Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 29, 2018

The Journey of Tom Thumb II, Written and illustrated by Christine Hill

On the very last day of 2017, I received an out-of-the-blue email which really delighted me.  It was from an author-illustrator called Christine Hill who hails from New South Wales:

Dear Lisa,
I was surprised to receive an order for my book ‘The Journey of Tom Thumb II’ from a lady in the USA; upon inquiry, she told me she learned about it on the ANZ LitLovers Blog, then of course followed up through my website.

I had to use the search box on the blog to discover where I’d mentioned the book!  It was in my review of Storyland by Catherine McKinnon where I’d come across it when I’d done a bit of online research about the cabin boy Will Martin who accompanied Bass and Flinders on the historic journey which features in the novel.

Well, Christine very kindly sent me a copy of the book, and I am here to tell you that while it is a perfect book for school libraries needing enticing texts for young students of Australian exploration, it is also a genuinely lovely book which adults will enjoy too.  I wouldn’t be surprised if every tourist souvenir shop along the NSW coast between Wollongong and Lake Illawarra is stocking it!

Three things make The Journey of Tom Thumb II so successful.  Firstly, it is a genuine adventure story; secondly, the text and the paintings are meticulously researched; and finally, the paintings and sketches bring the story vividly alive.

This is the blurb:

In one short week exploring the coast south of Botany Bay, Matthew Flinders, George Bass and their servant-boy William Martin had a series of adventures. Setting out to locate a river Henry Hacking had described, they sailed too fast and too far south; their boat was dumped by the surf on the beach at Towradgi; at Lake Illawarra’s entrance they cut hair and trimmed the beards of the friendly Aboriginal people, but ended up fleeing in fear of their lives when a group of men jumped into the boat; a summer storm nearly wrecked their tiny vessel beneath the cliffs of the Royal National Park before they found shelter at Wattamolla …and when they finally ‘discovered’ the Hacking River they were surrounded by sharks!

Christine Hill’s series of paintings and sketches illustrating the story of Bass and Flinders’ journey tells of three young men having the time of their lives in a strange land, and brings to life the famous story of Tom Thumb II for readers of all ages. She is a founding member and Fellow of the Australian Society of Marine Artists, with a special interest in wooden boats, and knows the locations well – the details are beautifully captured and the images skilfully interwoven with Flinders’ own journal entries.

Although it includes brief excerpts from Matthew Flinders’ journal, the actual story of the journey is précised in crisp, contemporary prose, easy enough for capable student readers, yet it’s satisfying reading for adults too:

Towards evening the wind changed direction, allowing them to resume their northward journey.  Just before dark, the breeze they had enjoyed became gusty, to they anchored close to the cliff again.  The sky grew overcast and by ten o’clock the breeze had become a gale, making it impossible to remain where they were.  They sailed away from the cliffs before their little boat could be smashed on the rocks.  The sky was full of lightning, the waves became big seas crashing beneath the grim cliffs, and it took all the men’s strength to keep ahead of the breaking waves.  (p.16)

But for me, it is the paintings that make this little book so special.  As Christine writes in ‘The artist as detective’ at the end of the book, these illustrations involved visiting locations to make sketches and take photos, using Flinders’ journal descriptions to discover changes in the terrain – such as the dunes at Bellambi that have been replaced with a great concrete fishing jetty and car park.  She not only had to imagine how those sand hills must have looked two centuries ago, but also place figures of the men in authentic naval clothing as well as show the Aborigines they met.  As she explains, since there were of course no photos or paintings of this small boat it was also tricky to recreate an authentic version of the Tom Thumb II.  Tracking down an image of HMS Reliance was difficult too because there were no paintings to be found, not until Christine learned that the Reliance was originally called The Prince of Wales…

One of the other aspects that I like is the respectful way that Christine acknowledges that adventurous as the young men were, they were not discovering ‘an unknown land’. Her acknowledgements note that the land was actually very well-known to the local Aboriginal people – who were, and remain, deeply attached to their country.  Their ancestors have traversed and cared for this land during many thousands of years and I would like to acknowledge their history. So when you turn to the double page spread painting depicting the men ‘Heading South on the First Morning’ the composition of the painting highlights three Aborigines watching from the coast and the boat is just a tiny speck in the ocean.   She also acknowledges the fact that the men were able to communicate with the Aborigines they met at Canoe Inlet (Lake Illawarra) because they had travelled to Australia with Bennelong aboard HMS Reliance.  Bennelong was returning to Australia after visiting England with Governor Phillip and it was through the friendship with Bennelong during the long months at sea that the newcomers would have learned something of the language of the Aboriginal people. 

It’s details like this that are essential to teaching ‘honest history’ to both children and adults.

Author: Christine Hill
Title: The Journey of Tom Thumb II, Bass and Flinders explore the Illawarra Coast, March 1796
Publisher: Christine-Hill.com, 2016
ISBN: 9780994470515; 35pp; full page colour illustrations and sketches.
Review copy courtesy of Christine Hill

Available from Christine-Hill.com and from the State Library of NSW and at the University of Wollongong’s UniShop


Responses

  1. Sounds excellent. What size is it? And 35pp? I’m finding that hard to imagine.

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    • 22cm (8 1/2 in) square, give or take a millimetre!

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  2. […] The Journey of Tom Thumb II, Written and illustrated by Christine Hill […]

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