Laureate Leigh visits the Kimberley


A tour for Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs, to visit Purnululu School in the East Kimberly in the last week of July, was hosted and organised by the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia (AISWA). Leigh was accompanied by Ann James (children's author, illustrator and ACLA Board member).

IMG_3382 For both Ann and Leigh, this was the first time they’d been to the Kimberley – and in particular the famous Bungle Bungles. They flew from Melbourne to Darwin and from Darwin to Kununurra.

From there it was a two hour drive north from Kununurra to Frog Hollow - stopping along the way to take in the BIG landscape.


Couldn’t miss the Frog Hollow turnoff!


And a bit further down the track was the sign to Purnululu School. An independent community school built and managed by the Purnululu community, it has just recently celebrated it’s 25th birthday.

Check out this music video that students from the school made late last year as part of a project with IHHP (Indigenous Hip Hop Project) artists Djolpa McKenzie, Nellie Harris and Michael O'Connell.

Leigh introduced himself and his books to the kids (middle and upper primary) – and found they already know them well.

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Leigh then showed them his step by step process creating both Old Tom and Mr Chicken.



Each of the kids was given their own journal/scrapbook  to keep their drawings, sketches and writing in.

An immediate enthusiasm grew as they all drew their own versions of Old Tom and Mr Chicken. And some intriguing versions of these characters began appearing in all sorts of places.



Leigh explained the process of collaging characters (like Mr Chicken) onto backgrounds.
The watercolour illustrations resulted in spectacular, and very funny, narratives!

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Watercolours by Shaneil (pictiured above) tell the before and after story of Mr Chicken's Sailing Adventure!

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While Leigh worked with the older kids, Ann was up in the early years class reading I’m a Dirty Dinosaur (which they already had in their well-stocked classroom library).

Then she went outside and dug up some of the rich dark soil around the room. Ann was excited because they were in Rover Thomas country.

And this is the dirt of his country!


Inside we added water, spread out the paper on the floor and voila!

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This is, after all, Rover Thomas country. These are children of the Warmun artists, who famously work in the ochres of their country.

Leigh asked Ann to demonstrate some techniques to use for backgrounds.

First – soft pastels on black paper.

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Leigh and Ann took a lovely range of art materials with us for the school. We kept sculpting with paper clay as the finale.


IMG_6917 IMG_6913 IMG_6911 IMG_6899 After a good day’s work, AISWA gave us the amazing experience – a first for us – of a helicopter ride over the country.

We covered a lot of sky and saw amazing land formations below – so engrossed we forgot any fear of flying.

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We stayed at Turkey Creek Hotel and ate all our meals at the Warmun Roadhouse.


This is Big Mabel – a local landmark with attitude. Leigh was becoming inspired.


And they feature in many of the children’s pastel drawings.

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We visited the Warmun Arts Centre in the Warmun Community. A spacious modern art gallery. So many inspiring works – many highly acclaimed local artists over a number of generations.

Paul, the Chair of the Community Board had been part of all our sessions. He thanked us warmly on behalf of the school and the Purnululu community.

Then we got into the car and began driving back out to the main highway. Halfway along we stopped. A boy was waving us farewell from the top of a hill. It was Nigel – Frank scouting our arrival from below. They’d raced ahead to catch us and give us this beautiful farewell!


Hearty thanks to everyone at the Purnululu School who were so welcoming, enthusiastic and hard-working – in particular Principal Corrie Baxter; the Chair of School and Community Board Paul ‘Sir Paul’ Butters; and teachers James Kingston, Amanda Rowe and Fiona McLarty.

And to AISWA (Association of West Australian Independent Schools) who organised and hosted the Laureate tour for Leigh and Ann, from Melbourne to Frog Hollow and back again.

It was sensational.


  1. Di says:

    What a super report. I particularly enjoyed the children's illustrations. The 25th anniversary has certainly been celebrated in meaningful ways.
    And a little chuckle......NORTH from easy to lose all sense of direction in the Kimberley.