DROVER… a new children’s picture book

I’ve got a new picture book coming out soon…it’s called DROVER and it’s been beautifully illustrated by the talented Sarah Anthony, and is being published by the fabulous Walker Books Australia.

Edna Jessop (nee Zigenbine) was Australia’s first female boss drover. In 1950, she took 1600 head of cattle from Western Australia to Queensland. For six months, they travelled through harsh country over a distance of 2240 kilometres. Edna began droving as a child, but on this trip she was in her early twenties. Her father, a boss drover, fell ill soon after they left and Edna took charge.

Edna Jessop (nee Zigenbine) Image:  N.T Library

I wrote the text for DROVER in such a way, that Edna is only ever referred to as drover. This was so the reader didn’t know it was a girl until the very last page, when she threw her hat in the air and cracked her stockwhip. Yee-haa!     

Anyway, what’s a drover? A drover is a person who moves livestock on long walks from stations (big farms) to markets. Trips could take many months and were slow going, winding through some of the most isolated and barren areas of Australia. They were incredibly dangerous and many cattle, sheep and even some drovers have died whilst droving.

Edna is on the horse in the right and her sister, Kathleen, is on the left. Image: State Library of Victoria.

My Grandfather went droving at fourteen years of age and he often talked about the ‘long paddock.’ As a kid I thought he just meant a big paddock, but the ‘long paddock’ refers to travelling stock routes (TSR) which are a historical network of pathways all over Australia for livestock to be moved to market.

I bet you’ve seen them, they’re the wide grasses verges beside country roads. Funnily enough, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is still classified as a stock route (but you can only use it between midnight and sunrise, ok?).

I love the romance of droving. It’s iconically Australian. My Grandfather and his brothers lived hand to mouth, shooting rabbits and cooking them over a campfire for dinner. They slept with their dogs under thin blankets around a fire, taking it in turns to watch the cattle during the night. My Grandfather loved his horses more than life itself and I realise now, he had a gift, especially with horses.

My Grandfather, Keith Bullock on Buxton. Stockman, horseman, the best. Also loved a Marlboro red.
Hamilton Saleyards
Image: Hamilton Spectator

My great uncles were similarly gifted with horses. This is picture below is my Great Uncle Les on his beautiful palomino horse ‘Gold King.’ He had a famous show he performed all around Australia called ‘Cowboys Last Ride’ that left the crowd in tears. He was also a poet.

It’s funny how your family continues to define you, long after they’ve gone. I love the connection my work has to my heritage. And as soon as I delved into this in my writing, it brought out something in my stories that hadn’t previously been there. I’m glad I’ve been able to tap into it.

Anyway, book launch details are coming soon, COVID permitting!

However, DROVER, can be found in any good bookstore from September 8th 2021 or you can pre-order it online here at Booktopia

Thank you for popping into my blog, I appreciate all the love. Thanks to my family, my friends and my wonderful children’s writing community.

A visit to Flemington

Hmm, research…a term I love to use when I should be writing, but I’m not. But I can actually say, I’m not procrastinating at the moment. I’ve already written this story (five years ago to be truthful).

This research was undertaken to assist the illustrator of my next picture book, the award winning and fabulous, Andrew McLean. My new book is called ‘The Bushfire Miracle’ due out with Allen & Unwin in 2016. It’s the story of an old racehorse in a bushfire and how he remarkably saves seven yearlings. It’s a true story from the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009.

So, Andrew, who is not familiar with horse racing had a desire to gain a greater understanding.

I grew up in a horse racing family so it was already familiar to me and easy to visualise images as I wrote the text. Like a movie in my head. But for Andrew to make his work accurate and truly authentic, a visit to a horse racing facility became vital for him to get a feel for the ‘hustle and bustle’ of stable life.

I’m very grateful to leading racehorse trainer and friend, David Hayes, for allowing us to visit his wonderful stables, Lindsay Park, at Flemington.

Famous Flemington Clocktower
Famous Flemington Clocktower
Source: VRC website
Source: VRC website

What time do we have to be there?

6am !!!  Crickey, I haven’t been up that early since…?

It was very dark.

