Ruth Park died yesterday in Sydney where she lived most of her life after moving here from New Zealand. Her husband, D'Arcy Niland, was also an author and wrote The Shiralee. Their twin daughters were both illustrators.
Though she wrote several adult novels, including The Harp in the South, she's more famous for her children's books Playing Beattie Bow and The Muddleheaded Wombat, a copy of which I once won as a prize in an eisteddfod. I hope her death might inspire more people (including me) to read her books. Australia doesn't have so many literary icons that we can allow one of them to languish unread.
It certainly makes me want to hunt out my Wombat book. These opening lines, which Google found for me, remind me how sweet it was, and, bizarrely, how strongly my 10-year-old self identified with the wombat:
There was once a muddle-headed wombat sitting in the grass and feeling very lonely. A wombat is a square animal with thick hair like a door-mat, stumpy legs, and no tail to speak of. He has brown eyes and a comfortable, leathery flat nose like a koala. This wombat was lonely because he had no sisters or brothers or aunties or uncles, and besides, he had spent all his pocket money.
“I wish I had a friend,” he thought, “a nice, comfy little friend who would fit in my cardigan pocket. A wombat could have lots of adventures with a friend like that.”