December 24th 2009
"Words are beautiful when they are strung together"
It's the season for celebrating achievement around Magnetic Island with locals Tony Wilson and Kay Colwell chalking up big personal milestones. And now another local with a story of proud service has retired after twenty three years of supporting reading amongst Island youngsters. Her name is Vicki Walker.
We visited Vicki at her breezy house in Picnic Bay where a handsome motor home fills the driveway. It's a sign of travels to come although Vicki smarts at the term “grey nomad”.
At 62 Vicki is now keen to enjoy life while she and ex-navy husband Cameron are well and able and although the travel bug beckons, Vicki is even more set on persuing her passion for reading, writing, painting and jewellery making.
Born in Sydney but also growing up in Fiji and Singapore where her step father was a marine engineer (her natural father died when she was very young after experiencing Changi Prison and the dreaded Burma Railway during World War II), Vicki has always had a love of reading and books.
Conveying her sense of wonder and delight for books and their mysterious power over the mind, Vicki's expression betrays a wistful yearning. “They transport me to another world,” she says.
She has worked with books most of her adult life. Growing up on Sydney's North Shore Vicki worked as a junior buyer for Dymocks and still has some regrets about leaving what that job could have led to. Moving around Australia including spells in the Northern Territory and Port Headland she was later to work for the almost-legendary Walkers (no-relation) Bookshop in Cairns in the early 1960s.
Vicki and Cam had been living in Cairns when their son Wade was diagnosed with pneumonia and the doctor advised that a drier climate might be better. Vicki recalled some childhood memories of Magnetic Island where she'd holidayed in the 1950s, “in a gorgeous cottage in Arcadia, playing on the beach and catching the ferry.”
It was 1984 and by good chance Cam learned of a Domestic Manager position at what was then the “Mediterranean Village,” now All Seasons resort in Nelly Bay. They moved quickly to Magnetic.
In 1986 Vicki was employed by the Magnetic Island State School as a library aide. “For years it was just me. There was no librarian and it was just a classroom then. I was in charge of everything: book buying, processing and there were no computers. It was all cards,” she chuckles, “You cannot call it the Dewey system any more – it's now the 'classification system'”.
“We've stayed for many reasons. It's the old story – why everyone loves it,” she laughs but recalls one-time Islander, Michael Helmrich, telling her, “People always come to the Island to escape something.”
“I've never decided if it was true or not but it has stayed in my mind.” she says and adds, “I can't believe I've been here this long. Now I'm 'elderly!'”
It wasn't until the early 1990s that the first librarian, Lyn Sanderson, was appointed for two days per week. “I was effectively the librarian for those years (before) though I wasn't trained as one.” said Vicki who is quick to acknowledge the focus on reading at MISS. “It was paramount so it was a great pleasure to see children taking to books”.
At this point Vicki lapses into a mild revery as she tries to explain her love of books and reading. “It's the tactile experience, the smell and lovely covers – just an extraordinary sensation going into a room of books. It's been a lifelong thing – an escape!”
Vicki prefers biographies, travel writing, psychological thrillers and loves kid's books and kid's fiction especially.
She then reveals that she is also writing her own children's book. “It's fundamentally why I retired – to go back to jewelley, the arts and writing.
She then offers some teasing first lines to her story, which is written entirely in rhyme:
“The wicked sea witch blew in from the sea.
Frothing and foaming and cackling with glee!”
“I'm three quarters through it but I'm stuck”, she says.
For inspiration Vicki looks to the sea and mysteries. “Not science fiction but fantasy writing. I love thrillers that solve mysteries” she says but adds, “I just love dogs too and stories about them!”
When it comes to children's literature Vicki takes a dim view of many popular authors whose books, “...are full of violence, shocking language and appalling themes – books about poo!” she laments with an old-school frustration in the direction modern life is taking young people. “You read them but do they transport and inspire you?”
“Kids still find books exciting but I think computers are gaining and I hate to see them playing mindless violent games. I don't like computers at all” she adds for good measure.
“Children want to be entertained too much but it is very rewarding when you can recommend a book and they come back for more. You feel worthwhile – that you've really helped them.
With the summer holidays in swing we asked Vicki for a few authors she would recommend. A very short list included: Glenda Millard, Tania Cox, Colin Thompson, David Almond, Margaret Wild and Shannon Hale.
While books and writing are a first love, artmaking also plays a big part in Vicki's life.
She discovered she could draw in her early thirties at a seaside holiday house. "I discovered I could draw Cameron and the cat and that they actually looked like them!”
She was a long term member of the Magnetic Island Artist's Co-op” and exhibited her work at their shop over several years before it eventually closed.
Vicki makes an interesting analogy between jewellery and writing. “Words are beautiful when they are strung together. How you position these 'jewels' can be dynamic together.”
As for the big jewel, Magnetic Island itself, Vicki has seen lots of change. “I still think it's got the charm it had. It is still peaceful and lovely but certain eyesores – I'm being diplomatic here – offend me. I'm lucky I live in Picnic Bay".
Other things she values include the, “...great school. The teachers are so dedicated and it's a nice size.”
That the school is very much a part of the community is, to Vicki very important because, “It adds to the feeling of belonging and safety knowing you are surrounded by people you know.”
With the motor home just outside the front door it is likely that Vicki and Cam will head off in the cooler weather. They plan to visit friends and relations in Canberra and Sydney and although there is a longer aim to travel overseas to Turkey and Uzbekistan – “because they are so exotic and different” - there are no great plans just yet.
Story & photo: George Hirst
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