Writing is a valuable form of communication and expression for everyone.
When natural disasters, such as drought, bushfires, and floods, occur, storytelling is one way that residents in affected communities can process and come to terms with their changed circumstances, and free themselves to move forward with their lives.
I feel honoured to work with community groups in documenting first-person stories. For example, I Remember When … a government-funded recovery project comprising a series of three writing workshops, is far more than an exercise in therapy writing.
Books created in this way become a testament to the wealth of wisdom, experience and talent waiting to be tapped among residents in any community. The residents’ stories create golden threads in the fabric of their community. Their stories provide a firsthand insight into their home district’s social history, over multiple generations.
Some residents attend the first writing classes, feeling sure they cannot write so much as one sentence. “We haven’t done anything special in our life,” they say. Oh yes, they have, and their stories are often the most amazing.
Imagine a Christmas tree before it is decorated with glittering streamers, baubles, and twinkling lights. Such is the transformation when men and women share their memories in a safe and supportive environment. During our workshop discussions they continually spark suppressed but equally poignant or heart-warming memories in each other. They become animated and excited, reliving moment after moment. At every age, members of any community or group are a treasure trove of social history at its best.
Some story-writing participants have left school at age 14 to work, or to stay home and look after other family members. But in the writing group, these senior members of the community become inspired and away they go. By the time we get to our final workshop, they are amazed at the result as each holds their 2000-plus-word story and proudly reads it to the class. Often, they say, “I’ve always wanted to do this. I didn’t think I could, and now I have.”
Their descendants and their community will be ever grateful for this window into another time.
I offer community history writing mentoring for those interested in writing their group’s story.