Mum deals with dyslexia by becoming an author

Amber Bates working on her drawings at home in Maryborough. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Amber Bates working on her drawings at home in Maryborough. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman

IT'S not hard to see the irony in writing this article about Amber Bates.

These words that come so easily to most of us are the 34-year-old Fraser Coast resident's weakness.

Amber is one of about 2.3 million Australians with dyslexia - a disorder that makes spelling and reading extremely hard because of the way their brains process information.

But she is also a talented author, illustrator and entrepreneur who refuses to let the disability that almost destroyed her childhood education hold her back from achieving her dreams.

To prove her point, the former machinery operator has just self-published two books for children of fly-in fly-out workers - My Dad Drives a Big Dump Truck; and The Grumpy Cranky Shift Boss.

"I struggled through my early years," she says from her Maryborough farm where a lone kookaburra's laugh cuts through the hazy afternoon heat.

"Then when I was 10 years old I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

"By that stage I'd missed out on a lot of schooling so it made it really difficult to play catch-up.

"I never really caught up on my education.

"I graduated from Year 12 but I didn't get an OP score or anything like that.

"I literally just skimmed through all the classes and barely passed."

Dyslexia's impact was so bad that - without intervention from her journalist mum Nancy and her farmer dad Tony - school authorities were willing to let her languish outside of the classroom.

"They tried to keep me back a few years and then they tried to deny me access to school but mum and dad fought against it," Amber says.

Amber has accepted that dyslexia's hold on her brain will never diminish so she refuses to falter when it throws up hurdles.

Part of her strength can be found in her ability to acknowledge she will always find times when she must rely on her husband of four years -and fellow former miner - Dean Christopher as well as her parents, sisters and friends.

 "Sure I struggle all the time with my reading and writing but my husband, he's like my walking dictionary," Amber says.

"I'll ask him how to spell everything.

"I'm one of these people who has no problems with putting their hand up and saying 'Can you read this because I have no idea?' or 'Can I get you to spell this for me?"

Amber spent 12 years operating machinery at remote mining sites in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

There amongst the dust, the heat, the sweat, the flies and the inevitable misogyny that comes with a primarily male workforce, she toyed with the idea of writing and illustrating books for children.

"When you operate machinery like dozers you get a bit of downtime so I'd always have a notepad with me," she says.

"If I wasn't writing notes or ideas for other things I was writing verses for kid's books."

The downturn in mining saw redundancy come knocking on Amber's door a few months ago.

Instead of falling in a heap at losing her job, she decided to let her imagination drive her future.

Amber's first book - My Dad Drives a Big Dump Truck - is directed at children who don't understand why their fathers disappear for weeks on end for work.

The easy-to-read book has charming illustrations that are guaranteed to draw any child in.

"When I was working in the Northern Territory a lot of the guys would say how they'd leave home and their kids would have no idea of where they were going or how long they were going for," Amber says.

"It wasn't until I started dating my husband that I understood what they were saying.

"Trying to explain to his daughter Summer where we were going and what we were doing was just impossible.

"But when I was doing the artwork for the first book, Summer was watching me and asking 'What's that?' of the pictures of a man with a truck.

"I'd say "That's what Daddy does"

"And it started to compute for her.

"She got the concept of what we were doing.

"She understood that we didn't just disappear into thin air for a few weeks at a time."

Amber's second book, The Grumpy Cranky Shift Boss looks at the experience of a worker new to a mining site.

She is also planning three more books - Don't Be Silly, My Dad is Not An Air Hostess; Workshop Worries; and Little Lucy Loves Driving Dirty Dumpies.



Amber Bates working on her drawings at home in Maryborough. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Amber Bates working on her drawings at home in Maryborough. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman



MY DAD DRIVES A BIG DUMP TRUCK: A comical look at a FI-FO dad's day at work that explains many of the different jobs on a mine site. Humorous cartoon-style images include a passing parade of native Australian animals and colourful birds found in remote regions. 

THE GRUMPY CRANKY SHIFT BOSS: This book follows a new mine worker's  first day on the job. It includes tongue-in-cheek adult humour woven into the story and has illustrations of mining scenes and Australian animals and birds.

The books are available at



About 10% of Australia's population of 23,000,000 people have dyslexia

People with dyslexia generally  have problems with recognising the  basic sounds of speech - or phonemes (for example the "b" in "bat")

This means people with dyslexia may struggle to  a connection between the sound and the letter symbol for that sound  and they are unable blend the sounds into words.

Amber Bates with her childrens books. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Amber Bates with her childrens books. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman

Famous writers with dyslexia include

Hans Christian Andersen - The prolific Danish author of plays, travelogues, novels, poems and fairy tales. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald - one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Scott Adams -   the man behind the comic strip Dilbert.

JF Lawton - the screenwriter behind the Pretty Woman, Under Siege, and DOA: Dead or Alive movies. 

George Bernard Shaw - The Irish author wrote more than 60 plays and is the only Oscar recipient to get a Nobel Prize for Literature for the same tale. 

Jeanne Betancourt - author of the Pony Pals book series.

Richard Ford -  Pulitzer Prize-winning American author.

John Irving - Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist.

Topics:  books disabilities editors picks employment health literature

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