Monday, 11 October 2021

Local voices present Merredin’s history through Architectural Storytelling

The story behind “Our Story, Our Voices”
Written by Researcher, Samantha Ray

The Shire of Merredin approached the creative team at illuminart in 2020, as the Community Services team began developing a new major annual event.  In researching concepts for storytelling to promote the town’s strong war history, they became interested in illuminart’s previous story projections in Albany and Port Adelaide. Illuminart became involved in supporting the festival’s vision and assisted with funding and development during the early stages of planning.  The Shire of Merredin were successful in gaining a major grant specifically supporting illuminart’s proposed storytelling projection, and ‘Team illuminart’ began work on the Our Story, Our Voices project in early 2021.

The first stage involved planning out the themes and research for the stories, and I was involved early on in this process through meetings between Perth, Merredin, Adelaide and Blackheath. After learning about the project, its main themes and its place within the larger festival, I was introduced to key local contacts.  They helped to connect me with a variety of townspeople who were interested in sharing their memories and thoughts.  I was able to make a schedule of people to meet, places to go and discussions to have prior to my research trip in June.  I also made contact with the Repertory Club and the Merredin Fine Arts Society – later this allowed for a deeper level of community engagement and contribution in the work through the participation of local people involved in voiceovers and contributing visual art.

During my research trip to Merredin I was extremely busy, poring through the assets at the local library, in between making calls and conducting interviews. Those who have bequeathed assets to the library over the years have our immense gratitude! Without them we would know much less!

“I had no idea you could manage all that, you’ve done a marvellous job.” Jenny Van de Mewer

As the saying goes, “everyone wears different hats around here!” Tracking down a local person with particular knowledge about or fascination with certain aspects of Merredin’s story was difficult but it did happen! I was even taken on a grand tour the morning of my departure. When I left, armed with historical books, timelines, transcripts and recordings, I remained somewhat confused about which dam was for what and where they all were and when it was! There were some interesting Zoom calls and field trips by proxy to ensure we were using the correct images and had our chronology straight. And, there were definitely more than a few “urban myths” that needed debunking before we had our final cut!

I stitched together a meaningful narrative by cross referencing the historical written and photographic records and interweaving them with the details of the stories I learned. I found the movement of the early town from the north to the south of the peak fascinating and was awed by the hard work, resourcefulness and resilience of the early settlers.

The expanse of the Yilgarn Craton holds an impressive resonance, not only because of its function as an important water source. The parallel of Hunt’s arrival with the birth of Gran Ada inspired me to think about the great walks of all of our ancestors across the extremes of the wilderness. Many of the tracks and wells of those early explorations, and the gnamma holes that rippled before them, have fallen into disuse over the years. This all led me to thinking about how one might reinvigorate such an historical and meaningful walk today, as has been done with other scenic, meditative experiences such as the Bibulman Track.

So many people have been involved in the story research and I am especially grateful to local librarian and historian Wendy Porter from Merredin Library, and other local historians from the Merredin museums.  Invitations were shared within the local community to find people who had memories of the town they wished to share, or could suggest storylines for research.  I was fortunate to meet Mick Hayden, from Njaki Njaki Tours, and also later Marika Hayden, who provided us with a way to pay respects to the Njaki Njaki heritage through the words of Gran Ada.

“You did such a great job, we are so grateful, it would never have happened if you didn’t approach me.” ~ Mick Hayden, Elder, Njaki Njaki Tours

All the research was thoroughly checked and high resolution images sourced for the animators, and from that point onwards my work involved consultation for fact checking and to provide feedback to the artists and animators.

Michelle Gethin and Justin Freind facilitated amazing community connections and this led to the voicing of stories by the Repertory Club, assisted remotely by living history specialist and writer director Michael Mills.

“Amazing, thank you so much for involving the community!” – Rep Club

It was wonderful to return to Merredin for the festival, reconnecting with the community at leisure to enjoy the show and listen to the inspiring thoughts being generated.  Before leaving, I took the opportunity to walk with my family around some of the local rocks and take in the beautiful colours of Springtime. Thank you, Merredin!

In Merredin, the stories and artwork were displayed perfectly, thanks to excellent support from Technical production manager Riordan Hall-Jones, and Perth Audiovisual who provided projection and sound installation.

Thanks to everyone in Merredin who was involved in the project.