Mind you, everybody else at Flemington had already been there since 4am.

We met the very helpful, Jessie, the Stable Manager, to show us around Lindsay Park Stables.

After checking out the boxes and stalls and outside yards where the horses spend their days, we watched the horses being saddled up for track work. The clanking of stirrups, the rattling of a bit in the mouth of an eager horse and the clip clopping of hooves filled our senses.

We watched as a young Irish bred horse was put into the circular walker for 20 minutes. He was ‘a bit bound up in his action’ and this would help to loosen him up before he did his track work.

We had two friendly dogs as company and we crossed the path of an affectionate tabby cat that insisted on a pat.

We followed the horses out through the tunnel under the main track into the centre of Flemington to watch them do their track work.

Source: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Source: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Source: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images
Source: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

In the centre of the race track, there are three different tracks. They’re ‘wet weather’ tracks and they sort of look like a fine chip bark. The horses train in both directions, so that they are strong on both sides of their bodies. That makes sense.

IMG_1348   IMG_1345


Lindsay Park has it’s own little hut on stilts out in the middle of the track to watch everything.

My editor, Sue Flockart, illustrator Andrew McLean and myself in the hut.
My editor, Sue Flockart, illustrator
Andrew McLean and myself in the hut.

It holds a lot of technical stuff, computers and so forth, timing gear and video equipment to monitor track work. Every horse has a different training program. They’re all different (just like us) so their training is based on the nature of the horse, how old they are, how fit they are and how close to racing they are. They all have different work loads.

Usually, if they are racing on Saturday, they’ll have a ‘hit out’ and gallop the last two hundred metres.

Source: Michael Klein
Source: Michael Klein

I’d forgotten how exhilarating this is to watch. The pounding of hooves, the flexing of muscles, and the snorting sound horses make when they exert themselves. It was very exciting!

The track riders wear monitors on their skullcaps that flash when a horse achieves ‘even’ time, which is a measure of speed they need to achieve to fulfill training requirements.

If a siren sounds, it means a rider has fallen off. Apparently, it happens on occasion. Young, frisky yearlings, skittering and jigging about, excited to be out on the track.


Source: George Salpigtidis
Source: George Salpigtidis.   Hold on!

Thankfully, we never heard one of these, so that was a relief.

Up to one hundred horses can be training at the one time in this space every morning.

It’s as busy as Bourke Street! Fortunately, there is a gentleman there that controls the entry of horses out onto the track though so that they don’t all rush out at there once (can you imagine, mayhem!), a bit like what the traffic lights do as you enter the South Eastern Freeway.

Source: News Corp Australia
Source: News Corp Australia

As sunrise dawned, silhouettes of horse and rider could be seen, legs pounding, clods of earth flying, perfectly balanced and completely mesmerising.

Clip clopping back into the stables, horses are unsaddled, hosed down and rubbed dry. Some might get to dry off in the sand roll while other horses are rugged up ready for a well deserved feed of hay and a bit of rest and relaxation.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images.   Damn, that feels good

Someone's watching you, Andrew Someone’s watching you, Andrew


IMG_1354       IMG_1366

We got to explore the tack room and feed rooms, with rows and rows of halters, bridles, saddles, saddles cloths and horse rugs.

IMG_1368       IMG_1370

Horsey smells, molasses, hay and manure…old racing photos adorning the walls.

IMG_1374   IMG_1371

It was such an enjoyable experience – a big thank you to David Hayes, Susan Mills, Jessie and all the staff at Lindsay Park.

And thank you to Hugo, the dog.

Hugo looks after the place
Hugo looks after the place



I’m really looking forward to seeing what Andrew McLean’s illustrations will look like.

Now, I’m wondering how on earth am I going to explain to my husband about that share in a syndicate I just bought…!!!?

Well, he did look very fast…

Author Interview with David ‘Starchy’ Lawrence, author of ‘Fox Swift’ with help from Cyril Rioli and Illustrated by Jo Gill

Author Interview with David ‘Starchy’ Lawrence, writer of ‘Fox Swift’ with Cyril Rioli, illustrated by Jo Gill and published by Slattery Media launched on June 29th.

