Cristy Burne

Science writer, children's author, editor

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Island-hopping with kids: Penguin Island

Penguin Island.JPGMost travellers love a good island adventure, and despite being notoriously boat-sick, I’m one of them!

I’ve been diving on the remote Ogasawara islands in Japan.

Exploring Elephanta Island in India.

Caving on Christmas Island (while researching a story on Christmas Island crabs).

Bird watching on NZ’s pristine Ulva Island.

(And does sunbaking on a Greek island count as adventure?)

We’re so lucky here in Perth.

We have our own magical islands: My next book (out with Fremantle Press in June!) is set on Rottnest Island.

And who could forget Penguin Island?

If you haven’t been, take a day and surprise yourself. We take the family every year, and it’s always fantastic!

I wrote this article a while back, but it’s particularly relevant right now: the last week of school holidays, stinking hot… Let’s go island-hopping!

Island-hopping with kids

By Cristy Burne


Want to get away for the day? How about an island paradise, with penguins, sea-lions, and white, sandy beaches?

And how about we throw in some entertainment for the kids, to keep them busy so you can really relax?

How about getting away to WA’s own Penguin Island?

Penguin Island really is as luscious as it sounds. There are picnic tables, family-friendly boardwalks, more than a thousand Little Penguins hiding out in caves or vegetation, and it’s all surrounded by the dolphin-friendly waters of The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.

The neighbours are just as much fun: a protected colony of Australian sea-lions, who laze their days away on the beaches of Seal Island, just to the north.

Getting there

So how many hours of travel/torture must one endure to arrive on these sandy shores?

Not a one.

Penguin Island is just 45 minutes from Perth, so even the wriggliest of travelers will find getting there a breeze.

Just pop the kids (or a kayak) in the back, and cruise south to Rockingham’s Mersey Point jetty. Here the parking is free and easy, the public toilets are clean, and the café sells good coffee and last-minute picnic supplies. Ferries leave for the island from the jetty on the hour.

Lost? I don’t think so

You’ll find it hard to get lost on Penguin Island: more than 30 islands this size would fit into one Kings Park.

Most of the island is a penguin playground of scrub hollows and tiny limestone caves, protected from human feet by boardwalks and walkways.

Kids (and adults) will love wandering the boardwalks for a penguin-spotting adventure.

My hot tip is to go heads-down tails-up and sneak a peek under the boardwalks—the penguins love hiding in the shady cool.

While you’re there, check out the island’s other birdlife, including a rare coastal breeding colony of Australian Pelicans.

Or just kick back on the beach while the kids splash out.

If you’re ready to take a break from sandcastles and snorkeling, wander up to the Penguin Experience Island Discovery Centre, home to a number of rescued and rehabilitated Little Penguins, and some great information.

Make sure you’re there for feeding time, when you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the little waddlers hitting the water to become graceful birds.

Paddle to Penguin

Want to stretch the muscles with some sweat-powered touring? You can hire kayaks from the café, or book a kayak tour.

You don’t have to be an expert, and kayaks give you the autonomy to explore both Penguin and Seal Islands, discovering hidden bays, craggy caves, and muscles you didn’t know you had.

These islands are wildlife sanctuaries, so landing is only permitted at Penguin Island’s main beach. This won’t stop the sea-lions, who can be quite curious…just don’t fall out if one swims by to sniff hello!

This article first appeared in Perth Woman magazine

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Free family fun day at the State Library of WA

Books From Your Backyard 2017It’s on again! SCBWI WA’s amazing annual family fun day, and it’s free!!!

Come and listen to your favourite children’s book authors and illustrators read, perform and create drawings before your eyes! It’s on all-day, with sessions for all ages…

I’ll be on stage at 1.30 with a sneak peek of a new graphic novel, illustrated by the amazing Aska.

So, bring the kids and enjoy! Every session is free! (See below for session details…)

Where and When

Date: Saturday 21st January, 2017

Time: 10:30 am – 4:00 pm

Venue: “The Story Place”, Mezzanine Floor (accessible via lift and stairs), State Library of Western Australia.


Ten different creators from SCBWI Australia West (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) will present at this family fun day in 30 minute timeslots. Listen to one or stay for the whole day! You will be amazed by the local talent that we have in Western Australia.

The event also features an Illustrator Duel, in which illustrators battle it out as they draw their responses to a series of wacky prompts. This is heaps of fun for audience and participants alike.

Books will be for sale and all sessions will be followed by book signings at the signing table. There will also be an activity table where children not attending sessions can participate in a range of book-themed craft activities under parental supervision.


