Friday, 12 November 2021

The Story behind Our Story Our Voices

Written by Project 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.

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