I have never been part of a travelling show but I’ve been fascinated with them all my life. When I was a little kid, a big event each year was the local Foster Show. The kids who travelled with the sideshows always came to our school for the week they camped at the show grounds, and I was so envious of their life – travelling all over Australia with their families and animals.
Dad always entered some of his stud Herefords in the show, and he’d squeeze our ponies in the back of the cattle truck too so that we could compete in some of the riding events. Our favourite event was School Pony, where you had to have at least two kids on the pony and have a routine of tricks to show how quiet and clever your pony was, how perfect for riding to school. We never won much, but we loved it, especially the sideshows and the rides.
As an adult, I’ve met quite a few show families during my work as a children’s book creator around Australia, often in remote places, such as the Fitzroy Crossing Rodeo and Borroloola Rodeo. I still envy that lifestyle and these families’ can-do attitude, as they train and work with animals, fix things on the go, and get schoolwork done on the road.
The Queensland School for Travelling Show Children even came to visit me once! It doesn’t operate anymore, but at the time, the Queensland Education Department had a classroom bus that travelled the show circuit so the kids could have a regular school.
This is the background for The Painted Ponies. Another influence was my love of animals, especially horses and ponies, and the fun we kids in my family had trying to do tricks on them. It’s a beautiful thing when a horse or pony becomes your trusted friend. When you’re walking their paddock they come to meet you, and when you’re riding they look after you. My youngest son, Lachie, started riding when he was four and his pony, Bella, would shift beneath him if she felt him slipping off.
I was also influenced by an old story about how the greatest Arabian horse of all was chosen: apparently, after a long trek in the desert, a mob of horses was charging towards water. When the horse-master called the horses, just one, his favourite, came back.
Some things need to be free.
Alison Lester grew up on a farm by the sea, and first rode a horse as a baby in her father’s arms. Her picture books mix imaginary worlds with everyday life, encouraging children to believe in themselves and celebrate the differences that make them special. Alison is involved in many community art projects and spends part of every year travelling to remote Indigenous communities, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their own lives.
In 2012, Alison became Australia’s first Children’s Book Laureate, a position she shared with Boori Monty Pryor. In 2016, she was awarded the Dromkeen Medal for her outstanding achievement in the creation of Australian children’s and young adult literature, and in 2018 she became the first children’s book creator to win the Melbourne Prize for Literature, for her outstanding contribution to Australian literature and cultural and intellectual life. In 2019, Alison was awarded an Australia Post Legends Award and featured on a stamp, as well as being the recipient of a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List.