All sessions are free and no bookings are required! Please note that children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Session Timetable

Time Author/ illustrator Session Ages
10.30 Frané Lessac Pattan and his amazing pumpkin 3–8
11.00 Gabriel Evans Become the character you illustrate 5–8
11.30 Kelly Canby Paper, pencil, pickle! 5–11
12.00 Teena Raffa-Mulligan Story tracks 6–8
12.30 Illustrator Duel All ages
1.00 Bec J. Smith Penguins around Perth 6–10
1.30 Cristy Burne and Aska Cosmic adventures in science 7–11
2.00 Elaine Forrestal I.C.U.R.YY.4 me 7–12
2.30 Dianne Wolfer Researching and writing The Shark Caller 8+
3.00 James Foley Brobot: Just as a brother should be? 8+
3.30 Norman Jorgensen Set sail to adventure and excitement with The Smuggler’s Curse 10+


Session Details

Frane Lessac10:30 – 10:55am
Pattan and his amazing pumpkin with Frané Lessac
Ages: 3–8

Pattan’s pumpkin grows BIGGER than the goats, BIGGER than the elephants, until it is as TALL as the mountains. But can his pumpkin save his family and all the animals when the storm-clouds burst and the waters rise? Come and hear this enchanting tale and others from around the world.

Gabriel Evans11:00 – 11:25am
Become the character you illustrate with Gabriel Evans

Tips and tricks to use when creating a character for a book. This is a fun and energetic session. Drawing activity included.


Kelly Canby11:30am – 11:55am
Paper, pencil, pickle! with Kelly Canby
Ages: 5–11

Come along and learn how simple it is to draw Phil Pickle, the next big dill, and star of the book bearing his name, in a fun and lively drawing session.

Teena Raffa-Mulligan12:00 – 12:25pm
Story Tracks with Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Ages: 6–8

Meet Blue the bouncing red kangaroo and her little mate Pedro the Chihuahua from True Blue Amigos. Join them in their exciting Aussie adventure as they travel the states of Australia looking for a place to call home. Follow the story’s journey from idea to published picture book.

duelling illustrators12:30 – 12:55pm

Illustrator Duel!
Ages: All welcome

See some of WA’s best children’s illustrators go head-to-head in an epic drawing battle. They’ll need to create spontaneous illustrations based on audience suggestions. Ink will be spilled. Laughter will ensue.

MC: Sam Hughes.
Duellers: Aska, Kelly Canby, Gabriel Evans, James Foley, Sam Hughes and Frané Lessac.

Bec J. Smith1:00 – 1:25pm
Penguins around Perth with Bec J. Smith
Ages: 6–10

Join a penguin adventure, with children’s author-trio Bec J. Smith. See the sites of a very special P.I. Penguin’s investigations around Perth. Connect stories to real-world places, and see how some of the most fascinating settings are right in our own backyard.

Cris BurneAska1:30–1:55pm
Cosmic Adventures in Science
with Cristy Burne and Aska
Ages: 6–10

Is there life on other planets? Is time travel possible? Will that thing really explode? Join author/illustrator team Cris and Aska in a cosmic adventure through space and time, and sneak a preview of their new graphic novel. Learn to draw your own time machine. Get a taste for invention, innovation and incineration.

Elaine Forrestal2:00–2:25pm
I.C.U.R.YY.4 me with Elaine Forrestal
Ages: 7–12

Find out what this cryptic title means and see how wise U.R. Then meet Tas, for whom nothing in life is as it seems.


Dianne Wolfer2:30–2:55pm
Researching and writing The Shark Caller with Dianne Wolfer
Ages: 8+

Did you know octopus have three hearts and cuttlefish have blue-green blood? Discover more weird sea creature facts and how the traditional practise of shark-calling was part-inspiration for Dianne’s latest novel, The Shark Caller. Learn words in another language (Tok Pisin) and find out how to draw a cartoon shark.

James Foley3:00–3:25pm
Brobot: Just as a brother should be? with James Foley
Ages: 8+

James Foley’s latest book is a comic for kids called Brobot. Sally Tinker makes machines, and her baby brother Joe breaks them. As the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, Sally knows she can build a better brother than Joe. But is her invention – Brobot – really all that a brother should be? Find out how James put together his hilarious graphic novel, and have fun designing your own perfect robot.

Norman Jorgensen3:30 – 3:55pm
Set sail to adventure and excitement with The Smuggler’s Curse with Norman Jorgensen
Ages: 10+

Discover how Norman Jorgensen researched and brought to life the cast of villains, murderers, freedom fighters, head-hunters and blood-thirsty pirates in his exciting new adventure story, set in Broome, Singapore and Sumatra in the dying days of the 19th century.

