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When I was a kid, we went camping in the Tablelands behind the coastal-rural area where I grew up. The Tablelands are a kind of mountain highland separating the coast and the flat, dry plains out west; they were all waterfalls and deciduous trees, sheep and granite boulders. My favourite thing about camping at the Tablelands – apart from jumping off waterfalls and climbing the big fig tree – was that I got to take home bunches of brilliant yellow everlasting daisies and a whole collection of bleached bones of a long-dead sheep.

A combination that pretty much sums up my interests, both as a kid and now.

So when I got back from that camping trip, I was excited to share my find with kids at school. It was standard for me to bring bones or snakeskins or big quartz rocks into class for show-and-tell, because to me, they were just pretty cool things I’d found. But I was disappointed when the other kids thought they were a bit gross. I couldn’t understand it; I mean, they were just things, artefacts. These were the processes I’d read about in encyclopaedias and watched unfold before me on the farm. Just life and death and shed skins and feathers. Just things that are around us all the time.
Now I’m older, I’m still fascinated. My mum is even in on the natural artefacts trip now, she collects bones and feathers around the farm, and cares for my cacti and turns my old cow skulls into succulent planters. And my dad is probably to blame for the natural sculpture preoccupation in the first place: since before I could remember he’d bring home brilliant rosella feathers, water dragon eggs, or gum tree branches with evenly spaced spikes where cicadas laid their eggs. Last time I was home, he’d hung a fox skull on the fence to bleach for me. But other people helped, too. My grandmother, dad’s mum, wrote me a letter and taped a flattened, preserved lizard to the top of the page. And Harry, who lived across the river, gave me a lucky rabbits’ tail, which I kept as one of my favourite toys. I was heartbroken when one of the girls at preschool told me it was disgusting. And when I got my first car, the guy who worked at the petrol station plaited me a red-and-white leather key chain with palomino horse hair hanging from it. When I moved to the city I often got asked if it was a voodoo charm, or if it was human hair, and told it was creepy.
But they were all just things, artefacts.
And that is a big part of what is in my illustrations. These things are not dark or threatening, they just simply are. I hope there is a sense of wonder in it, a sense of reverie. I hope it says something about how crazy it is that these little cells grow and build and make a frame, or a fibre, or a feather, or a shell. It’s crazy that snakes wriggle out of their old skins, that crystals can be so hard and so transparent, that our eyes see things upside down and our brains turn them the right way up. It’s crazy that humans can communicate with a look, that we can sing melodies that resonate in others’ chests, that birds can still fly in the rain, that dogs are like little alien humans that love us. It’s crazy what cacti look like, what platypus look like, what stars look like. It’s crazy that water dragons bury their soft little eggs in gravel, that mushrooms grow in rings after rain.
We share something very special.