Darwin author Leonie Norrington’s book series The Barrumbi Kids to become TV show

Northern Territory author Leonie Norrington has some simple advice for budding writers: look to your own life and share it.

“Use your own experience, your own landscape, your own people to feed your work,” she said.

“That’s the essential part of you and the essential part of where you come from.”

The author has done just that, turning her childhood memories of growing up in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory into books for children.

Her most popular series The Barrumbi Kids was published in 2002, and follows a group of friends who learn about themselves through hunting and fishing in the bush.

The Barrumbi Kids was inspired by Norrington’s childhood memories.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Two decades on, her books are about to reach a new audience on the small screen, with National Indigenous Television (NITV) commissioning The Barrumbi Kids to be turned into a TV show in 2022.

The author traveled to Beswick south-east of Katherine for the filming and hopes the “wonderful relationship between black people and white people” comes across on screen.

Being on set was art imitating life for the 65-year-old author, who spent the early years of her life living in the same Jawoyn country where the TV show was filmed.

A film set has been set up in bushland overlooking an escarpment.  The sun has set and the sky above is orange.
The Barrumbi Kids TV series was filmed in Beswick, south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory.(Supplied: Leonie Norrington)

The third of nine children, Norrington credits her childhood spent in the tiny community of Barunga in the 1960s for having the “biggest influence” on her career.

She said finding ways to celebrate “the difference but sameness between cultures” had been the cornerstone of her work as a writer.

“It was a really unique way to grow up, growing up in the bush with people who were living mostly a traditional way with their customs and hunting all the time,” she said.

“All of us children just ran around the bush with them; it was a really wonderful, exciting life.”

two young girls swim in a waterhole.  They are holding onto paddle boards and smiling.
Norrington (left) swimming with her sister at a waterhole in Barunga in the 1960s.(Supplied: Leonie Norrington)

The Darwin author says feeling “like the minority” in the community had had a profound impact on her work as a writer.

“There weren’t that many white people who looked like me on the community,” she said.

“I think that’s a really valuable thing as a writer to always know that you don’t know, to always be on the outside somehow.”

It was the birth of her first grandson on the other end of the country that inspired the former ABC Gardening Australia presenter to start writing books for children.

“I wanted him to know what it was like to live in the territory,” she said.

A father swims in a waterhole with his three young children.  He is holding his daughter on his hip.
Norrington (left) wants her stories to celebrate her ‘wonderful, exciting’ childhood years in Barunga.(Supplied: Leonie Norrington)

Norrington has finished her doctorate in literature, writing her first adult novel set in Blue Mud Bay in Arnhem Land in pre-colonial times.

She said she was inspired to write the novel by her late ‘Aboriginal mother’ Clair Bush, a Yolngu woman who took her under her wing when she was a child.

“It was a serious adoption, she looked after us…she’s the one who taught us and the one I’ve written under her supervision all these years,” she said.

“Her mission was to have remote Aboriginal people shown as really powerful strong characters.”

A woman wearing a blue jumper sits with her grandchildren beside her.  They are all happy and smiling.
Clair Bush (right) with her granddaughters and great grandson in Barunga in the 1990s. (Supplied: Leonie Norrington)

Norrington credits Ms Bush as being the powerhouse behind the success of The Barrumbi Kids, and said she would have been proud to see the stories from Barunga make national television.

“I hope people love it, I hope people identify with the kids and I hope that the Aboriginal characters come across as really powerful and strong in their own right,” she said.

This story is part of a special Born and Bred series, celebrating the work of remarkable Territorians.

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