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Women’s boxing: your New Year’s Resolution?

Want a new challenge for 2017? Want to go somewhere you’ve never gone?

Try women’s boxing. I did…

The following story first appeared in Perth Woman magazine many years ago. I found it in a recent clean-up, and it reminded me how important it is to be brave, and to try new things, to feel strong and alive.

So here’s to a teriffic, brave 2017! Get out there!



“Boxing…. Women’s boxing.” Editor-in-chief Fiona waves breezily at a newspaper clipping of three women, each sporting a pair of gloves large enough to slam a small bus into submission.

“Oh, boxing.” I nod and think about broken noses. Concussion. The crunch of a glove connecting. At least I’d meet some interesting people.

“Oh, and we’d like you to train with them, get into the ring, y’know…”

Super. Terrific. Thanks.


Boxing has never been my thing.

It’s two men smashing each other into bits until one of them falls over. Fiona says there’s something about two taut bodies in the primal throes of physical combat…  Hmmm.

Tonight I’m sitting at trainer Pat Devellerez’s boxing gym in Malaga, watching two women thump punches into each other’s heads.

They circle like tigers, sizing each other up before jabbing out with a flurry of blows.

They keep their heads low and eyes focused, muscled arms shooting forward and landing with great thuds.


Rosie Simich has been boxing for five years. By day she’s an electrical engineering draftsperson. By night she’s an Australian boxing champion, with her sights set on the Women’s Amateur Boxing World Championships this September in Moscow. This will be her third world champs, and this time she says she’s bringing home the medal.

“I’m up before five to run for an hour, and as soon as I finish work I jump in the car, boot it to the gym, and train for a couple of hours. Then I go home, go to sleep, and wake up the next day to do it all again.

“I have down days when I think, what are you doing? Why can’t you be normal? But normal’s boring. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”

Rosie says boxing requires “all-or-nothing” kind of effort.

“You have to move as fast as you can, hit as hard as you can, be as smart as you can. When it hurts, can you just grind your teeth and keep going? Because while you’re resting, someone else is training to kick your ass.

“People say that boxing builds character. It doesn’t. It reveals character.”

But Rosie hasn’t always been a fervent boxer. “I just went down to the gym one day, and I’ve come back every night since. I love it. You get to test yourself against another person, see who’s got what it takes. You can’t get that feeling anywhere but in the ring.”

“Mum gets all worried that I’ll get hurt, but she’s still pretty supportive. Dad absolutely hates it, hates the whole idea of it. Boxing is the first thing we ever disagreed on. But after five years I think he’s realized I’m not going to stop.”

Claire Ghabrial caused a similar stir for her parents when she gave up karate to take up the ring, but says they’re now used to the idea.

“Dad always hated it, but it’s the first thing he says to people: ‘My daughter’s a boxer’. And Mum’s my number one fan, she always writes motivational messages before my fights.”

Claire is national champion in her division, and Oceania champion for two years running.

“The most common reaction is ‘You don’t look like a boxer’, and I’m like ‘Well what am I meant to look like?’

The highlight of her career so far was winning her first Oceania championship. “It was surreal, standing on that block, listening to the Australian anthem.”


Pat Devellerez feels women deserve the right to box at the Olympics. “Women play rugby, soccer, horse riding…what’s wrong with boxing?

“I believe in equal opportunity, and equality. Why shouldn’t women get the chance to do what they want?”

Pat is a champion boxer himself, and has trained five Australian champions. His grandfather, father, uncle and sons were all champion boxers (“for us it is a kind of play”), and his niece, Jasmine Devellerez, is also fighting at a national level.

I expected Pat to be macho and threatening. Instead he is softly spoken and calm, like he’s been meditating all day instead of fending off punches.

He smiles when I ask why he’s not strutting round like Mad Max on steroids.

“We’re placid as anything, we’re not there to hurt you. Anyone can be a fighter in the street, but to fight in the ring…that’s totally different. It’s a disciplined sport.”

Daughter-in-law Trish Devellerez was Pat’s first female champion.She started boxing to spend more time with husband Rocky, Pat’s eldest son.

“He was always at the gym, so I just started hanging out. Pat and Rocky convinced me I was good, and one day they came and said ‘We’ve found you a fight.’ All through school I had a thing about getting up in front of people, and suddenly, there I was, in the ring in front of hundreds of people. But I just got in and did what I had to do.”

Get up! What’s wrong with you? Get going!



In the ring with Rosie tonight is Naomi Fischer-Rasmussen. Pat tells me they’re only sparring, but it looks like the real thing to me.

