Alison Lester’s Kids Antarctic Art Project

Exhibition: July 17 to August 20, 2011. (Exhibition opening: Opening Sunday July 17 from 2 - 5pm.)


All the Tracks of the Aurora Australis - numerous children with Alison Lester

All the Tracks of the Aurora Australis - numerous children with Alison Lester

Talk with the artist on Sunday at the opening from 2pm on Sunday July 17. There will be the opportunity to purchase limited edition prints on canvas and paper at a very reasonable price. Postcards of Alison’s works will also be available to purchase from Gecko.

all artist’s profits from this exhibition go to the royal childrens’ hospital in melbourne

There will also be a selection of Alison’s books for sale at Gecko throughout the month of the exhibition and Alison will be able to sign copies of her books at the opening on Sunday July 17. Limited Edition prints of artwork featured in the “On the Beach” book will also be available for purchase from Gecko

When children’s author and illustrator, Alison Lester travelled to Antarctica in 2005 as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow, thousands of children from schools around the world were inspired by her journey, using her online diary and photographic journal to track her adventure.

By keeping in touch with Alison, children followed her trip, leaving from Tasmania on the ice breaker Aurora Australis, to Mawson Station and Casey Station on the Antarctic continent and the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

The Project

Alison encouraged the students to draw in response to her descriptions and photos and there was a massive response from children wanting to be a part of the project. On her return home she was inundated with beautiful drawings of Antarctica as imagined by the children.
Alison has since used these illustrations to complete an exhibition of work which combines the children’s line drawings with her design and colour.

The first showing of Kids Antarctic Art, a collaboration, was during Hobart’s Midwinter Festival 2007 at The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Alison writes……I travelled south on the Aurora Australis with an open mind as to what sort of book would result from the experience. I also went as the eyes and ears of children around Australia. Every night I emailed an account of my day to schools and families, encouraging children to draw my descriptions. These would be used as elements of paintings for an exhibition called Kids Antarctic Art.

Within a couple of days of leaving Hobart I was bombarded with emails from schools all over the world, asking questions or wanting to join the project. A friend set up a web page to cope with the increased mail, and the project was underway.

There was plenty to write about. The first leg of the voyage to Mawson took two weeks. I described the vast Southern Ocean – some days glittering and wild, with albatross skimming the waves, other days shrouded in fog. One incredible evening it was as flat as glass, reflecting a stunning sky; red and orange in the west, and pink and green in the east.

I told the kids about life on the Aurora; how it was bad luck to whistle, the fabulous meals, the signs everywhere, usually of people running, how things had to be secured to stop them flying around in bad weather and the strange noises the ship made. My studio was an old photo lab and the ship’s ballast system passed close to it. Working in this tiny, windowless space, as the water moaned and gurgled through the pipes, I felt as though I was in the belly of some prehistoric marine creature.

I spent most days writing, painting and taking photographs. On hearing I was going to Antarctica, many people had commented that there wouldn’t be anything to paint, that it would all be white; but they were wrong. The colours in the sky and ice changed constantly and subtly; soft pink, brilliant turquoise, indigo and bronze. Dawn was the best time for photographs and often my footsteps would be the first ones on the snowy deck. I was usually rewarded; once by a huge tabular berg framed by a lemon sky, another time by a strip of distant ice, glowing orange on a cobalt sea, and later by a pod of orca spying on the ship.

My perceptions were constantly challenged by the environment. As we steamed into Mawson in fierce winds, I realised that the waves breaking against the rocks were in fact frozen. What I assumed was mist around the Framnes Mountains was ice! And I thought the ice itself would be like snow, not the hard, blue ice we skidded on.

The Kids Antarctic Art paintings have begun, with the first finished piece on display at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Thousands of drawings were waiting for me when I got home; many were pictures of the Aurora Australis, ranging from a tiny dingy with a tree growing in it to a futuristic aircraft carrier. I could see the picture I wanted to make immediately. On the bridge of the Aurora is a screen showing all her tracks in the Southern Ocean, and this concept became ‘All the Tracks of the Aurora Australis’. The original is quite small, but will be enlarged and printed on to canvas for a touring exhibition in 2007.

My journal entries will be turned into a children’s book, after my editor suggested the story be told by a child. The book features Snoopy Sparks, 10 year old niece of the world famous moss biologist, Professor Georgia Green. When Professor Green’s assistant Lulu breaks her ankle, just before a voyage to Antarctica, Snoopy, with the help of Lulu’s Peppermint Kiss eyeshadow, pretends to be 18, and takes her place. After all, Professor Green needs somebody to operate her laptop. Their search for a rare and environmentally important moss is threatened, but Snoopy, true to her name, figures things out.

