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John Danalis

Author, Illustrator, Storyteller/Performer

John Danalis has been writing and illustrating for children and young adults for ten years. His works include picture books, chapter books and non-fiction.

Where were you born?

My family are all from Queensland, however I was born in Shepparton, Victoria, where my father worked for a short time as a country vet. My family moved back to Brisbane when I was two – thankfully, as I’m not fond of frosty mornings – and I’ve spent most of my life in this beautiful sub-tropical city.

What other jobs have you had?

I worked as an advertising art director when I left school, but I travelled lots too. One of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had was as a removal man in London. Every day I climbed aboard a big red truck and drove to a different part of the UK. I got to snoop around in people’s cupboards, drawers and lives – great training for a writer!

What themes are recurring in your work?

One of the main themes in both my fiction and non-fiction has been overcoming fears and obstacles. My more recent work has been fired with a sense of social justice; attempting to right past misdeeds, questioning the way we do things, and asking, ‘aren’t we as individuals and a society capable of more?’

What have been the highlights of your career?

It will be hard to top the evening at the State Library of Victoria when I presented the Wamba Wamba with a copy of Riding The Black Cockatoo and they presented my family with a ngatuk, a ceremonial possum skin cloak depicting Mary’s journey back to country.

Where have your books been published?

Within weeks of publication, Riding the Black Cockatoo, was chosen as a GCSE text for senior students in the UK. My chapter books and picture books have also been published in Taiwan, China and Korea.

What are you passionate about?

The current world economic and political systems are primarily concerned with the ‘bottom line’ and compliance, values that often run counter to a meaningful human existence and a healthy environment. I think this is where our adventure lies, in challenging the lumbering status quo and individually and collectively dreaming an alternative future where all people have the opportunity to share their unique gifts within their communities and the wider world.


We thoroughly enjoyed our visit by John Danalis last week. He talked about the craft of writing and the many things you can think about when writing. Some of his insights were: anyone can be a great writer use all your senses when writing, including your feelings, not just your eyes make a model of a character to create a story board take ideas from real life keep a memory alive of a person, pet or place by writing a story about them

We have some comments from each year level.

Prep– I like the way he said that when you write about something you can close your eyes and think about how you feel about something. Chloe

Year 1– He was funny. When he was a baby he was cross eyed and he had an operation to fix his eyes but his pupils went on the edges of his eyes. Everyone said his dog was cute and he wrote a funny story about his dog. Lexie and Lilly

Year 2 – We liked the funny stories that he was telling us. Some of the best stories can be happening right in front of you and you don’t have to be in faraway exotic places to get an idea for a story. You can also get stories from other people and ideas from your own life experiences. Joel and Angus

Year 3 – I like how he told stories about himself. He asked for ideas for stories. Leila

Year 4 – I liked how he wrote stories about people’s problems. It solved the person’s problems. Sam

Year 5– I really enjoyed when he told stories about his life. I also enjoyed him showing us how he created his stories and where his inspiration comes from. Tara

Year 6– I thought it was really good how he showed us that we don’t have to be perfect in life through his illustrations. It was good that he told us how to write a story using our senses, rather just only writing about what we can see. Amelia

John’s visit was wonderful and very relevant and productive for all our pupils. We really enjoyed having him at Bellbrae.

We would highly recommend John Danalis a a speaker to other schools, particularly to inspire and encourage children to write.

—A. Jarrold, Bellbrae Primary School, November 2013

Thank you for organising the author visit this morning for John Danalis to Melbourne Grammar School. It went very well indeed and John was just terrific with the Year 9 boys. So much so, that in 2014 we are having Riding the Black Cockatoo as the Year 9 set novel for study in English.

—R. Zeidler, Melbourne Grammar School, November 2013

He was great! A lovely man, and very good with the children. He easily adapted his large group presentation to suit years 4 through 7 and had them in the palm of his hand for the hour. The workshops were excellent too, with the students coming up with very creative ideas and producing some high quality writing.

All in all, a very worthwhile experience. I would have no hesitation in recommending John to other schools.

—J. Bennett, Albany Hills State School, December 2012

John has a unique and engaging style with his storytelling, magically drawing in the students so they feel a part of his journey.

MLPC students were enthralled by his story of being born cross-eyed and the ensuing details of having corrective surgery as a six year old, how his father, a veterinarian, insisted on being present during the surgery and telling John the delightful details of his eyeballs being popped out for the operation!

At CPC the P-3 classes discovered that John wasn’t the best at spelling or most creative at drawing at school, but perseverance and a caring teacher held the key.

Years 4-6 at CPC learned the underlying story for Schumann the Shoeman. Family relationships and dyslexia do not have to be barriers to becoming a writer.

The Year 9 English classes at Redlands Campus participated in workshops with John, where he had them engrossed by his stories. The focus for the Middle College students was John’s journey of discovery and healing of relationships through his books Schumann the Shoeman and Riding the Black Cockatoo. He described his realisation in his thirties of his direction in life and after ten years of writing, finding his voice as an author.

John shared with all the students the Possum skin cloak, given to him by the Wamba Wamba people in appreciation for returning ‘Mary’ to country.

He left us with a wonderful thought, ‘Where you trip you find your greatest treasure. This is the magic of story’.

Thankyou to John, for sharing your inspiring stories with us.

—K. Nicolle-Layton, Teacher Librarian, Concordia Lutheran College, September 2012

The audience response was excellent. John had them spellbound throughout and I know everyone who attended was touched to the core. John is an outstanding speaker; generous, receptive and intuitive in his response to the audience. He lead us through some very difficult territory in such a mindfully gentle way.

—A. Alana Hampton, St Hilda’s School, August 2012

On Monday the 5 September my students and I had the pleasure of being taken on a journey into the heart and soul of John Danalis: author, illustrator and gifted storyteller.We were treated to a captivating, entertaining and ultimately inspiring presentation of his life story, challenges, gifts and wisdom gleaned through these experiences. The students were uncharacteristically attentive for an hour and a half as John mesmerised them with stories of childhood challenges, his hero’s journey, writing inspiration, Sufi mysticism, Freudian insights and creative expression of craftsmanship. When he weaved in the story of Riding the Black Cockatoo the students stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at his incredibly personal journey, especially when he unfurled the magnificent possum cloak presented to him by the Wamba Wamba people in gratitude for the repatriation and reconciliation made possible by John’s actions. Finally we were all in raptures when wrapped up in the cloak and the story and the warmth of the Wamba Wamba people. Our most heartfelt gratitude goes out to John for sharing his story and himself with us that day.

—M. Selemidis, Reservoir High School, September 2011

John was great, we loved having him here and so did our branch libraries. All of the comments and feedback that came out of his visit was so positive and that he was an inspiration to the children as well as the adults.

—R. Cannon, Griffith City Library, August 2011

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