THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
As one of the only hearing/deaf collaborations in Australian publishing, Johanna and Dion are not your average picture book team.
For Dion Beasley, who has muscular dystrophy and profound deafness, drawing is one way he expresses observations, ideas, dreams and childhood memories. He loves creating works that feature Lake Nash (his mother’s country), Canteen Creek (his father’s country), Mulga Camp (where his Grandfather lived) and the antics of Tennant Creek’s many camp dogs.
When Dion was eleven, he moved to Tennant Creek to live with his grandfather. With no speech and limited AUSLAN, Dion found primary school pretty tough. Joie Boulter, one of the teaching staff (and now Dion’s carer and guardian) noticed how much he loved to draw camp dogs. She bought him a stack of paper and pencil and encouraged his art. Dion drew every day and in 2006, Joie helped him establish his own textile company, Cheeky Dogs, which has become a much-loved Territory brand. Around the same time, Dion’s drawings caught the attention of the fine arts world leading to solo exhibitions, collaborations, acquisitions, and an invitation to exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Meanwhile, almost 1000km north of Tennant Creek, Johanna Bell, a social researcher and aspiring children’s author was hatching a plan. After working in remote preschools across the Northern Territory, she realised that there weren’t enough children’s books about the lived experiences of remote Indigenous children. Determined to create a book to support remote literacy Johanna was drawn to Dion’s humorous drawings of camp dogs. She phoned up Joie and asked if Dion might be interested to which Joie replied ‘why don’t you pop down to Tennant Creek and we can see how it goes.’
Two years, three grants, several light aircraft flights, a crash course in Auslan and lots of laughs later, Too Many Cheeky Dogs hit the book stores.
In 2017, Johanna and Dion’s second book Go Home Cheeky Animals! won the CBCA Book of the Year (early childhood) and their third book, an illustrated memoir about Dion’s life, will hit bookstore in 2019.
Watch a short video story about Dion and Johanna!