My AAD Arts Fellowship was a magic ticket to a world I could never have imagined. I became instantly addicted to Antarctica and returned nine months later, as the media artist on a tourist boat. I feel privileged and grateful to everybody who shared their lives and stories with me and I hope my books and paintings will inspire others to get addicted too.

The most exciting experience of my Antarctic Arts Fellowship was a blizzard at Mawson. My cabin mate and I were keen to spend a night on the Antarctic continent, so when a notice went up asking for volunteers, we opted for shore-based fuel duty – the 8 pm to midnight shift. We figured that working that late would mean staying in the ‘Red Shed’ for the night. Our voyage leader had other ideas, however, and we were told we’d be returning to the ship after our shift.

It was going to be a freezing night on top of the fuel tanks so we wore many layers of warm clothes. The wind was bitter and each time we climbed up to check the measuring stick it seemed to be colder. Between measurements and tap turning we sat in a container hut with Neil, who we were assisting, making him cups of tea and quizzing him about his life on and off the ice.

Expeditioners and crew from the Aurora were being ferried to and fro by zodiac as we worked, coming ashore for a beer and chinwag in the Red Shed’s bar, looking colder and wetter each time. Then, just as we were about to finish our shift, came the order that gladdened our hearts. Anyone ashore was to stay ashore as the sea was too wild for any more zodiac trips.

As we staggered up to the Red Shed we were thankful for the ropes connecting the buildings at Mawson. It was very hard to see and almost impossible to breathe. I felt as though the air was being sucked out of my lungs. It was a wonderful feeling to burst through the doors and into the warmth and safety of the Red Shed. It was our home for three days until the blizzard blew itself out.

At the peak of the storm the view out the windows was all white but as it eased we could see the Aurora, iced up like a ghost ship, swinging wildly on her moorings in Horseshoe Bay.

By the third day the clothes I’d worn for the fuel duty were starting to get a mind of their own. I decided to wash the essentials in the shower then hang about while the tumble dryer did its job. Unfortunately, the dryers only worked at certain times and I couldn’t get my clothes dry. For many kids the description of me wearing soggy undies was the highlight of my journal.

When the Aurora pushed out of Horseshoe Bay the winterers let off pink flares that hung in the foggy sky for a long time. After a tiny taste of Antarctica we were going home, but they were staying. It would be six months before they saw anybody else.

Alison Lester.


Alison Lester


Alison Lester was born on the 17/11/1952 at Foster in Victoria. She grew up on a farm overlooking the sea and first rode a horse as a baby in her father’s arms. She still lives in the country and rides her horse whenever she can.

After training as an art teacher and teaching for one year, Alison began illustrating books in 1979 and five years later, wrote her first book.

Her picture books mix imaginary worlds with everyday life, encouraging children to believe in themselves and celebrate the differences that make them special.

Alison lives and works at Nar Nar Goon North in rural Victoria.

She is also involved in many community art projects.

Alison spends part of every year travelling to remote indigenous communities, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their own lives.


1970. Finished secondary education at St Margaret’s School, Berwick, Victoria, Australia.

1971. First Year Arts at Melbourne University

1972-1975. Higher Diploma of Teaching, Secondary Arts and Crafts, Melbourne State College.

1976. Art teacher, Alexandra High School.

1979. Began illustrating children’s books.

1985. “Clive Eats Alligators”, first picture book.

1985 – Writing and illustrating, see list.

1993. Guest speaker at IBBY conference, Manilla.

1996. Writers Project Grant from the Australia Council to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

1999. Writer in residence at Tanglin Trust School, Singapore.

2001. Guest speaker at Story Lines Festival, Auckland.

2002. Visiting author at the Bologna Book Fair, sponsored by the Australia Council.

2004. Guest speaker, Simmons College, Boston, USA.

2004. Visiting author to Seoul, Korea for Children’s Book Week.

2004. Visiting author, schools in Tokyo.

2005. Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship. Six week voyage to Antarctica and beginning of Kids Antarctic Art project.

2005. Workshops and exhibition in Japan as part of the Asialink literature touring program with the Aichi expo.

2005. Kimberley Writer’s Festival.

2005. Byron Bay Writer’s Festival.

2005. Expedition Photographer on Quark voyage to Ross Sea, Antarctica.

2006. Wordstorm Writer’s Festival, Darwin.

2006. Expedition Artist on Quark Voyage to Antarctic Peninsula.

2007. Artist for Fire Up, Community Dance project.

2007. Sydney Writer’s Festival.

2007. Mid-Winter Festival, Hobart.

2007. Writer in Residence, Aurora Expeditions voyage to Spitsbergen.

2007. Albany Writer’s Festival.

2008. Children’s Literature in the Centre, Alice Springs.

2009. Visiting author, schools in Tokyo.

2009. Eye of the Storm writer’s festival, Alice Springs.

2009. Ubud Writer’s Festival, Bali.

2009. Author tour to three Indian cities, with DFAT.

Every year, from 1985 onwards, workshops in schools around Australia.