Hey, Starchy, thanks for coming onto my blog today. I absolutely love your new book ‘Fox Swift’ written with star Hawthorn player, Cyril Rioli and illustrated by the talented Jo Gill. It’s a cracker of a story and if you just bare with me I’ll get my questions sorted here…


‘Fox Swift’ is an 11-year-old football star. When his family moves from the city to the small country town of Davinal, Fox has to choose which of the town’s two teams to join: the rich Dragons, which attracts all the best young footballers, or the Diggers, a struggling club that battles to field a side each week. Following a run-in with the captain of the Dragons, Fox decides to join the Diggers, and even manages to recruit a few new players— two Sudanese refugees, the mumbling but super-tough son of a farmer, and a girl who plays in a helmet to disguise her identity—and even a new coach. When the coach contacts AFL ‘magician’ Cyril Rioli, the Aussie Rules superstar agrees to lend his football expertise to the struggling team. With Cyril’s help, can the Diggers change their fortunes and win the premiership? And can Fox and his new friends prevail over the school bullies?

OK, here we go. Starchy, tells us about your background and how you got into writing?

Like most writers I started out as a financial analyst.  To the ‘delight’ of my parents I threw in that well paid, secure job and started doing stand up comedy.  I wrote and performed in a number of Comedy Festival Shows and that helped me get my first TV job: writing for the sketch comedy show ‘The Big Bite’.  It starred Chris Lilley, Andrew O’Keefe and most importantly Jo Gill – Jo is the comedian who drew all the funny cartoons in ‘Fox Swift’.

On one of the TV shows I worked on I briefly met the Australian netballer Eloise Southby-Halbish. Eloise told the Executive Producer she wanted to write a book and the Executive Producer recommended she work with me.  (Even though I had never written a book – thanks Deb!) The result was ‘Anna Flowers’ which has just been re-printed and re-released.

Tell us about ‘Fox Swift’, Starch? How long did this book take to plan and write?

‘Fox Swift’ is the story of an 11 year-old footy star whose family moves from the City to a country town.  There are two teams in the town, the Dragons who have fantastic facilities and win all the time, and The Diggers who can barely field a side each week.   Fox decides to play for The Diggers (because The Dragon’s Captain is the school bully) and tries to turn around their fortunes with the help of Cyril Rioli and a number of quirky new recruits.

The Publisher (Slattery Media Group) set me the task of coming up with a one page idea for the book that would convince Cyril Rioli it would be a worthwhile and fun project to be involved in. Fortunately, Cyril really liked the idea; especially that one of the key aims was to encourage kids to read.

The book was written and illustrated over a five-month period, with most of the writing being done on weekends from late January to early April.

(That’s so awesomely fast. I feel ashamed how long it takes me to write stuff)

What were some of the biggest challenges in writing it?

Making sure I was in the mindset of an 11 year old and avoiding the use of words or concepts that kids could not relate to.  To assist in this endeavor, as part of the writing process I would send out each chapter to a small group of boys and girls and gather their feedback. They were fantastic and (brutally!) honest.  Most of these boys and girls weren’t footy ‘nuts’ – that was important as I wanted the story to stand on its own.

How did you come up with the twist in your storyline for your character Lewis Rioli? It was very clever.

I love stories with a twist and I didn’t want Fox Swift to be totally predictable. Kids are often pigeon-holed because of who their parents or brothers and sisters are, and they can suffer as a result of unfair expectations. The point of that twist was to encourage kids to be themselves and not worry about other people’s expectations. It was also to emphasise that incredible results can come from using your brain and working as a team.

Your quirky footy glossary was hilarious. What made you put this into the book?

Thanks! – As mentioned earlier, I really wanted the book to appeal to as many kids as possible – not just footy fans.  So I included some funny definitions of footy terms to make the story more accessible to readers who might be confused by phrases such as ‘Ball Up’ or ‘Throw In’.

What do you like most about writing for children?

They are less cynical than older humans! Children generally have excellent imaginations, allowing them to be easily transported into the world you are writing about.  I also like making kids laugh – hopefully my books achieve this but also make them think about issues like bullying and racism without sounding too ‘preachy’.

