I grew up in Melbourne, the eldest of six children born to Martin and Therese van Os. My Dutch immigrant father’s love of the bush and all things to do with nature was a strong influence, and after completing Year 12 in 1972 at Aquinas College in Ringwood, I worked for three years studying zooplankton and the effects of heavy metal pollution on them, with Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife.
The Northern Territory beckoned next, and in 1976 I headed north for an intended six month stint as the radio operator at a remote Aboriginal mission. Port Keats was a tiny outpost on the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf at the far end of a very rough track, eleven hours’ drive from Darwin. I fell immediately in love with the NT and the bush, and stayed at Port Keats for two years. Just before I left to return to Melbourne, I met my first husband, Rod Ansell, who had not long before been rescued from an isolated river where he’d been marooned, keeping himself alive for almost two months.
For the next decade we chased wild scrub bulls and buffalo all across the Top End, up to the wide northern floodplains of the Mary River where we acquired the lease of a 60,000 acre block of virgin scrub which we named Melaleuca Station. By this time we had two little boys, and life was very full as we set about turning the property into a domesticated buffalo station. My job description included cook, fencer, nurse, teacher, pet food shooter, mechanic, truck driver, and book keeper, amongst others, as well as celebrity guest wrangler for TV crews wanting to interview the “Real Crocodile Dundee”. It was hard and challenging work, but life was an adventure. The marriage ended in the late 80s, but the adventure continued.
I was hiring boats to fishermen and tourists on the Mary River when I met my second husband Lex Silvester in 1991. I swapped bush life for a house on two acres outside Darwin, where Lex and I planted a rainforest over the next ten years. I began freelancing as an illustrator and cartoonist, with my cartoon strip City Limits running in several newspapers for a few years. Our daughter Ali arrived, making a total of five children between us, and delivering enormous joy in the process.
Outback Heart, published in 2005, is my first book, a memoir of a way of life in Australia that has pretty much disappeared. It also tells the story behind the ‘Real Crocodile Dundee’ and his sad demise. It was published by Random House and has become an Australian best seller. I recorded it for Bolinda Audio as a talking book.
My first children’s novel, Brumby Plains, followed in 2006, then Castaway in 2007, both yarns about kids living a very adventurous life in the bush. The Secret of the Lonely Isles, a sailing story set in the north of Australia, changed direction slightly from the bush theme, but is still a children’s mystery/adventure and was published in 2011. Most of it was written while Lex, Ali and I sailed from Darwin to Thailand in 2008/9.
Lex and I now live aboard our yacht ‘Tramontana’ in a Darwin marina, and try to keep sailing as much as we can in between work and writing commitments. The biggest difficulty for a writer living on a boat is lack of space for books! I have had to severely curtail my book acquiring habits, although Lex would disagree. Perhaps it’s time to discover E-books. Well, maybe. I have to admit I prefer the real thing.
I hope you find something in these pages to inspire you to read another one of my books! Thanks for calling by.
- Joanne van Os