From 1994, visits and workshops in remote indigenous communities, in Central Australia, Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and North Queensland.

Exhibitions at:

Books Illustrated, Fremantle Childrens Literature Centre, Des Bunyon Gallery, Dromkeen, Season’s Gallery, McClelland Gallery, Walker Street Gallery, Melbourne Style, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Melbourne State Library, Parliament House, Canberra, Melbourne Aquarium, Children’s Castle, Tokyo.

List of Alison Lester’s Books

“Clive Eats Alligators”, Oxford University Press, now Hachette, 1985 .

Commended picture book, C.B.C. awards, 1986.

“Ruby”, Oxford University Press, now hachette1987.

“Rosie Sips Spiders”, Oxford University Press, now hachette1988.

Winner A.B.P.A. design award, 1989.

The Australian Baby Books.

“Bibs and Boots”, “Happy and Sad”, “Crashing and Splashing , “Bumping and Bouncing”,

Penguin Books, now allen and unwin, 1989.

“Imagine”, Allen and Unwin, 1989.

Commended A.B.P.A. design award, 1989.

I think this is in Chinese.

“The Journey Home”, Oxford University Press, now Hachette, 1989.

Honour book C.B.C. awards, 1990.

“Magic Beach”, Allen and Unwin, 1990.

Shortlisted book C.B.C. awards, 1991.

Winner ABPA design award, 1990.

“Tessa Snaps Snakes”, Oxford University Press, now Hachette, 1990.

“Isabella’s Bed”, Oxford University Press, now Hachette, 1991.

Shortlisted book, multi-cultural awards, 1992.

“My Farm”, Allen and Unwin, 1992.

“I’m Green and I’m Grumpy”, Penguin, 1993.

“Monsters are Knocking”, now “Who’s that knocking?” Penguin, 1993.

“Yikes!”, Allen and Unwin, 1993.

“When Frank was Four”, Hodder and Stoughton, now Hachette, 1994.

“Alice and Aldo”, now Alison Lester’s ABC, Allen and Unwin, 1996.

“Celeste Sails to Spain”, Hodder Headline, 1997.

“The Quicksand Pony”, Allen and Unwin, 1997.

Winner, West Australian Young Readers Book, 1999

Shortlisted 1998 Festival Awards for Literature National Children’s Award.

Shortlisted 1998 Book Data Australian Booksellers’ Association Book of the Year.

“Ernie Dances to the Didgeridoo”, Hodder, now Hachette, 2000.

Shortlisted 2001 CBC awards.

“The Snow Pony”, Allen and Unwin, 2001.

“Are We There Yet? A Journey Around Australia”, Penguin, 2004.

Winner, picture book of the year 2005 CBC awards.

“Roar, Talk to the Wild Animals with Alison Lester” ABC Books, 2007.

“Moo, Talk to the Farm Animals with Alison Lester” ABC Books, 2007.

“Purr, Talk to the Pet Animals with Alison Lester” ABC Books, 2007.

Running with the Horses”, Penguin, 2009.

Shortlisted ABI awards 2010, shortlisted CBC awards 2010, shortlisted ABPA design awards 2010, shortlisted Australian Prime Minister’s awards 2010.

“Horse Crazy. The Complete Adventures of Bonnie and Sam”, Allen and Unwin, 2009.

Noni the Pony, Allen and Unwin, 2010.

Works in Progress

This Small Island, Penguin, 2009.

“Nicky Catches Koalas” Hachette, 2010.

Translated editions include Spanish, Japanese, Korean, German, Dutch, French, Chinese, Hebrew and Swedish.

About Alison Lester ( 2007 )

I began illustrating children’s books about thirty years ago. I had trained as a secondary art teacher, and although I loved teaching art I hated the routine of school.

When my first baby was born I knew I wanted to work from home, so I got out the Yellow Pages, found Oxford University Press under Publishers, rang up, and asked for a job. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by three lovely women who could see potential in my scrappy folio and gave me a book to illustrate.

After five years of illustrating other people’s stories I found myself getting picky with their texts and had a go at writing my own. “Clive Eats Alligators” was the result, and I have been writing and illustrating my own stories since then.

In 1997 my first children’s novel, “The Quicksand Pony” was published and the “The Snow Pony” followed in 1999. I hope I can continue to write both “chapter books” and picture books. My heart is always with the little kids, but as my own children get older I find myself more and more interested in the novels.

Over the last ten years I have visited and worked in many remote indigenous schools and it’s been a real treat. Lots of aboriginal children speak little or no English and to help them tell their stories has been hugely rewarding.

The hardest thing about my job is getting time to do it. A large part of each year is spent giving talks and running workshops on writing and illustrating, and although I love travelling and meeting people, it takes me away from my family and work.

Comments are closed.