Naomi is the only girl in a family of six brothers. Her coach (and father) Barry Fischer-Rasmussen yells encouragement from the sideline.

“When she falls I just want to run and pick her up,” he says. “Instead I say ‘Get up! What’s wrong with you? Get going!’’’

“These women are setting a standard,” says Barry. “They’re doing something a lot of blokes couldn’t do.

“The four steps of courage are the ones up into the ring; that’s where you face your own fears.”

And I’m supposed to doing just that, right? Right. After watching Rosie and Naomi annihilate each other, it’s more like the last thing on my mind. But perhaps more frightening than the thought of a training session with Pat Devellerez is the thought of returning to Perth Woman HQ sweat-less and smelling sweetly. So how hard could it really be?

One, two, hook. Harder! Harder!

And so the next morning I’m at the gym at 8 am.

I’m so nervous I’m sweating already, and we haven’t even started.

First Pat and I jog a kilometre, to check out my form. On the way back we do some short sprints, and he streaks ahead (this man is 59 years of age!). We make it back to the gym, and I’ve hardly broken a sweat. It’s all going to be OK.

“Right,” says Pat. “Jog with Rosie.”

And so I’m off again. Rosie sets a good pace, but Jasmine stills sprint up to join us (“Pat told me to catch you up”). We pound our way through four kilometres of pavement (“He usually chases me on a bicycle yelling ‘come on, come on’” grins Rosie) and by the time we arrive back, I’m starting to worry.

The skipping ropes come out. We’re supposed to do ten minutes, but this isn’t the skipping we did at primary school; this is hard-core sonic-speed non-stop power skipping (“It’s about timing, balance, endurance and speed,” says Pat).

It takes me nine minutes and three skipping ropes to almost get the hang of it, and even then I have to stop to catch my breath.

The other girls bound around like ballroom dancers, all light and delicate and perfectly in time.

“Pad work,” Pat announces, and hands me a pair of giant gloves. “Come on, into the ring.”

I crawl in and he shows me a jab, a straight punch, a hook. I’ve never punched anything in my life. I feel like a rabbit trying to do ballet. “Harder,” he insists. “Harder.”

I concentrate on slamming my gloved fists into his pads, but I’m terrified of hurting him, terrified of missing. He doesn’t seem worried at all. “Harder. Harder” he instructs. “One, two, hook. One, two, hook. Good.”

Sometimes I forget I’m punching a human being.

Once (and only once) I land a punch that seems to have the strength of my body behind it. It feels good.

It’s only one two-minute round, but I feel like I’ve been fighting a swarm of angry washing machines. I have sweat literally dripping off me, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to move my arms in the morning. My hands are aching inside the giant gloves.

When Claire steps into the ring to show me how it’s done, she smashes her punches into Pat’s pads, her entire body moving behind each punch, muscles rippling. This is the same girl who was joking with me about dress-shopping, just minutes earlier. Now she’s a fighter, throwing the punches she’s worked hard to learn.

“Fighting is the best feeling in the world,” says Rosie. “You step in to the ring, adrenalin pumping.

“You see your opponent. You see them looking at you, and you’re looking back at them. You come in, touch gloves, walk back to your corner, and then it’s ding-ding-ding and go-go-go.”

But I’m all out of go-go-go.

After spending time with these ladies I can feel nothing but admiration for their dedication and skill, and muscle pain throughout most of my body.

I want ringside tickets to their next fight.


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The (revolting) science of figgy pudding

Santa's work no exact science.jpgI love Christmas. I worked for years as a Santa’s Helper, and then presented Santa Science shows (see left!), so it’s in the job description.

But I’m not sure I would’ve loved traditional Christmas puddings, nor traditional mince pies, and please don’t bring us any figgy pudding…

  • The secret of suet

Traditional Christmas puddings and mince pies contained a secret ingredient: suet, otherwise known as raw animal fat.

Eaten by North Pole explorers, seal-fur traders, and anyone wanting a huge calorie burst, suet is (thankfully) no longer included in modern recipes. Instead it’s more often mixed with peanut butter and fed to birds.

Did you know? The best suet is hard and white. It comes from around the kidneys of cows or sheep.

  • Leftover meaty mince pies

The first Christmas mince pies were cooked up as a way of preserving meat.

Without freezers or fridges, early people were forced to preserve excess meat using sugar or salt.

By mixing leftover meat with sugary dried fruit, then sealing it up in a delicious pastry case, the meat could be kept longer.




  • (Don’t) bring us some figgy pudding

Figgy pudding was popular 500 years ago.

It was made from, you guessed it, figs. The fruit of the fig tree is actually an inside-out flower, called a syconium, and not really a fruit.

