'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 16 October 2021

Guest Post: Catherine Bauer on Boundless and Born To Fly: Len Waters

Award-winning children's author and journalist, Catherine Bauer joins us to celebrate a little-known Aussie legend, Len Waters.

Born on the plains where Dhinawan the Emu roams, Leonard Waters grew up under the wide blue skies ruled by the great eagle, Kaputhin. 

And with Leonardo Da Vinci, Renaissance artist, dreamer and designer of the first 'flying machine' as his namesake, it seemed that from his earliest years Len was meant to fly.

He was born in 1924 behind the gates of Euraba Aboriginal Mission in New South Wales, but Len’s boundless imagination and limitless dreams took him soaring well beyond the reach of the people and policies that tried to control his destiny in pre-Depression era Australia.

Len beat the odds to become Australia’s first known Aboriginal RAAF fighter pilot.

I more or less stumbled across the story of Len and other First Nations Australian defence force personnel several years ago, while helping one of my sons with a primary school assignment on the Anzacs. We researched the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and also looked at the many great picture books that were around at the time. The AWM made mention of Australia’s WWI First Nations soldiers, but none of the picture books did as did few research sources.

I started my own research and was fascinated - and saddened - by what I learned. These servicemen, who were not officially recognised, nor included in the national constitution, made the same sacrifices and served with honour, but on their return, they did not receive the recognition or benefits available to non-First Nations comrades. The injustice and hypocrisy stung and I decided to write a story for kids that would bring to light the service of Australia’s First Nations diggers.

Big Sky Publishing created my first picture book, Dreaming Soldiers and is releasing Len Waters, Boundless and Born to Fly as part of its awarded Australia Remembers series.

Encouraged by his parents to always 'think big', Len didn’t let lack of education or endemic prejudice stop him entering the RAAF. He started as a flight mechanic and made it through to flight training, earning his wings and the respect of his squadron comrades in the process.

There are many wonderful stories that demonstrate Len’s approach to life and his flying career. His determination was limitless.

There are many wonderful stories that demonstrate Len’s approach to life and his flying career. His determination was limitless and one of my favourite stories is Len’s calm approach after being hit by a Japanese cannon in the Southwest Pacific. With the undetonated shell lodged behind his head and ticking like a timebomb, Len made the two-hour return trip to base, leaving the cockpit with a grin on his face. Climbing from the fuselage, the 21-year-old pilot joked that he’d just made his smoothest landing to date.

Talk about cool, calm and collected!

South Australian-born Catherine Bauer is a journalist and awarded children’s writer who grew up in the suburbs of Adelaide. While she has written and published children’s plays and had two picture books published in 2018, Catherine lists her three sons as her life’s greatest work.

She grew up reading the classics that lined her parents’ well-stocked home library. She wrote, illustrated and submitted her first picture book at the age of eight and received a gently worded rejection letter – thus igniting her love for writing and determination to one day see her creative work in print.

Apart from joy and delight, Catherine aims for her stories to spark all or one of the following three reactions in readers: ‘that’s me’; ‘I wish that was me’ or ‘I’m glad that’s not me’.

Follow, Catherine on Facebook

Read our KBR review of the Australia Remembers series title, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day & War Memorials by Allison Paterson.