Betty, the eldest of six children, was born and raised in Belém, a town on the mouth of the Amazon River, Brazil. Her childhood included some amazing incidents, like when she woke up in the middle of the night with a spider monkey prancing in her bedroom.
At sixteen, by choice, she went to live in Rio, where she was meant to go to University, but at 19 she married an Englishmen and went to live in England. It was the start of much travelling and moving around the world, until they finally settled in Australia in 1990 with their three children.
After arriving in Australia, Betty graduated with an honours degree in psychology by Griffith University and a research PhD in Cognitive Psychology by the University of Queensland. However, her true passions are writing, photography, and above all her four gorgeous grandchildren.
1. June: Tell us the story of how you came to live in Australia
Betty: We were living in Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, from 1982 to 1990 because my ex-husband was working for Bougainville Copper, a large copper mine in the town of Panguna. However, when the armed conflict waged in Bougainville intensified around 1989, everyone had to be repatriated.
Since our two oldest children were in boarding school in Brisbane, about to start grade 10 and 12 respectively, we asked for a transfer to Australia instead of returning to the UK.
We arrived in Australia in January 1990, and were meant to reside in Melbourne, where my ex-husband’s company was based, but because our children were attending school in Brisbane, we ended up settling there instead. Now, my two oldest children live in Melbourne, and the youngest in Amsterdam.
2. June: What themes inspire your arts practice in writing and photography Betty?
Betty: I am greatly inspired by people and the events that impact and shape our lives. Growing up by the Amazon River and rain forest has shaped my relationship with nature and fostered a deep love and respect for all animals.
For example, in the picture book Spider Monkey to the Rescue, I was inspired by a spider monkey that lived across the street from our house, in the Emilio Goeldi Museum. This monkey was an escape artist, and was the one that ended up in by bedroom one night.
In ‘Chatterbox Rosa,’ a story published in Sally Odgers’ Charms Vol. 1 Anthology, the inspiration was a pet parrot that could mimic our voices perfectly and her incessant chatter drove us all mad.
In Little Dragon’s Birth Day, I was inspired by the birth of my grandson Xavier in 2012, who was born in the year of the dragon according to the Chinese horoscope. We were all excited about his impending arrival but then on the day of his birth things got complicated and we had a big scare. The story tries to convey the excitement and also the perils of a child’s birth through the eyes of a dragons’ family.
In my photography, people, landscapes and birds feature. I am totally captivated by nature.
There is so much beauty all around but in our haste we sometimes fail to notice it. I want my photography to show the beauty that exists in simple things and everyday life.
Native Amazonians, who for thousands of years have developed ways of life that are in harmony with nature, and who believe that they’re reborn through their grandchildren, are also another major influence in my life.
3. June: Tell us about your latest book Betty? How did this come about? When and where will it be released?
Betty: Little Dragon’s Birth Day is currently being illustrated by Tanya Hempson, and as I mentioned it was inspired by the arrival of my grandson, Xavier. Tanya has been working on the illustrations for quite some time now, they are all hand drawn and coloured, so it takes time. We were hoping to have the book ready in time for Christmas; however, Tanya had to postpone the completion of the work due to family and other pressing commitments. I am now waiting for her to finish the illustrations before organising a launch.
In the mean time, I started another story; this one is about looking after a bonsai tree, which in many ways draws a parallel with caring for another person. It is loosely based on events that took place during the WWII, when Japanese citizens in the USA had to relinquish all their possessions and go to interment camps for the duration of the war.
Another book awaiting publication is Spider Monkey to the Rescue, which was illustrated by a Brazilian illustrator named Uoster Zielinski. The finished book is very beautiful and has a high educational content, teaching children about all these different animals from the Amazon rainforest.
A publisher in Brazil has expressed interest in publishing this book in English, Portuguese and Spanish. The publisher also owns a major book distribution business and sells to other countries in South and Central America, including Cuba and Mexico.
I met the publisher last year and he indicated that they would publish the book by September this year, but there has been so much upheaval in Brazil lately that he has put it on hold until further notice.
4. June: Have you published anything before this and can you tell us a bit about that? What was the book? How did this come to be published?