Some types of fig tree rely on fig wasps for pollination…

The female fig wasp must crawl inside the syconium, creeping down a tunnel so narrow her wings and antennae break off on the way.

Once inside, she lays her eggs in the hidden flowers, and then dies. When the eggs hatch, the baby wasps eat their way out of the syconium, flying free. They have less than 48 hours to crawl inside a new syconium and lay their own eggs, continuing the cycle.

So are figs full of baby wasps?

No. There are two types of fig on each fig tree: female (edible) and male (inedible).

The wasp can only lay her eggs on the inedible figs. When a wasp accidentally crawls inside an edible fig, she dies there, without laying any eggs.

When this happens, a chemical in the fig called ficain dissolves the wasp’s body completely, making her part of itself.

So the crunch when you’re eating figs comes from…?

Fig seeds, not from wasp babies.

But still, try getting that image out of your head 🙂

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Give stories this Christmas


My kids get their own newspaper in the mail, every week. Just for them.

Want a great gift idea?

Know a young person who deserves to know the world is actually a pretty fabulous place and it’s filled with great people who are working hard to make it even better?

Then I say, give words.

Give stories.

Give books.

Give knowledge.


The latest Double Helix issue…in my letterbox today! …Awesome!

Walk in others’ shoes…

I have two kids, and I’m passionate about keeping them inspired, giving them hope, giving them the tools they’ll need to solve problems and find solutions.

I think kids can find these tools when they take a walk in others’ shoes, which is why I adore and write children’s fiction (watch for my new book, out with Fremantle Press next year!).

But don’t wait till next year… Give a kid a book this Christmas!


Be inspired by others’ real life achievements

Real life is also an amazing source of inspiration and hope, so I’m super-proud to be writing non-fiction for two amazing kids’ publications:

CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine, for science-loving kids (or anyone fascinated by the world around them); and

Crinkling News, Australia’s national newspaper for young people (covering sports, politics, current affairs…you name it, and all for kids).

Subscriptions are available on-line (Double Helix and Crinkling News): they encourage kids to read, to engage, to think, to wonder, and even better, they’re a gift that lasts all year.

So what are you waiting for? A parking space? (I went shopping this morning; oh, save me from car parking.)

Or a good deal? Double Helix have a 12-month-with-gift-pack subscription, and Crinkling have 10% off for Christmas! And Fremantle Press deliver to your door…Whee!

Happy holidays everyone!!


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Hot Date with the Laptop Ladies

Is there anything more decadent than giving yourself a day’s writing in a fresh new cafe with your authorly friends? I think perhaps not.

Today I met with the gorgeous Laptop Ladies. We lined up with coffees and cords and click-clack-clicked our way towards story satisfaction.


Yum! Fresh and tasty and healthy.


And I scored a new $5 note!

I had the total pleasure of working on edits from Cate for The New Book, which she has tentatively titled To the Lighthouse. (I am LOVING the new title, BTW.)

It was so much fun.

It had all the satisfaction of editing, with only scrapings of the usual angst (you know, the not-knowing-if-your-story-is-working kind of angst.)

I think as writers we always worry about whether the manuscript we’re writing is any good.

That’s why it is SOOOO reassuring to work on a story knowing that at least someone thinks it’s good.

This editing session was not only (relatively) angst-free, but also incredibly fun. I actually liked my book! And Cate’s edits were so clever. She seemed to be able to pull the real essence of the story up and out of the draft, so it really became the story I’d been trying to write.

If I think too long, I already fill with terror for the future (you know, the not-knowing-if-you’ll-ever-be-able-to-write-something-this-good-ever-again kind of terror).

So I’m trying not to think too hard.

Instead, I’m trying to enjoy this little bit of angst-free author’s life. I’ve dreamed of (and worked for) for this moment for so long, I think I deserve it. 🙂



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Takeshita Demons: now even scarier in Indonesian!

Miku and Cait Takeshita Demons.jpg

Miku Takeshita and Cait O’Neill: don’t mess with them.

At last, thanks to the lovely @_bacaisme and Twitter, I am holding copy of Takeshita Demons in Indonesian! YAY!

The cover is lovely and shiny, and Miku and Cait have been redrawn to look even more kick-ass, and the nureonna?

Well, let’s just say I’d never want to meet her in an empty school corridor in the dead of night.

It’s pretty strange to see such scary images on the cover of my books, especially since I don’t like scary stories. (I get really, really scared!).


And yes, that is a comparison to Roald Dahl and the Brothers Grimm on the cover. Woah! And really? Thanks reviewer, whoever you are.


Even looking at her freaks me right out. Just in time for Halloween.