What was it like working with Cyril Rioli?

It was a great experience.  I really enjoyed meeting and discussing the book with Cyril – he is quiet, incredibly modest and humble, yet extremely competitive. Cyril is living proof you don’t have to have an ‘in your face’/ ‘look at me’ persona to be a successful sportsperson.  His stories about playing junior footy in the Tiwi Islands and the Northern Territory are wonderful – his tale about being attacked by plovers made it into ‘Fox Swift’.

Cool. I hate plovers but magpies are the worst.

Kids love Cyril and the fact that the training drills in the book have come from an AFL champion is a huge bonus.  I met Cyril’s Dad a few weeks ago (He is a ‘Cyril’ too, as is Cyril’s Grandfather!) and he is such a cool guy.  He played in 12 Premiership sides and was a star footballer as well.

What inspires you, Starch?

There is nothing better than receiving an email from a 9 year-old saying they don’t normally read at all, but they loved ‘Fox Swift’. I remember being invited to speak to a Mother-Daughter book club (they were reading ‘Anna Flowers’) – I was amazed because everyone knew a lot more about the book than I did!  One of the mothers took me aside and in tears thanked me for ‘Anna Flowers’. She explained that through the book she’d been able to talk to her daughter for the first time about her own traumatic experiences with racism when she had first arrived in Australia. She said the discussion with her daughter had brought them a lot closer together.

Unless you are JK Rowling, you don’t get paid very much to write a book, but stories like these certainly make it an incredibly rewarding experience.

What’s your next writing project?

Hopefully Fox Swift 2* – I notice there’s an email address at the back of the book that asks readers for their suggestions for the next installment, so it sounds like the Publisher thinks there’s more to come!

* Will probably need to come up with a more imaginative title!

Well, I for one cannot wait until the next instalment of Fox Swift.

Congratulations to you Starch, and to Jo Gill and Cyril Rioli. What a great read for 10 – 12 year olds and big kids like me. This books is a page-turner, it’s hilariously funny and quirky and it’s not just for footy mad children, any child can read this and enjoy it. In the back is ‘A quirky Footy Dictionary’ that’s an absolute crack up.

And at time when our great game has been under a bit of a cloud, you’ve done us proud!

Hey, that rhymes…there might be something in that…

YOU can read more about ‘Fox Swift’ at…http://www.slatterymedia.com/uploads/store_items/fox-swift–/files/look_inside.pdf

You get to read the First Chapter for free! How cool is that?!

‘Fox Swift’ is available at any good bookstore or on-line in the the Slattery Bookstore https://www.slatterymedia.com/store/viewItem/fox-swift-

Published July 2013

$16.95 Paperback

Pages 368

ISBN 978-0-9874205-3-4


About Starchy:

David Lawrence, is a comedy writer whose TV credits include Hamish & Andy, TV Burp and Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. He runs the successful comedy business Laughing Matters and has performed in five Melbourne International Comedy shows. He has won three Brownlow medals in a parallel universe.     



Also, you just have to check out Starchy’s re-released book ‘Anna Flowers’. Starchy wrote this with the now retired Australian netball ace, the lovely Eloise Southby-Halbish.


Following the death of her mother, Anna Flowers must leave behind her childhood home and move with her father Ken to the town of Peppersalt, hundreds of kilometres away. The only people she knows in Peppersalt are her boring Aunt Gladys and crazy Nana Bessie.

To make matters worse, on the first day of school Anna has a run in with the school bully and netball captain Michelle—whose father is Ken’s nasty new boss. However, with the help of Nana Bessie, who used to play netball for Australia, and her group of friends, known as the ‘Misfits’, Anna is determined to silence Michelle and become a netball star.

Anna Flowers is a story of courage and determination, both on and off the court. The book offers a unique perspective on netball, while exploring the obstacles that arise when trying to find your place in a new environment, including the difficulties fitting in and making new friends.

Stay tuned, tomorrow I will be interviewing the talented Jo Gill, the illustrator of ‘Fox Swift’

Ciao for now 🙂