Beth Roberts (née Downie ’42)

Wartime Nurse and Children’s Book Author

Beth was born in 1924 on the sheep and cattle property ‘Dungrove’ near Bothwell in Tasmania. She grew up enjoying time with the Dungrove shepherds, feeling their affinity with the land listening to their stories of the last Aboriginals who lived in the district. Beth studied firstly under a governess and then went on to board at Collegiate.

Beth served as a nursing orderly during World War II and then went on to graduate as an Occupational Therapist. She turned to writing at age 50 after raising her own two children. Many of her works were inspired by the land and featured Tasmanian wildlife and Aboriginal people.

Success came quickly in her new career as a children’s author. Beth authored eleven titles of contemporary children’s literature. Amongst them was the famous Manganinnie which was published in 1979 and later made into an inspirational film. It is the story of the developing friendship between an Aboriginal woman and a young white girl as they search for Manganinnie’s tribe in the Tasmanian bush in the 1830’s. The story has been retold in multiple languages, with the French translation winning the French Book of the Year in 1986.

Beth spoke out to promote causes close to her heart. Her written works championed the Tasmanian bush, Aboriginal people and had strong conservation themes throughout. After smoking for 48 years, Beth developed emphysema and went on to speak out publicly about the dangers of smoking for young people.  She also raised public awareness around AIDS following the death of her own son Bill from an AIDS related illness.

Children’s books by Beth Roberts:
The Little Lake who cried (1976)
Manganinnie (1979)
The Upside-Down Bird (1987)
The Wombat who couldn’t see in the Dark (1987)
The Tasmanian Devil who Couldn’t Eat Meat (1988)
Flowers for Mother Mouse (1989)
Magpie Boy (1989)
Midget and the Special Riders (1992)
The Runaway Wombat (1995)
The Three Stragglers (1996)
The Magic Waterfall (1990)
The Broomstick Wedding (2000)