Everyone has a story, and one of my favourite things to do is learn about people’s real-life experiences and weave them into a creative product. Sometimes this is just called research but other times, when you work with people, sharing skills and empowering others to tell their own stories, it is called community development.
My first experience of this was co-creating and running a community scriptwriting project called Represent. We did a call out for teenagers from diverse backgrounds to come and work with us. We ran workshops twice a week about dramatising the real stories of the participants, and teaching the skills and techniques needed to create and write a television series. Some of the young people gained skills and confidence, others went on to work in the arts or the media. The project also resulted a pilot and bible for a six part half-hour television drama called The Space Between.
I later worked as a guest artist with the award-winning arts and social change organisation Big hART. My first involvement was on the Gold project, which saw me work with young people in Griffith and travel across rural NSW, staying on farms across the Murray-Darling Basin. I recorded people’s stories and created audio pieces about the social impacts of climate change. The aim of the project was to raise awareness and influence policy on mental health issues in rural and remote areas.
After that, I signed on as associate producer of Namatjira, a five-year community project celebrating the life and art of Albert Namatjira and supporting the ongoing work his descendants, who continue to paint watercolours today. Namatjira highlighted the critical role art centres play in Indigenous communities and as a highly skilled form of Indigenous employment. It culminated in the critically acclaimed theatre show Namatjira, which toured both in Australia and internationally.
Whilst writing Nona & Me I interviewed a large number of people living in Yirrkala and Nhulunbuy. I was honoured to hear their stories, which in turn enriched the final novel, making it more authentic and heartfelt. This was more research than anything else, but I hope the novel can be used in a community development context in the future, as a springboard for others to share their experiences and learn about writing and storytelling. I believe stories are a glue that bonds people and communities together.