Aren’t you wearing tweed?

I just remembered the day I decided to be a writer.
Ivan Southall came to visit our school. I’m not sure how old I was, but I must have been in grade 4 or 5, and as far as I was concerned Ivan Southall was a god.
He’d written what I considered to be the greatest book ever published, To The Wild Sky. I loved all my historical favourites, but Ivan Southall’s books like Hills End, Ash Road and The Fox Hole were different. They were Australian. They were about kids in the bush. Hot days, bushfires, floods. They were about me.
If Geoffrey Trease had visited my school I’d have fainted. But Ivan Southall was the local hero, having gone to school in Box Hill, and so I stayed vaguely conscious.
Big events like that never happened at our school. It was just a little primary school, out on what was then the edge of the city, edged with bush. There were bushfire evacuations every so often, and once the Duke of Edinburgh drove past and we all had to stand for hours, waiting by the side of the road, waving our flags at every car in case it was him. When Armstrong landed on the room, they moved the (only) television out into the hallway and we all sat on the cool lino and watched.
So a visiting author was big news. That was also the first time I experienced the terror and thrill of being star-struck. Mr Southall (even now I can’t call him anything else) wore a tweed jacket. Of course he did. He was an author.
So that’s the bit I could be making up. For all I know he was clad in walk shorts and long white socks with sandals, but in my mind he will always be in a tweed jacket. Possibly smoking a pipe. Because, as everyone knows, that’s what authors do. I even did that in about 1980, which just shows you how tragic I am. Even the pipe (it was horrible). But to this day I’m very fond of a good tweed jacket.
I can’t recall a thing he said. I remember him as being rather stern, and extremely tall, and I was too awestruck to ask any questions. Mr Southall wasn’t just an author: he was a decorated air ace, a DFC for God’s sake, a war hero. He became one of Australia’s most decorated children’s authors, winning the Carnegie Medal for Josh in 1971 and the Children’s Book of the Year Award four times. In 2003 he won both the Dromkeen Medal and the Phoenix Award for his work over the years.
But back in 1970 at Antonio Park Primary School something about seeing a real live writer in the flesh (and tweed) made me realise that there were people who just wrote for a job, who lived in houses just like me and drank tea and who, although clearly godlike, were probably quite normal when you got to know them.
I think I got my gorgeous hardback copy of Hills End signed, but I was probably too scared, and it’s in a box somewhere in Melbourne so I can’t check. I’m not very good at getting books signed. Once I stood next to Marina Warner, book in hand, and held my breath for so long I got dizzy, but somehow it just seemed too much to ask the poor woman.
But then again she wasn’t in a tweed jacket.

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