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Saying goodbye to the 2016–17 Australian Children's Laureate

After two hectic, passionate, fun, collaborative, adventurous years, Leigh Hobbs steps down as the Australian Children’s Laureate. Leigh was the fourth Laureate, following Boori Monty Pryor and Alison Lester (2102–13), and Jackie French (2014–15). The new Laureate will be announced on Monday 12 February 2018. Who will it be?

Before then, let’s look back at Leigh’s two years in the role.

Creating characters in Alice Springs, November 2017
Creating characters in Alice Springs, November 2017

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Australia Council for the Arts, who assisted with touring costs. We also warmly thank the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and Reading Australia for their continuing support of the Australian Children's Laureate. Without these partners our work simply would not happen. Thanks also to Leigh's publisher Allen & Unwin and to Erica Wagner in particular.

Leigh's campaign kicked off in February 2016 in Melbourne, and he was on an almost non-stop ride. He has seen the inside of more aircraft than Alan Joyce. Leigh travelled more than 150,000 kilometres – roughly four times around the globe. His program focused on three things: support for libraries and librarians; creative participation for children; and support for writers and artists. He gave inspiring, funny and informative talks, workshops, masterclasses, video live-streamed sessions and interviews to thousands of children and adults.

From his home in Melbourne, Leigh traveled to Tasmania three times; Western Australia four times including Broome, Derby and Purnululu (click for video); Darwin; twice to the ACT; Adelaide and remote South Australia; three times to Brisbane; and countless times to Sydney. His character Horrible Harriet even had her own play at the Sydney Opera House. He visited regional centres including Gippsland, Bendigo, South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, Parkes and Maitland in NSW and to Alice Springs.

Exhibitions of Leigh’s work toured Tasmania and also popped up at the Bendigo Writers Festival thanks to La Trobe University. Internationally Leigh represented Australia at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and appeared at Hay-on-Wye with UK Laureate Chris Riddell, and in Dublin and Belfast with Irish Laureate PJ Lynch.

At the 2017 Bologna Children's Book Fair with laureates (L-R) from Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands
At the 2017 Bologna Children's Book Fair with laureates (L-R) from Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands

Leigh presented workshops, talks and lectures in every state and territory, mostly with state libraries, which allowed him to reach the widest possible audience. There were conferences and school visits, and he appeared at the Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne writers festivals, all the time encouraging children to be creative, to draw, to dream, to explore their unique style and talents.  Online, he was a guest blogger for the national Summer Reading Club  and live-streamed to children in regional Queensland, and nationally thanks to ABC Splash. The Laureate Facebook page added around 20 per cent more followers.

And then there were the media appearances including Richard Fidler’s Conversations, ABC TV with Virginia Trioli; Fairfax Good Weekend, RN Books & Arts Daily, ABC Splash live-streaming to schools, NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge, the Garret podcast, front page of The Age, arts pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, local and regional print and radio. Story Box Library produced a beautiful short documentary film.

We ended where it all began, at State Library Victoria, a place dear to Leigh. In February 2016 we kicked off with the Kids' Big Book Spectacular, attended by around 4,000 children and their families. In December 2017, we ended with a free event for around 200 children, each of whom received one of Leigh's books.

We're grateful and full of admiration for the generous welcome and support from all the organisations who partnered with us. We thank everyone who embraced Australia's need to champion and reading, children, and their literature. We felt your extraordinary support – from the National Library of Australia in Canberra, to small schools in outback South Australia.

Leigh Hobbs, that was some ride.

Bravo and thank you, Leigh!


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