Yours Book Prize

Yours and Barnardos Australia are looking for inspirational true stories. It's so important that people such as adoption crusader Pat Howard have their voices heard, writes Sue Williams.

As a pioneer of overseas adoption, Pat Howard has faced many challenges.

One girl she adopted from a Korean orphanage would hoard scraps of food, leaving Pat and her family constantly finding half-eaten jam sandwiches in their shoes. Another young girl, from New Zealand, kept running away – until Pat deliberately left the garden gate open and the girl no longer seemed to feel the need to escape. And two young former street kids from Thailand were terrified of Australian toilets - the flushing was the most frightening thing they'd ever encountered.

But for Pat, who has adopted 12 children from other countries as well as three Australian youngsters, her hard work and sacrifice has all been worth it.

"The rewards are just incredible," she says.

"One of our children was a 7-yearold boy of African descent from Mauritius, and when he arrived he was the size of a normal 2-year-old. He had a distended tummy and he couldn't walk or use his arms. We would carry him to school.

"But when you saw him gradually grow stronger and then one day manage to put three pegs on a little rope clothesline... through those little achievements you see them recover and grow and blossom. I do a lot of crying!"

For her efforts, Pat won the inaugural Mother of the Year competition run by children's charity Barnardos Australia.

With help from her friend and writer Linda McKenzie, Pat also wrote a memoir, What Colour Is Love?, about her life giving love and care to some of the world's forgotten children.

The book is a tremendously moving story of a woman who was constantly battling government bureaucracy to adopt orphans from countries including Fiji, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Mauritius and Vanuatu.

She was determined to bring them to her home in Tasmania to give them the care and affection they so desperately needed.

Her inspiring memoir is exactly the kind of book that Barnardos Australia hopes to discover with its new competition, The Great Aussie Book Prize, which it has launched in partnership with the publisher Australian Voices In Print.

"I wish that had been around when we were writing this book!" says Pat.

But she hopes What Colour Is Love?, which she self-published, will encourage other people to take up the cause of making inter-country adoption easier for Australians who want to care for children in need.

She applauds actress Deborra-lee Furness's campaign to make the adoption process less bureaucratic, as well as the Government's announcement that it's going to make it easier to adopt children from certain countries.

"But we have heard these promises before," warns Pat. "There's an urgent need for change before more children lose the chance of being part of loving Australian families."

It's a need that's highlighted by the plight of one baby boy who came to her after being rescued from a home for the sick and dying in Vietnam. He was so ill with pneumonia, measles, intestinal parasites, thrush, dehydration and scabies that he was in Launceston General Hospital's intensive care unit for his first three weeks in Australia.

"It was absolute hell," says Pat, a former childcare centre worker.

"We would stand for hours watching him. When he was awake, his eyes would never leave us. I used to silently tell him, 'Hang in there! Now you have a family and life is worth living!'

"Then, when everything looked at its worst, a miracle happened. The crisis passed and our baby lived. I kept saying, 'Thank you! Thank you!' We were so lucky to have him. And now he's a black-belt judo volunteer who works with the police on courses, helping them to upgrade their skills."

Pat, now 74, and her husband Bert, 75, had one son together and began adopting children in 1966 after it became too difficult for them to have more children of their own.

They discovered there was a pressing need to care for youngsters languishing in dilapidated orphanages overseas, often in war-torn countries.

But Pat and Bert soon discovered the adoption process was a bureaucratic nightmare and, at around $25,000, the cost of adopting a child from another country could be crippling.

"But it's so worth doing," explains, Pat, who in 1999 was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.

"Every child deserves a good start in life. Of course, it's better for them to grow up in their own countries and cultures, but that's not always possible.

"Quite a few of my children would've died if they hadn't been brought here — they were so badly nourished and in such bad health, in places with war and disease. I'm not an extraordinary person, I'm just an ordinary mum. It can be difficult at first when a child doesn't even understand English, but every child understands a hug."

Do you have an amazing story like Pat’s to tell the world?

Bamardos Australia has teamed up with Australian Voices In Print – an organisation dedicated to promoting Australian books and writers - to launch The Great Aussie Book Prize.

The aim of the competition is to seek out inspiring true stories from everyday Australians featuring everyday Aussie family life - in whatever form that takes.

The winning story will be published in print, eBook and audio formats by a well-known Australian publisher. The winner will also be represented by one of the country's best-known literary agents, Selwa Anthony. Entrants maybe contacted by Yours to feature in the mag.

Each $50 entry fee will be donated to Barnardos Australia, our country's largest child protection charity, to help it continue to raise funds for children in desperate need of safe and loving homes.

If you have an amazing story about your family and home, here's how to enter the competition...

  • The competition is open from June 1 to August 31,2014, with the winner announced by November 30.
  • Your $50 entry fee will be donated to Barnardos Australia.
  • Your submitted manuscript must be a work of non-fiction.
  • It must be an original piece of work.
  • The manuscript must be completed at the time of entry.
  • For more information about The Great Aussie Book Prize, and to download an entry form, go to greataussiebookprize.com.au.