STORY VOICES: (Coordinated and voiced by the Repertory Club, Merredin)

Marika Hayden Gran Ada
Stewart Low Charles Hunt
Michelle Gethin Narrator 2
Clayton Murray Mr Frank Angel, First Proprietor of Duff’s Hotel
Bo Der Waal Narrator 1
Chloe Wilcocks Caroline Bates
Archie Gethin A Child of the Pipeliners
Grant Stainer Government Official
Kevin Tengvall Local Official 1
Mal Harper Local Official 2
Blake Jenkins Mr HJ Cooper, First Resident Officer at Merredin Station
Justin Freind Jimmy Mcdonagh, A Railway Worker
Julie Nicoletti Carmel Caridi, A Migrant Daughter
Phoebe Brooker Cafe Chatterbox 8
Deb Tengvall Cafe Chatterbox 4
Darci Corby Cafe Chatterbox 1
Robyn Hutchings Cafe Chatterbox 5
Mal Harper Cafe Chatterbox 6
Debbie Morris Cafe Chatterbox 3
Kirsty Rochford Cafe Chatterbox 2
Samantha Ray Cafe Chatterbox 7
Justine Low A Migrant Farmer’s Daughter
Gemma Dolton A Farmer’s Daughter
Leesa Murray Mary Nicholson, MFX37438
Greg Shea Military Spokesperson
Emma Growden Army Hospital Nurse 4
Kylee Crabb Army Hospital Nurse 2
Anastasia Eastwick Army Hospital Nurse 1
Keely Rutherford Army Hospital Nurse 3
Darrius Sutherland 14 Year Old Boy
Robyn Giraudo Caroline Bates (Granny)
Beth Smith Dance Hall Lass
Louise French Alice Cummins
Heather Giles Community Fundraiser
Roy Butler A Passionate Farmer
Sue Crook A Picnic Lover



Merredin Repertory Club for hosting and managing the Voice Recordings of Merredin residents. 

Community members and organisation for Support and Contributions:
Chloe Flockart
Marika Hayden
Mick Hayden, Njaki Njaki Tours
Carmel Caridi
Gloria Banks
Lillian Armstrong (check spelling)
Laura Cruz
Margaret Krone
Pauline Jackson
Greg Shea
Jim Flockart
Bev Flockart
Pauline Bennett
Lorna Bennett
Grant Bennett
Jenny Van de Mewer
Jan Clune
Ed Gebert
Su Riley
John Tuppen
Liz Kington
Mal Harper
Spike Jones
Roy Butler
Wendy Porter, Merredin Library
Debbie Morris, Merredin Community Resource Centre
Rob Endersbee, Merredin Military Museum
Ross Duffield, Railway Museum
Justin Freind, Cummins Theatre
Robyn McCarthy, Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre

Illustrations have been based on historic references and photographs, and often have incorporated photos from sources with permission.
Elements of paintings and art have been incorporated into this work with the generous permission of the Merredin Fine Arts Society.
With permission, a number of the photographs in this project have come from the photograph collection of Barbara Hall and Bob Abell.
Images sourced from the collections of the State Library of Western Australia have been reproduced with the permission of the Library Board of Western Australia.

The WA Royal Historical Society
The Water Corporation
National Malleefowl Recovery Team (NMRT)
Merredin Seniors Citizens Centre
Merredin Men’s Shed
Merredin Military Museum
National Library of Australia / Trove
Western Australian Government Railways
WA Museum
Australian War Memorial
Merredin Mercury
Wheatbelt tourism
“The History of the Merredin District”, F.A. Law
“Troops, Trains and Trades – The Wartime Role of the Railways of Western Australia, 1939-1945”, Philippa Rogers
“Nyungar Tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914”, Lois Tilbrook
“The Wells of Explorer Charles Hunt: An assessment of their condition and historical significance as a groundwater resource”, Water Authority of WA
Merredin Photographic Library Catalogue
“That’s Not Rubbish That’s Our Possessions” Zelma Bates / Claydon Bates
“Sport in the Bush” various volumes, compiled by Doug and Warren Jones
Department of Mines Annual Report 1901
“In Defence of Country, Life Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Women”
“Shire of Merredin: Indigenous Stories” Oral Histories Project, various transcripts
“A piece of string – Stories of the Nungarin District”, Maxine Cornish
“The Locomotive Engine Drivers’, Firemen’s and Cleaners’ Union: A British transplant or home grown product”, Labour History in the New Century , Oliver Bobbie
“OnTrack: Curtin’s Railway Journeys”, John Curtin College of the Arts
“Abandoned Cricket Pitches”, Instagram archive, Les Everett
National Trust Western Australia.
Department of Agriculture WA
Facebook Pages “Merredin Lost and Found” and “Merredin Mutterers”
The Phoenix Merredin Community and Regional News
Heritage Council of Western Australia
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Noongar Boodjar Language Cultural Aboriginal Corporation
Landgate Interactive Maps


“Oh, is it finished? Oh, did I miss it!” – Late Local Wanderer