Roo Maltby with the book her mother Peg wrote for her.
Roo Maltby with the book her mother Peg wrote for her. TONI McRAE

Roo's back with the fairies

SIXTY years before Harry Potter found out what to do with his wand, Roo Maltby's mum Peg was creating Mr Cobbledick.

And that was also the magical time Peg Maltby started to reveal to the world the marvellous fairies at the bottom of her Dandenong garden, which were also flitting around in her extraordinary imagination.

Roo is the youngest daughter of the late best-selling English-born, Australian artist and writer Peg Maltby.

Roo is her nickname that came from “I'm kangaroo” when she introduced herself to people during her five years living in Switzerland in the 1980s.

Now in her early 60s, Roo lives in Tinana with partner John Luttrell and Lucy the dog. She is planning to write her own book in which she will use photos of the amazing cloth sculptures she creates, based on her mother's famous fairies, goblins and other mysterious ethereal beings.

“I grew up in Olinda in the Dandenongs, where my mother, who eventually became a Hyacinth Bucket sort of person, was absolutely adored by my protective military father, George.

“I had a wonderful early childhood with both my parents filling my head with their incredible stories about the fantasy world they created for children in their books.

“Peg illustrated and George did most of the writing. Peg's Fairy Book sold 100,000 copies in 1946. We were quite rich.

“I would love to see my mother's books republished but, meanwhile, I am getting on with plans to write and illustrate my own book.”

Roo, real name Cheryl that somehow became Cherie, only discovered her own amazing talent for crewel embroidery and eventually doll-making that became cloth sculptures, a couple of years ago.

“I did artistic things as a child, working alongside my mother, but she used to draw over my efforts and eventually I didn't think I was much good. She was such a huge talent and I realise now all she was trying to do was to help me to be better.”

Peg and George Maltby migrated to Australia in 1924. Peg's chocolate box lids, birthday cards, paintings, dioramas and books kept the family in grand style and young Cheryl was the “little rich girl” until the federal government opened the floodgates to book imports and Enid Blyton's Noddy, Big Ears and Mr Plod killed off Peg's best sellers.

“The bottom fell out of our lives,” Roo says.

“Suddenly I didn't know who I was, where I was, where I was going. I'm still trying to catch up.

“We moved from the promise of a private school for me to my parents unable to afford my school uniform.

“I got through but fell out of love with my mother's fairies and my father's stories.

“I married, moved to Europe, moved to the US and finally moved back to Australia. My mother died in 1984 and at the age of 73 redid all her artwork from scratch for her Fairy Book.

Two years ago Roo discovered she could make a crewel cushion cover, then an eiderdown, and after that she joined the Maryborough Creative Fabrics group and found her creative pathway, which she loves.

“Now I just want to bring my mother's fairies to life in my sculptures and the book. Nothing would please me more than to make new generations of children happy all over again with Peg Maltby's fairies and my interpretation of them.

“I have found my roots here. I meet people in the street and they say ‘Hi Roo'. I feel finally at home after so many years of travelling the world, including Australia, latterly by caravan with my engineer partner John.”

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