occured to me, but I guess it’s there, and definitely many films have fed my subconscious over the years – The Lost Thing actually has an E.T. resonance also. When I’m drawing or writing, I don’t think so much about influences or references though, I just work with whatever comes to mind, so if they do appear, it’s automatic rather than deliberate. Often I only consider possible origins later, usually when I’m editing a story or painting, which I think is the longest and most thoughtful part of the creative process, more so than the initial flurry of ideas.

A lot of your work deals with surreal imagery. Where does this inspiration come from?

It’s quite hard to say. I also like to paint ‘normal’ things, but then get to a point where it feels too much like an imitation of reality, and it needs to comment on something else, to come from a more unusual perspective. It’s trying to see familiar things as if for the first time. Imagine you’d never seen a fish before, or a tree, or a cloud. That kind of revelatory experience is what I’m looking for in pictures and stories. Painting is a bit like having a second childhood as an adult, seeing everything as new all over again.

In Rules of Summer  the text illustrates the pictures and the pictures the text. Which comes first for you Illustrations or words?

They both come in drips and drabs, and I change them a lot as the book evolves over a long period. I often think of it as a ping-pong relationship, a bit of writing might trigger an image, which triggers another written expression, which that suggests something else to draw. At some point I stop when things feel sufficiently meaningful (or not!) but before they become too explanatory. I also end up removing a lot of stuff from the final version, trying to keep it all a bit mysterious, not giving too much away.

  • View more of your summer words of wisdom on our Flickr
  • Teachers can book Rules of Summer school programs by contacting The Literature Centre Inc Fremantle.
  • Copies of Rules of Summer can be purchased from the State Library book shop.
  • Find out more about Shaun Tan.
  • Watch an interview with Shaun Tan on our YouTube

What’s in a sketchbook?

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 "WA Museum"

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 

For centuries sketchbooks, notebooks and diaries have recorded daily life, observations from great explorer expeditions, personal accounts, and intricate details of past lives and times.

Call to mind the journal of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, or Da Vinci’s curious inquiry into human anatomy in his 16th century sketchbooks. They are forms of storytelling and communication grounded in time and place, and shaped by the personalities and identities of their makers.

The State Library holds the notebooks of Edward T Hardman including an 1871 sketchbook which records his geological survey of the Kimberley region in pictures and words. A vellum bound book of poems written by Irish convict John B O’Reilly,1868 demonstrates his creative pursuit and passion as a poet, while Revel Cooper’s History Book speaks of his education as a 13 year old Aboriginal boy during Australia’s assimilation era. These records provide a rare insight into the culture and concerns of past Western Australia.

What would the diary or sketchbook of a young  person living in the 21st century look like?

Thoughts, musing, observations and vignettes of daily life are revealed in a collection of over fifty sketchbooks produced by young Western Australians. The sketchbooks feature illustration, photographs, poetry and collage, and were created through Propel Youth Arts WA’s Sketchbook Project, part of the KickstART youth festival.

“My sketchbook is my reflection”, writes 23 year old Soolangna Majumdar, “…a month long observation of what’s on my mind. One 60 page long selfie.”

Following an eight month tour throughout WA public libraries from Port Hedland to Manjimup, the sketchbooks have returned to Perth and are on display at the State Library.

One sketchbook by 24 year old artist Amanda Fernandez has caught the eye of our staff with its aesthetic beauty and descriptive watercolour sketches.

How many scenes are familiar to you?


View Amanda’s sketchbook and many more on display in the Discovery Lounge Ground Floor until 30 January 2015. Open during library hours.

More information:


Books from your Backyard Family Day

Books From Your Backyard

Where you can find 12 Western Australian authors and illustrators in one day?
In The Place at the State Library of Western Australia! 

Join us this Saturday for Books from your Backyard, a free family fun day in The Place. Be amazed by the local talent in your backyard as 12 writers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (WA) read, perform and create drawings before your eyes.

10.00 am -Karen Blair – 0-4 years
10.30 am – Elaine Forrestal – 0-8 years
11.00 am – Briony Stewart – 4-7 years
11.30 am – Samantha Hughes – 5-12 years
12.00 pm – Chris Owen – 4-7 years
12.30 pm -Wendy Binks – 4-8 years
1.00 pm –  Teena Raffa-Mulligan – 4-7 years
1.30 pm –  Meg McKinlay – 4-8 years
2.00 pm –  James Foley – 5-12 years
2.30 pm –  H.Y. Hanna – 8-12 years
3.00 pm – Cristy Burne – 8-12 years
3.30 pm – Frane Lessac – 5-12 years

Make a day of it while you’re here and visit the Rules of Summer and On a Small Island exhibitions as well.

 Saturday 10 January, 10am – 4pm
Where: The Place, Mezzanine Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Ages: 4-10 years
Entry: Entry is free. No bookings required.

Briony Stewart illustrating: Photo by Alanna Kusin

More information:

  • Books from your Backyard
  • All venues at the State Library are wheelchair accessible
  • Parents/ caregivers need to attend with children.
  • Books will be for sale and all sessions will be followed by book signings.

