The Hobart

Jennifer Anne Cullen

by Lilian Koch
Jennifer Anne Cullen

For 43 years Jen has taught children around Tasmania from kindergarten up to grade ten. In 2021 she published her picture book Listening to Tree, which aims to teach children about the many ecosystem processes trees perform, with the overarching message that humans and trees are co-dependent.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I grew up in Lenah Valley in the foothills of kunanyi. As kids we were surrounded by bush, so nature was our playground. I now live on the beach in Lauderdale.

Tell us a little about your work? Listening To Tree is the first book I’ve ever published, but I’ve always written little stories with children as a teacher for the better part of 43 years. I like to say that teaching chose me. I got a scholarship to study art teaching, and so really my future was sealed. I majored in ceramics, which is all about digging in the earth, and fire, and I loved it. I taught high­schoolers for about seven years, but when my son was born, I realised that early childhood is one of the most creative and exciting times of life. I went back to uni when I was around 32 to study early childhood education for a year, and I’ve never looked back. I found that I could use art in any subject area, whether it be maths, science, or whatever.

It was 20 years ago that I got involved in literacy, and I am now a literacy special­ist. I work with children who struggle with reading, and it’s so rewarding to be a part of that process when they start to get it. Not everyone is born with the skills of being able to decode text, as it is a very complex thing. I love to make little books with children for that very reason. Making books is fun, and they can be made from any materials, whether it’s cardboard or toilet paper. You’re essentially inviting the child to be part of the process of learning to understand, and are able to develop concepts more clearly if they are creating their own book. One thing about education people forget, is that the word ‘educate’ means to bring forth. It means to bring out of a child their essence, their expression. In classrooms I always have dedicated areas where children can go at any time and make their own book. It could be about the death of their dog, an emotional experience they’ve had, or a book for somebody else.

How did the inspiration for this book come about? I was drawing in my studio one day and started to get a little frus­trated with drawing. I remember gazing into the backyard and looking at the trees, and I thought, trees are absolute miracles of nature. They provide us with so much and we take them for granted. I wanted to create a book about the reverence we should pay to trees. I think that connec­tion with nature is really the essence of the book, stimulating children’s interest in nature and drawing them into what it means to be a part of the natural world.

It was also really important to me to create a work of art that was a departure from what is the ‘norm’ for children’s books. Most children’s literature is in colour. When you present children with a black and white drawing, like in my book, it actually allows their brain to not be persuaded by colour. In their imagination they can create their own colour palette. The background colours on the text pages create a contrast to the monochrome drawings. They’re muted tones though, unlike in a lot of children’s books that use bright colours. I suppose the colours echo the tones of the words in the book.

The words in the book seem to flow like music. Was this intentional? People have said that the tone of the book is very mystical and dreamy. While I was writing it, I was trying to get into a flowing, meditative, rhythmical state where sounds created the atmosphere. Children love sounds. I would love teachers and others to pick this book up and transcribe it into some kind of musical form.

Who do you admire? Anyone who is involved in preserving all life forms, from the forest sitters in the takayna/Tarkine, to Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist and anthropologist, and Jane Goodall, who started the Roots and Shoots program.

Favourite podcast or tv show? I like to hear people’s stories on ABC’s Conversations.

What are you reading now? Truganini: Journey through the Apocalypse by Cassandra Pybus.

What was your first job? In my student days, I was a waitress at The Malaysian Teahouse in Macquarie St, now long gone.

What are your daily news/social media habits? I have a varied diet of ABC, SBS and NITV for news and programs. I use Instagram for photos.

Your favourite place (in Hobart) for…

Breakfast: Daci and Daci Bakers

Lunch: Sachié Café

Dinner: Suminato

Favourite Hobart secret? Silver Falls, kunanyi.

Love this

Cold Water Wake Up Call
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
A Short Geelong Getaway
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
June 2024

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!