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Leonie Norrington was born in Darwin, the third of nine children, and grew up at Barunga Aboriginal community, south of Katherine.
'We were looked after by Clare, who "grew us up properly": teaching us bush tucker, hunting, and respect for sacred places and important people. We were real bush kids, speaking Aboriginal English and Kriol fluently. Even now, when I get really worked up about something, I go back to Aboriginal English.
I have been influenced by two forms of spirituality. My mum’s brand of Irish Catholicism, with its emphasis on the magic of the world and the spiritual way of being in it; and Clare's strict Aboriginal spirituality, with its rigid rules and laws. We all grew up with great respect for the spirits of the land and sacred places.'
In the early 1970s Leonie returned with her family to Darwin and high school. 'It was a bit of a shock to go from Barunga to a strict Catholic school. But we lived on the outskirts of town with lots of other large Catholic, Greek and Aboriginal families, and we all hung out together and looked after each other. I failed miserably at school and escaped into a hairdressing apprenticeship. That was great fun.
I met my husband when he came to Darwin from Zimbabwe to work after Cyclone Tracy. We have three beautiful sons. I worked as a farmhand, a nursery person and a fruit picker. Then when I was in my thirties I went back to school to do Year 12 and I discovered I could write. My imagination has always got me into trouble—the difference between fact and fiction is still not very clear to me today—but now I’ve found a use for it, I love it. I started writing for children when my grandson Sean was born. I wanted to show him that Aboriginal people and white people can and do live together in respect and trust, despite their different cultural traditions.'
Leonie is a third generation tropical gardener and learnt to garden at her grandmother's knee at a time when the only fresh food available in the north, was home-grown. She was Gardening Australia's presenter in the Northern Territory.
Leonie works as an author and journalist. Her first novel for children, The Barrumbi Kids, was an Honour Book in the 2003 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards for Younger Fiction. Other titles include Women's Talk (1999), Tropical Food Gardens (2001), Under the Mango Tree (2001), Croc Bait (2003), The Spirit of Barrumbi (2003), Crocodile Jack (2004), The Last Muster (2004), Leaving Barrumbi (2007), and The Devil You Know (2009). Leonie has two picture books illustrated by Dee Huxley, You and Me: Our Place (2007) and Look see, look at me! (2010).
The Literature Centre was fortunate enough to have Leonie Norrington as an author in-residence in June 2012, during which time she presented workshops to Talented Young Writers' Programme (TYWP) students.