Rules of Summer

‘This is what I learned last summer:’, begins Shaun Tan’s latest award winning picture book Rules of Summer.  Be amazed by enigmatic oil paintings from the book on display now at State Library of Western Australia.


Shaun Tan, Never drop your jar, 2013, Oil on canvas

In a dramatic series of paintings Tan maps the activities of two boys through their memories of last summer. Themes of friendship rivalry and imagination are explored in a series of pictorial contrasts between urban and natural, real and extraordinary, excitement and foreboding, familiar and strange, in both frightening and comforting moments.

Each painting explores a rule skilfully woven together to form a narrative that is open to multiple interpretations.

According to Shaun Tan, “Each picture might be seen as the chapter of an unwritten tale that can only be elaborated in the reader’s imagination”

Discover possibilities beyond the picture frame and journey into an oddly familiar emotive landscape.

The exhibition which features original works curated with pages from the picture book and exclusive video footage is on display at the State Library of Western Australia until January 27. 

When: 19 December 2014 – 27 January 2015
Where: The Gallery, Ground Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Entry: Entry is free. Open during library hours

More information:

  • Family friendly exhibition
  • All venues at the State Library are wheelchair accessible
  • Copies of Rules of Summer are available from the State Library Shop
  • Find out more about State Library Exhibitions 
  • Rules of Summer official website

Five minutes with Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Kyle Hughes –Odgers is a Western Australian artist and author known for his innovative illustrative style and public art.  Dazzling original illustrations from his new book On a Small Island are on display now at the State Library of Western Australia.

We spent some time hearing from Kyle about the inspiration and ideas behind his work. Here’s what he had to say…

Kyle Hughes-Odgers: Photo by Chad Peacock

Kyle Hughes-Odgers in his studio: Photo by Chad Peacock

1. Describe your book making process. Which comes first for you, the narrative, illustration, or the idea?

I had the initial idea for On a Small Island and I could visualise the flow of the artwork and some ideas I wanted to explore. I sketched all the artwork as a story board, then wrote the narrative to work with the images. After this the painting process started. For my next book the narrative has been very clear from the start so I have focused on developing this before starting any artwork. So I don’t seem to have a consistent process when approaching books.

2. You are known for your picture book illustrations and public art. How do you switch between extremes of scale and medium?

I love working across many different scales. I like the challenge of painting buildings and getting to spend time outside but I also love when I have time to be in the studio and work on paintings, drawings and children’s books. The variety keeps me slightly sane and it’s great to change my head space!

3. Your illustrations for On a Small Island include a lot of repetition, geometric shapes, and a variety of textures. How did this style evolve?

Very naturally – I think because I am constantly driven to make new work, the time spent exploring ideas and techniques has helped develop and progress my work to what it is today. I’m sure in another 5 -10 years it will have evolved again.


On a Small Island exhibition. Photo: State Library of Western Australia

4. You grew up in and currently reside in Perth. Is there anything unique or iconic about the Western Australian environment that influences your work? 

There are many unique and iconic aspects to the Western Australian environment, but I’m not sure it has had a direct influence on my artwork. I’m inspired by many different parts of life

5. Would you describe On a Small Island as more universal or more autobiographical?

I wrote it with a universal reach in mind, but I do connect with it personally. I think the idea of being positive and productive to change your situation is something that most people can connect with.

6. In 2012 you collaborated with author Meg McKinlay to produce the book Ten Tiny Things. What was it like to be both author and illustrator with On a Small Island? How was it different or similar to working on Ten Tiny Things?

The artwork process was fairly similar in terms of planning and creating, the writing process was challenging compared to making artwork for Ten Tiny Things. I’m a very visual person and have never thought of myself as a writer so it was something I was really excited about but also cautious because it is very new ground for me.

7. Where do you find your creativity? Which artists and authors inspire you?

I’m really inspired by nature, creativity, human behavior and life! I draw/paint every single day and I really love it. My favourite illustrator of all time (at the moment) is Charley Harper.

A number of original illustrations from On a Small Island have been included in the State Library of Western Australia’s Children’s Literature Collection. The exhibition is on display in The Place on the Mezzanine floor, State Library of Western Australia and is open until 28 February. For more information visit our website.

On a Small Island exhibition. Photo: State Library of Western Australia

Picture a Story

Picture a Story exhibition

Picture a Story is an exhibition of original illustrations from Australian picture books from the 1970s to today.

Come and explore original artworks by Australia’s top illustrators such as Shaun Tan, Alison Lester, Leigh Hobbs, Graeme Base, Frané Lessac, Ron Brooks and more.

Be taken on a journey through the imaginative world of a picture book illustrator. Along the way you’ll see colourful images of the Australian landscape, scenes of magic and fantasy as well as charming depictions of everyday life.

Get to know some of Western Australia’s top illustrators. The work of home-grown favourites Frané Lessac, James Foley, Sean Avery, Matt Ottley and many more will be on display.

