This was the call to action that rippled throughout the north east corridor of Victoria soon after the devastating fires of Black Saturday. Communities have been recording their stories of life on the land during droughts and have been turning them into 3 minute videos. People from all walks of life have answered the call to digital storytelling and flocked into the community education centres and neighbourhood houses in Benalla, Corryong, Euroa, King Valley, Mt Beauty, Tatura and Yarrawonga.
I have been an enthusiastic mentor for this government funded project since May and I have learned once again the power of stories in bringing communities together in tough times. I hope that you will be inspired to use stories in your speeches and to enthuse your audiences, as I hope to enthuse you tonight.
I am going to share with you some of the ingredients that have made this community story adventure such a successful and exhilarating one for me, and how the model has empowered these regional adult learning centres to reach deep into their communities and capture the most amazing personal and local history stories. I’ll also share with you some of the revealing tales of resilience, laughter and the unexpected challenges of life in rural and regional Victoria.
As a mentor I have been on hand to:
- facilitate workshops on the use of the various computer software
- help the ‘storytakers’ compile their interview questions and plan to capture the stories
- assist the storytellers as they write their narratives, collect their photos and music
- gather their stories together at the end and collate as a DVD
- upload selected stories to our community story website
- celebrate with them as they showcase their local and family history stories e.g
The big finale will be held during La Dolce Vita in the King Valley in November!
One of the first workshops I conducted was for the YNH Services, a neighbourhood house located in Yarrawonga, who had invited a group of their volunteers to come along and learn how to record voice, write a script and compile a movie. Part of my teaching strategy was to have them interview one another, recording the voice and importing that into Movie Maker. Not an easy task in a busy classroom, but they did it enthusiastically. Pauline, one of the volunteers, finished her movie that same afternoon – gathering suitable images to illustrate the story from her friend about family Christmas events – and adding some suitable music in the background. Pauline gave this story to her friend as a gift. This taught me the importance of ‘ownership’ of the storyline (the narration by the friend) and the importance of collaboration in the process of constructing the movie. This story inspired others in the group.
Stories support friendships!
One of the revelations that stood out for me in ‘listening’ to this group talk about their experiences with interviewing the elderly in the dairy farming regions of Yarrawonga. It was this piece of advice: don’t ask anything that could be misconstrued as ‘bedroom talk’. It was not as you might imagine from the phrase – it was how some storytellers were reluctant to talk about things that may have been discussed behind closed doors between, for example the parents in a family. These discussions often took place in the bedroom as that was well away from the ears of the children – a cautionary tale for me.
Stories can be revealing!
Meanwhile up in Corryong, retired farmer, Ken Jarvis, began making regular visits to the Neighbourhood House in response to the ‘Don’t talk about the drought’ article in their local newspaper. Whoever was in the office when he visited, would hear the most amazing stories of his ancestors and how they settled the Upper Murray. They only needed a 3 minute snapshot of Ken’s memories, but this man had a treasure trove of history that would be priceless for his descendants in years to come. And Ken wanted to share them all. The opportunity was here to train a member of his family in the skill of digital story making, with the long term aim of continuing to record their family history. Ken’s daughter-in-law, Marja Jarvis attended one of the digital story workshops and she produced the first Jarvis family history story called “A Good Life”.
Stories capture lives!
Ken’s involvement hasn’t stopped there. Ken frequently ‘drops in’ to tell a few yarns and lend his written stories to anyone who expresses interest. One lady, was so taken with Ken’s stories, she has asked him to visit the day care activity centre and talk to the elderly residents. Ken glowed with pride to think that someone rated his stories worth listening to, and Kylie was enthralled to discover someone willing to share such entertaining and relevant stories to her charges.
Some folks have a whole house full of memorabilia and a story to go with each one. The engaging story title ‘Kerosene, snakes and Bath Tubs’ is one of those stories – Len & Betty Lebner provide us with a snapshot in time of life on their farm during the droughts of the past. The old metal bath tub was was placed in front of the open fire in winter time and the whole family shared the water – the four little ones first, then Mum and finally Dad would clean up as best as he could in the murky grey water left for him.
“The rule was: you all had to go to the toilet before you got in the bath” says Len.
Stories illustrate memories!
One of the most moving stories from the Upper Murray is the one called ‘Jim’s Rug’ – its the story of how a prisoner of war, Jim Simpson, knitted a woollen rug featuring the Australian coat of arms. Jim is now in his nineties but his voice is still strong and entertaining. He tells his story of the dreadful suffering of those soldiers in the P O W camps in WWII and reminds us of their resilience in the face of huge deprivation. Jim’s own bravery shines through as he tells us about how he managed to create his precious knitting needles and used the unravelled wool from his own naval jersey to knit his rug, “I refused to surrender my uniform intact to those ruddy nazis – so I unravelled the bugger.” Says Jim.
Stories show courage!
Often, in such projects, the storytellers don’t have many suitable photos to go with their story, but not so in the case of another story from a young ten year old farm boy – Darcy Roberts. Darcy’s story is a laugh a minute as we view him on his farm wearing his battered akubra hat – to me it looked like the hat out of the Harry Potter movies – the choosing hat with a wide brim and a dented crown.
Darcy likes to tell a yarn in his own style and he has the listener laughing out loud at the antics of his favourite horse, which apparently likes to scratch its bottom on the rough bark of the tree stumps in the paddocks. And yes he has photos to match.
Stories are real!
This project has given centre co-ordinators the opportunity to engage with members of their communities who have been outside their ‘radar’ until now. People are now more aware of other services that are on offer at these adult community learning centres. The volunteers at the centres have been able to connect people with other individuals, groups and organisations, and this has reduced the social isolation that many people were feeling. Some have expressed a desire to be involved with Neighbourhood House activities and courses, some have even offered to be volunteers!
Stories do draw people together!
Sharon Roberts, the project co-ordinator for the Corryong Neighbourhood House has said:
“As co-ordinator of this project I feel privileged to have assisted so many volunteers and storytellers, and to be entrusted with their precious stories. I am inspired to seek the means to continue supporting our community in this way and to encourage those who have not yet told their story, to come forward and do so.”
Stories build champions!
The collection of movies created in this program now provides the communities with an archive of local, family and personal histories – strong and meaningful legacies for their youth. The process has enabled the growth of pride and self-worth in those who build and share their stories – it has been a cathartic and cleansing experience for communities in tough times.
Stories heal wounds!
‘Don’t talk about the drought’ – has given me is a brand new insight into the power of community stories – I’m very proud of my involvement with this project – and the creation of over 50 entertaining stories. I’m pleased that I have been instrumental in empowering community centres to capture these real Australian stories and in enabling them to manage the process for themselves. Most of all I’m humbled by the generosity of spirit of the many storytellers and storymakers across the Hume region of North East Victoria.
Stories inspire and motivate!
I want to leave you with this question:
How will you use stories in your next speech? or next project?
Note: the official Ning website for the Community Stories will be released for the public at the end of September.