Ships in the Fields


Award-winning author Susanne Gervay and award-winning illustrator Anna Pignataro are part of that immigrant and refugee story. Susanne’s parents were post war Hungarian refugees who migrated to Australia. Anna’s parents were post war Italian refugees who migrated to Australia.

In a unique collaboration, Susanne and Anna have created a moving and significant picture book, Ships in the Field. It crosses boundaries in a universal recognition that children are part of the journey of war, migration, loss and healing. Through warmth, humour, pathos and story within story, it breaks the silence engaging children, families and community.

A deeply personal story

  • inspired by Susanne Gervay’s parents and family who escaped war and communism as refugees to find home in Australia.
  • inspired by Anna Pignataro’s Italian parents and family who were refugees expelled from Egypt to find home in Australia.

Dedicated to Susanne’s courageous aunts Margaret, Irenke and Magda who survived unlike many of her family to build a new life here.

Launched by the Olympic swimmer and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lisa Forrest.

Awarded two Notable awards by the Children’s Book Council;  written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Anna Pignataro (ISBN: 978-1-876462-87-1)

Award winning Illustrator Anna Pignataro illustrates Susanne Gervay’s Ships in the Field

Anna Pignataro has illustrated since a child as a way to make sense of the immigrant experience and explore her creativity. She always knew she’d become an illustrator for young people.

After completing art college she worked in graphic design and teaching, and painted murals for theatre plays and shops. Anna has created more than forty books including her best-selling ‘Princess and Fairy’ series; illustrated works by some of Australia’s most renowned authors including Gillian Rubenstein and Colin Thompson; and won many awards for her work. Anna was awarded the prestigious Children’s Book Council Australia, Crichton Award for Children’s Book Illustration; shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia; received many CBCA Notable Awards.

Many of her picture books have sold rights throughout the world and her illustrations are exhibited widely including solo exhibitions, and held in private collections in a number of different countries. Her critically acclaimed books, ‘Always and Together‘ and her series, ‘Princess and Fairy‘, with its make-believe world of rabbits are enjoyed in many different languages. ‘Princess and Fairy‘ was included in the 2009 – The Kids Top 50 books voted by Australian children nationwide.

Australia Day Ambassador and Order of Australia

Susanne Gervay is proud to be an Australia Day Ambassador awarded at a ceremony with Governor Marie Bashir an Order of Australia.

On the 26th January Australia Day every year Susanne gives an Australia Day address often in remote and regional communities, carrying the message of ‘Ships in the Field‘ and celebration of Australia.

Author Inspiration

Ships in the Field is deeply embedded in the struggles of Susanne’s family’s wartime, human rights violations and the refugee experience. Her parents carrying their little son, left all they knew to escape across ‘no-man’s land’ minefields in the dead of night for freedom. Her mother’s Hungarian world was no longer the same with its operas, balls, visiting the health spa on Lake Balaton; her father’s world at the university as a Professor of Engineering; her mother’s world of running a household with servants and afternoon teas on Margarita Island on the Danube had ended. Her father’s world was taken too. His land stolen. His white horse disappeared. His way of life gone.

The Austrian refugee camp was crowded, difficult, but it was from here that Australia selected them to go to Australia as bonded migrants on a former WW11 warship. Her parents didn’t know what Australia was, but they knew they could rebuild their lives offering their children a future. Like other refugees they worked long hours – her father in the Holden car factory; her mother in the clothing factory. Life in Sydney began in one room with the family sleeping on mattresses on the floor. But there was a belief in their new country and the future.

Ships in the Field contains Susanne’s family’s stories. Her father made hats from the serviettes at dinnertime for the family’s amusement. Her mother cooked chicken soup every night. Her father worked in a factory and mother sewed dresses both in a factory and at home. Their trips into the country were happy family time and a celebration of being safe and here. Her father did see the ‘ships in the field.’

Susanne was deeply moved for herself and her parents and all those who make the journey to find home, when Governor Marie Bashir awarded her an Order of Australia in 2011. She is always moved giving an Australia Day address in her role as an Australia Day Ambassador.

Susanne’s conversation with ABC radio Richard Fidler is a small part of the journey.