Picture books and the illustrations within them are for everyone, from young children to adults. There’s always something new to be discovered within a great picture book.

Enjoy exploring old worlds and new in Picture a Story.

When: 2 November 2013 – 27 February 2014
Where: The Gallery, Ground Floor and The Place, Mezzanine Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Entry: Entry is free. Open during library hours.

More information:

  • Join fun family activities on weekdays from 10.00am to 2.00pm.
  • Picture books will be on sale in the State Library Shop.

Picture a Story Family Day

The Picture a Story Family Day

Explore the magic of picture books with your child at the Picture a Story Family Day at the State Library of Western Australia.

Join a magical storytime before taking part in the host of art activities on offer

Kids will love creating artworks to hang in our tiny gallery. They’ll also learn new drawing techniques from local illustrators and create a small book to take home. Don’t forget to visit the fabulous fairy tale photo booth to have your picture taken!

Before you leave, purchase picture books from the State Library Shop and have them signed by the illustrators themselves.

When: Saturday 2 November, 10.30am – 1.30pm.
Join a special storytime from 10.30am.
Join fun family activities activities from 11.00am to 1.30pm.
Where: The Place, Mezzanine Floor, State Library of Western Australia
Recommended for: Children aged 6+ and their families
Cost: Free
Bookings: Not required

The Picture a Story Family Day is being held as part of the Picture a Story exhibition which is taking place from 2 November 2013 to 27 February 2014. On display throughout The Gallery (Ground Floor) and The Place are original illustrations from Australian picture books from the 1970s to today.

The Picture a Story Family Day is a wonderful opportunity to explore the world of picture books illustrations with your little ones.

A Musical for ANZAC Week

Dear Heart stars Stuart Halusz and Rebecca Davis

Dear Heart stars Stuart Halusz and Rebecca Davis

Agelink Theatre Inc is celebrating 20 years of creating theatre from oral histories, entertaining the public and affirming the value of our seniors.
Back by popular demand and proudly supported by The City of Perth and the State Library as part of ANZAC week, Agelink presents the critically acclaimed play DEAR HEART for three only concert style performances from Friday 19 April to Tuesday 23 April 2013 at the State Library of WA in the Perth Cultural Centre.

DEAR HEART, by Jenny Davis, is a true love story, based on her aunt’s WWII letters to her young husband, a prisoner of war in Java. DEAR HEART is a tribute to those who waited at home for news and to the endurance of the young men behind barbed wire. The play has has been published as a novel by Allen & Unwin.
Don’t miss this poignant story of love, hope and courage, featuring live music from WWII.
“Agelink Theatre is theatre of the heart.” Tim Minchin

DEAR HEART by Jenny Davis Starring Rebecca Davis and Stuart Halusz, Musical Director Craig Skelton, Featuring vocals by Alinta Carroll
Venue: State Library of WA, Perth Cultural Centre Dates: three Performances Only Friday 19 April, Saturday 20 April, Tuesday 23 April at 11am Duration: Approx 70 minutes
*Special guest appearance Tuesday 23 April by Opera Australia star, Lisa Harper-Brown
Bookings: Ticket prices: $20 full, $15 concession

Two FREE Oral History Workshops in association with the Battye Library
Come and share your stories and listen to the stories of others, or simply become inspired to record your own or your family’s recollections for posterity. Each workshop will feature members of the AIF and RAAF from WWII, as well as members of the home front. All reminiscences are welcome.
Why not attend a workshop followed by a performance of Dear Heart? Sat April 20 and Tues 23 April at 9.30-10.45am Great Southern Room, 4th Floor State Library of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
Registrations essential Ph 9384 8158

2011 WA Premier’s Book Awards

Visit our new site: Premier’s Book Awards –

Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western AustraliaLast night Premier Colin Barnett announced Fiona Skyring’s Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia as winner of the 2011 Premier’s Prize worth $25,000.

Highly acclaimed Western Australian author Tim Winton was inducted into our Hall of Fame.

2011 Western Australia’s Premier’s Book Awards Category Winners

  • Non-Fiction:  Alice Pung, Her Father’s Daughter
    Published by Black Inc.
  • Fiction:  Anna Funder, All That I Am
    Published by Penguin Group (Australia)
  • Scripts:  Tim Winton and Ellen Fontana, Cloudstreet: The Screenplay
    Published by Penguin Group (Australia)
  • Children’s Books:   Michelle Gillespie and Sonia Martinez, Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck;
    Published by Fremantle Press.
  • Poetry:  Tracy Ryan, The Argument
    Published by Fremantle Press
  • Young Adults:  Penni Russon, Only Ever Always
    Published by Allen & Unwin
  • State Library of Western Australia WA History:  Fiona Skyring, Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia
    Published by UWA Publishing
  • Digital Narrative Award:  Max Barry, Machine Man
    Published by Scribe Publications
  • People’s Choice Award:  Anna Funder, All That I Am
    Published by Penguin Group (Australia)
  • Premier’s Prize:  Fiona Skyring, Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia;
    Published by UWA Publishing

Congratulations to all of the winners & publishers.