Following their Footsteps – Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick – To the Bridge
If you’ve been checking social media recently, you would know of my trip, following the footsteps of Lennie Gwyther and his beloved pony Ginger Mick, as told in the picture book To the Bridge, written by me, illustrated by Andrew McLean and published by Walker Books Australia.
In 1932, 9 year old Lennie and his 9 year old pony, Ginger Mick, set off from country Leongatha to ride 600 miles to Sydney to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Following the launch of this book in Leongatha in March last year, launches in Sydney and Melbourne were to follow, as well as a planned tour to places where Lennie and Ginger Mick had stopped along the way. As with so many plans and events, covid put an end to those things.
But, just over a year later, I set off (with my husband as chauffeur) to travel their route and stopping at bookshops, libraries and places they visited along the way. The big difference was that I wasn’t on a pony and it wasn’t 1932.
We reacquainted ourselves with some wonderful members of Lennie’s family, met many lovely booksellers and many lovely librarians and I spoke and read the story to some great families and students who couldn’t believe that a 9 year old boy had actually achieved this, in the middle of the depression.
We began in Leongatha where I spent time with their statue, signed books at the Nextra Newsagency and spoke to parents and children after school at the Leongatha Library.
Leaving Leongatha, our first stop was Mirboo North, as it was Lennie’s, joining members of the Gwyther family for morning tea and I was interviewed by a journo from the Mirboo North Times. It was terrific to know that so many country newspapers are still thriving.
Our next stop was Sale where Collins Booksellers had organised books to be signed and a photographer/journo from the local paper to attend.
Next stop was Bairnsdale where Just Books and the Paperchase Cafe were hosting a reading and talk about the book. This was such a lovely afternoon.
As Lennie had stayed the night at the Main Hotel in Bairnsdale, I decided to do a reading, thinking, in my crazy writer’s mind, that somehow Lennie would like that. (Not sure he could hear me!)
I also made a quick visit to Bairnsdale West Primary to read the story to some special kids.
After Bairnsdale we traveled through Lakes Entrance and Orbost and at Cann River we headed north up the Monaro Highway to Nimmitabel and on to Cooma.
There was such a feeling of aloneness up there in the Snowy Mountains – and the mind boggled at how a small boy had done this, with only his beloved pony to keep him company.
I kept thinking of what a brilliant job Andrew McLean had done of the illustrations.
We arrived in Cooma where we stayed the night. After checking into our motel we went for a walk through the town. I’ve never had such a welcome – there were posters everywhere of the Library and Foxtale Bookshop readings the next day.
We visited The National Library of Australia Bookshop in Canberra, where I signed some books. Canberra was where Lennie met the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons. (I almost met today’s Prime Minister a little further on in our journey.)
The next morning we stopped at the Moss Vale Showgrounds where Ginger Mick had won a second prize ribbon at the show there in 1932. Such a thrill to be standing there with the book.
In Bowral, we stopped outside the house that Donald Bradman grew up in, just as Lennie and Ginger Mick had done.
And finally, later that day, we arrived in Sydney. It had taken us seven days – thirty-three for Lennie and Ginger Mick.
‘There it was. There was the incredible bridge …’
We chugged under the bridge on the first available ferry, which happened to be called the May Gibbs. We visited the Blues Point Bookshop at McMahon’s Point, The Children’s Bookshop and Gleebooks both in Glebe and met Susanne Gervay opposite the Hughendon, just like old SCBWI times . . . almost. I also caught up with illustrator Owen Swan, with whom I’ve worked on for One Lone Swallow, Scruffle-Nut and My Friend Tertius. Thank you for making me feel so welcome, all.
Heading south, we stopped in Gundagai where I signed The Dog on the Tuckerbox at the Tourist Information Centre and 100 copies at The Dog on the Tuckerbox Lolly Shop and Cafe. It was such fun.
Further south still I had a book signing at Collins Booksellers in Wagga Wagga, called into The Gateway Bookshop also in Wagga Wagga to sign some books, then on to Wangaratta where I signed lots of copies of One Lone Swallow at Booktique.
What a trip! Enjoyed visiting every town or city, every bookshop and every library and loved catching up with and meeting so many people – but most of all, enjoyed the privilege of traveling in the footsteps of a boy and his pony, in long ago times.
Thank you Lennie and Ginger Mick and of course, Beryl.