Author Chris Miles talks about Explorers: filling in the map of Australia

The National Library of Australia ‘Treasure of the Month’ for June is a digitised version of the logbook kept by Charles Kingsford-Smith’s relief pilot Charles Ulm on their history-making flight from America to Australia. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm — along with an American navigator and engineer, and an American radio operator — took off from California on 31 May 1928 in a Fokker monoplane called the Southern Cross, and landed in Queensland on 9 June.

photoThe Southern Cross Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The logbook keeps track of the weather conditions (including a very nasty sounding lightning storm) and the plane’s altitude, speed, progress and physical condition as it speeds toward Australia. My favourite part is when the American radio operator on the Southern Cross informs Ulm that the plane’s beacon signal (a vital navigational aid) has failed. Ulm writes, “This is not so good”. Hence his nickname, Charlie “Understatement” Ulm (I just made that up).

handwritingCharles Ulm: not a man to overreact in a crisis

Kingsford-Smith, of course, was such a national hero that he managed to get himself onto our stamps and onto the original paper $20 note issued in 1966 (that I didn’t make up).

Browse the logbook of the Southern Cross (and admire its natty cover) at the National Library of Australia digital collections website.

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a view of London in 1851 from a hot air balloon.

(Of course, if you were alive in mid–nineteenth-century London and a daily user of hot air balloons, then you would see it every day, and can safely go about your business without following the link.)

You might recall that a couple of years ago I had a short story published in a Black Dog Books anthology called Short: a collection of interesting short stories and other stuff from some surprising and intelligent people, edited by Lili Wilkinson. (You don’t? Hmm, maybe you’re too young to remember. Maybe you hadn’t actually been born yet. In which case, how on earth are you reading this?)

Well, Black Dog Books have released another new anthology, publishing well-known authors alongside not-so-well-known authors, with all profits going to youth charities. It’s called Short and scary: a whole lot of creepy stories and other chilling stuff, and it’s edited by the wonderful Karen Tayleur. What’s more, inside its doom-laden, slime-mottled and mould-edged pages, you’ll find a short piece of mine entitled ‘Double-you, double-you, double-you’.

shortandscaryShort and scary, a new anthology published by Black Dog Books. Isn’t it amazing how IT’S YOUR DOOR ON THE FRONT COVER?

Lili Wilkinson assembled a stellar list of contributors for Short, and the talent in Short and scary is just as incredible. It’s pretty amazing to be published alongside people like Carole Wilkinson, Shaun Tan, James Roy, Andy Griffiths, James Moloney and Sally Rippin, among many, many others.

You should be able to find Short and scary in all good bookshops. If it’s not there, maybe you could ask for it. Remember, it’s for a good cause!

Obviously I’m interested in money. “Who isn’t?” you say. “Well, monks,” I respond.

But that’s not what I meant.

What I meant is, I’m interested in money enough to write a book about it. Another thing I’m interested in is Star Wars (though ‘interested’ might be putting it mildly). So you can imagine my delight when I found these amazing origimi Star Wars spaceships made with US dollar bills.

Star-War-Millenium-Falcon-s.jpgMillennium Falcon by Won Park

Star-War-X-Wing-s.jpgX-Wing by Won Park

The origami artist (origamist?) is Won Park — and the Force is clearly strong with him. I’m no Jedi Master of origami — I couldn’t even call myself an origami Padawan — but I’m tempted to start folding up some of my Australian plastic money to see what I can make.

On second thoughts, maybe not. I need my money for food. (Speaking of which, have you bought a copy of Explorers yet?)

You can links to find more Star Wars-themed origami at the original article from

Just got back from a week away in Mornington to find copies of the latest Countdown: The School Magazine in my letterbox — and inside, a reprint of my story ‘Snail Mail’!

magazinecoverThe October 2009 edition of Countdown: The School Magazine featuring my story ‘Snail Mail’ (note: my story has nothing to do with dragons)

Countdown is published by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. I was thrilled to see that the story was illustrated by Stephen Axelsen, who wrote and illustrated what was one of my favourite books when I was growing up: The Oath of Bad Brown Bill.

bookcoverThe Oath of Bad Brown Bill by Stephen Axelsen

I don’t know what happened to my original copy of The Oath of Bad Brown Bill, but I was amazed to find a second-hand copy in pretty good condition in Phillip Island several years ago. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much about the book online (except for this LibraryThing entry), but it’s about a bushranger and his waggish steed Mudpie (their crimes include stealing the entire Queensland Mint!) and their encounter with the ghoulish Pale Jackeroo…

Now that I look back at it I can see a lot in Bad Brown Bill that probably influenced my imagination and interests: the vividly imagined historical Australian setting, the creepy monsters, and a horse that suddenly acquires the power of speech (though that last one will only make sense if my currently unpublished novel The Genie in the Dunnycan ever becomes non-unpublished).

‘Snail Mail’ was originally published in the Short anthology published by Black Dog Books early last year.

bookcoverShort: a collection of interesting short stories and other stuff from some surprising and intelligent people edited by Lili Wilkinson

Black Dog are doing a similar anthology early next year, and I’m pleased to report that I have a short piece in that one too…

Nearly 30 Dutch ships landed on the western coast of Australia or sighted part of the coast during the 1600s and 1700s, and the crew of one Dutch ship, the Gulden Zeepaerdt, came close (well, sort of) to discovering the east coast of Australia nearly 150 years before James Cook.

Continue reading…

What do we really know about the first recorded European landing in Australia?

Continue reading…

I’ve been looking at maps of imagined places for my new book, Explorers: filling in the map of Australia. These maps were drawn by European cartographers hundreds and hundreds of years ago — and the place they’re imagining is Australia.

Well, sort of.

Continue reading…

My story ‘Snail mail’ will be appearing in Short: a collection of interesting short stories and other stuff from some surprising and intelligent people, shortly to be published by Black Dog Books.

bookcoverShort: a collection of interesting short stories and other stuff from some surprising and intelligent people edited by Lili Wilkinson

It’s full of funny, bizarre, spooky, inventive stories, poems and cartoons. And the funny stuff is so much funnier than the pun I threw in at the end of the first paragraph there.

All royalties go to Big Brothers Big Sisters, so make sure you grab a copy. If it’s not in our favourite bookstore, ask them to order it in for you (ISBN 9781742030340). Or you can buy it online at the Black Dog Books website.

I received an email from a fellow author yesterday congratulating me on Who’s on the Money? being one of 19 titles to be listed as a notable book in this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia awards.

I rushed to the website to check that this wasn’t an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke.

Staggeringly, it wasn’t.

This came as quite a surprise — though it shouldn’t have, because quite clearly my book is brilliant. Ahem.

Now that I’m all puffed up, I’m hoping for a shortlisting and gold sticker next year for my second book, Stuck on History.

My latest book is Explorers: Filling in the map of Australia. You can find out more about Explorers at the Black Dog Books website, where you can also find out about my other non-fiction books, Who’s on the Money? and Stuck on History.

Here I’ll be posting articles about some of the material in Explorers — so subscribe to my RSS feed and join the voyage of discovery!