Award winning author Gayle Kennedy considers herself a late bloomer — she didn’t write her first book until the age of 51, but she has certainly made up for lost time.
In the 14 years since that first book, which took out the David Unaipon Award for the best of writing of the year by an unpublished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander author, she has written another book, 11 children’s novels, and a screenplay among other work.
A proud Wongaibon woman, Gayle traces her creativity to contracting polio when she was two, which led her to spend much of her childhood in hospital.
‘Polio victims are often really creative people because you can't go up and play with the other kids and you don't learn the social rules, so you make your own rules. Lots of creative people like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Francis Ford had polio,’ Gayle says.
Once she was fully discharged from hospital at the age of 12, Gayle made some major life decisions. ‘I just wanted to be free. I didn't want to be married. I didn't want to have children. I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do.’
She ‘bluffed’ her way into a job writing comics for Streetwize then, when it folded, began working for the Attorney General’s office.
‘I just really hated it. I'm not a team player and I just thought I had to leave.’
‘I decided I was going to become a writer. I don't know what made me think I could, but I did it anyway,’ Gayle says.
‘[Koori Girl Goes Shoppin’] was the first book I'd ever written and I wrote that in six weeks and then the work just kept coming. I ended up being commissioned to write 11 kids' books for Oxford University Press. I just kept getting commissions and public speaking and all kinds of different stuff.’
Gayle is now dealing with post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects polio survivors in later life.
‘I was OK up until I was about 50 and then it sort of started going downhill. You just get weaker and weaker and I had to go into a wheelchair but it's just a matter of adapting. What can you do? It is what it is.’
Watch Gayle's Seniors Festival Reimagined interview and performance