University of Western Australia: Kids need nature, urges prize-winning children’s book author

The University of Western Australia’s Professor Helen Milroy, a prominent child and adolescent psychiatrist, has called for parents to help children to rediscover the joys of nature “as a way back from the pandemic”.

Earlier this month Professor Milroy won the Whitley Award’s Young Children’s Reader Category for her book Backyard Birds. Presented annually, the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Whitley Awards acknowledge outstanding publications that profile the unique wildlife of the Australasian region.

As its title suggests, Professor Milroy’s boldly illustrated book celebrates the birdlife found in Australian back gardens, from laughing kookaburras to prancing mudlarks, and is described as ‘a fun and lively read for the very young’.

A proud descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region, the leading mental health researcher who is also known as Australia’s first Indigenous doctor, said she “grew up on stories” and “continues to learn from them throughout my life”.

She said she wanted to “encourage children to connect to nature and all of the little creatures we live alongside”, particularly as “2021 has proven to be an extraordinary year and who knows what the new year will bring”.


“The social and emotional development of our children as a way back from the pandemic is absolutely critical so let’s get kids back into nature help them feel connected to everything around them and safe and secure,” she said.

“Not only does it help kids to be embedded within the natural world around them, it also helps to take them away from the worries of the day and just have a bit of fun and joy. Getting creative outdoors is a great way to enhance well-being.

“My message to parents and to kids is to turn off the TV, get off the tablets, and go exploring to see what you can find. We have the most beautiful birds in the world, and I get a lot of joy when I see the willy wagtail dancing in the backyard or the kookaburra announcing his arrival with a laugh.”

Backyard Birds book

On winning the award Professor Milroy, who is the 2021 WA Australian of the Year, paid tribute to her publisher Fremantle Press “for a great partnership in making these books really come to life”.

“I love writing stories for children because I want to encourage their creativity and imagination, instil some hope and joy and see them really flourish in life,” she said.

In addition to being Stan Perron Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UWA and the Child and Adolescent Health Service (funded by Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation), Professor Milroy is co-director of Embrace and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Telethon Kids Institute.

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