There were all kinds of gates, all kinds of messages, all kinds of mysterious lights.
What I loved best were the farm gates, the messages about fishing with the family and friends, the lighthouses shining warning beams out to sea.
I love stories with a sense of place. Although due to kids’ enjoyment of fantasy in books and movies many of these stories are loaded with zombies, stalkers, flying saucers and murderers, often the setting shines through, and the setting is somewhere in Queensland.
I love a good Queensland story.
The more we read stories about our own place in the world, the more we engage with it and want to care for it. That’s my theory, and my reason for writing Queensland stories.
I’ve just finished reading around five hundred Queensland narratives, and although many were generic in style and story, among them were authentic gems.
For nearly a month, in shifts, day and night, seven days a week, hundreds of us read and marked Queensland children’s NAPLAN stories. (NAPLAN: National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy). When I tell people what I’ve been doing, they look at me as if I’m mad. But I love it. And I consider it a privilege, being given a glimpse into the lives of so many anonymous Queenslanders.
Queensland has such a variety of landscape and seascape, from mangrove-lined shore to spinifex-coated outcrop, from rainforest to city high rise, with vast distances of scrub and farmland in between.
Hot artesian bores, surf, and clear, rocky creeks.
I never know where the students are from, whether they’re boys or girls, or what age they are, but sometimes they give me clues. It’s unlikely a city kid will write authentically about tractors and water point monitoring, about farm accidents or cattle getting out an unfastened gate. As I read, I’m charmed by these details.
Every year, there is criticism of NAPLAN testing, and sometimes it comes in sardonic form in what the students write themselves. But of course, an education system needs to be tested, to maintain its quality. That’s a necessity; and this seems a pretty gentle way to do it.
This year, the students were asked to write narratives, and they were given some ideas to help them. The topics were general, but there was plenty of room for individual creativity; and occasionally I came across settings so vividly evoked that I was transported far away from the air-conditioning and my computer screen.