Betty: I had Chatterbox Rosa, a story for 6-8 years old, published in 2013 in an anthology called Charms Vol. 1 (Ed. Sally Odgers). Sally Odgers, a terrific writer and editor, runs Affordable Manuscript Assessment and Workshops, and is the force behind Prints Charming, a shared imprint she administers.
Sally has published a few anthologies under the Prince Charming Book’s banner, which gives writers like myself the opportunity to see their work in print. I also had a poem – ‘The Migrant,’ published in an anthology called Wandering Thoughts (1994). This poem is about the losses experienced by those who have to migrate for whatever reasons.
In writing, poetry was my first love, but I found it difficult to write poetry in English, it is not the same as in my first language, where I am deeply intimate with the nuances of words, so I haven’t done much in this genre since.
I have had two of my stories bought by the School Magazine this year. One, a non-fiction piece, talks about children going to school by boat in the Amazon. The other is again on the theme of migration, and the wish to teach your culture to the next generation in the family. It is a sweet story about the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, but from the perspective of a middle-eastern family.
5. June: When and why did you take up photography Betty? What are your main photographic subjects and themes? Can you tell me about the favourite picture you have ever taken?
Betty: My father was a keen amateur photographer, and as I child I got used to being photographed, filmed, etc, from an early age. When I was about ten, he gave me my first camera, a Kodak Starmatic, I think. I was only allowed one black and white film, perhaps twelve shots, a month, so I had to learn not to waste my photos with silly stuff.
Not surprisingly, my first photos were of nature. In the Goeldi Museum, an anthropological research institute across the road from our house, there were these huge trees called Samaumeira (Ceiba Pentandra), which can reach up to seventy meters and have an incredible root system. I photographed them from a child’s perspective, which meant that my photos showed the might of these trees growing towards the sky. The shots must have looked good because my father was quite impressed by them.
In my photography, I am totally captivated by nature, and children interacting with nature.
Birds feature strongly in my images; I love to photograph them, but I am in love with everything to do with nature. I have been captivated by macro photography and how it can show the intricacies of a flower, an insect, the fine design in the feathers on a bird, for example.
I want my photography to show the beauty that exists in everyday
life, in the simplest things, people included.
One of my favourite photos, taken a few years ago, still warms up my heart and makes me smile every time I look at it. It is of a young boy having fun on the beach with his dog.
There is much action and happiness in this shot. You can feel the magic of the bond between dog and child. I swear the dog has a smile on its face.
5. June: What major cultural and arts groups do you connect with and why? Can you tell me more about your connection with Writelinks?
Betty: I am a founding member of Writelinks, and attended its first meeting in the company of a still very committed group of like-minded people. It has been the best thing, and has opened the doors to the many facets of the writing and publishing world. In addition, the support and encouragement one gets from the other group members is priceless.
Writing is a lonely pursuit so the regular contact with others following the same path is most encouraging. I belong to SCBWI, Books Links and CBCA, all organisations devoted to promoting children’s literature, which are run by wonderful and committed people.
Unfortunately, as my photography passion has become all encompassing, I have not attended as many meetings and other events as I would like to, but I am still there and contribute in a small way.
This year saw me join two photography clubs in Brisbane – The Queensland Camera Group and the Brisbane Camera Group, which are some of the oldest photography clubs in Queensland. I have enjoyed being part of these groups for similar reasons I enjoy being part of the writing scene.
I been receiving a tremendous amount of feedback for my work and have participated in local, national and international competitions. I have been receiving mostly merits and honours for the photos I submit for the clubs’ monthly competitions, which is encouraging.
I entered my first international competition this year, a non-graded event, which meant that amateurs at different levels and professional photographers were judged together. Five of my entries received an acceptance grade from the judges. Considering that in excess of 6,000 photographs were entered this was a remarkable result.
I am now preparing for an exhibition in October. It is part of a project organised by the Queensland Camera Group and 8-10 of my photos will form part of this exhibition. My project is on the issue of living with a disability, particularly mental illness.
To find out more about Betty you can visit these spaces:
Travels in My Canoe