Our Story – Your Story: Bouncing Back from Disaster

Speaking of the experience of contributing to ABC Open’s Aftermath at the Queensland Museum was an honour, privilege and tinged with a sense of responsibility.

I was just one of several guest bloggers, photographers and video makers contributing to this project – and summing up a years’ experience in five minutes of speech and video for the audience in Brisbane was my recent weekend challenge.

During my contribution to the panel presentation, which also included Scott Gamble project creator, and ABC Open producers Miranda GrantSolua Middleton and Carolyn Legge from the Queensland Museum I mentioned as many of the contributing guest bloggers as I could, without making my whole talk a list. Saying their names-  Rob CoxKathleen Mealor, and Kathy Stewart, was like summoning them to give me the courage to finish my speech.

I explained how I got into blogging, came to be a guest blogger for ABC Open, and was mentored by ABC Open, particularly Michael Bromage and Leandro Palacio. ABC Open helped me learn how make videos and through them I was able participate in the production of a documentary of my family’s experience. I spoke about the initial discomfort with the camera and how I became used to it, and took my knowledge of discomfort into being more sensitive in my own interviews within the community.

I became emotional listening to the footage of Carolyn Bofinger’s story. I knew this might happen and had prepared myself for it, but it was still hard trying to compose myself in front of an audience. I spoke about this feeling in the talk as well and about how hearing my friend’s story again made me feel.

This was like asking Carolyn to be alongside me as well and I found that my heart lifted as I thought of the wonderful new life her family has made resettling into Brisbane.

Listening to the producer’s perspective gave me an insight into how emotional hearing our stories made them feel. Many of them have formed friendships with the people whose stories and communities they have represented in the aftermath project and they were very moved by the experiences of people they met.

My own five minutes of video highlighted some of our family’s video footage, that of ABC Open, and some of the digital stories I did, like snippets from the interview with Pam and Joe. It was lovely to hear the audience laugh at the way in which Pam explained her relationship with Joe, and how she couldn’t tell him what to do in the cyclone and had to let him go station himself on the bulldozer, although it was scary it was also ironic and lightened the mood of the day. I apologised for the varying quality of my footage explaining I had learnt on the go improving as I went. I explained we contributors used all our own equipment and weren’t given extra cameras or anything like that. ABC Open is about making the best of what you already own.

Marty Warburton received a mention from both Miranda and Scott, and his video story, part one, was played. This was the first video story I saw when I began to guest blog for Aftermath, and seeing it again did not diminish its power and immediacy. Using his mobile phone, Marty narrated harrowing events as they happened.

I was lucky enough to have met Scott when he and Michael came to visit for the first interview on Cyclone Yasi but I only knew the rest of the panel through their blogs and videos. It was fascinating to hear Scott explain how he had realised a one hour documentary would not do justice to all the stories of the aftermath Cyclone Yasi, not to mention several other disasters that occurred before it. The idea for Aftermath seemed, from his speech, to be about a deeper kind of immersive creation where people would relate to stories in a much more real way. There were too many differences and complexities in the way in which people experience natural disasters that couldn’t come across in a one hour documentary on a cyclone.

Everyone in the panel was very kind to me, Miranda especially. She asked how I was feeling and was extremely sensitive to how this presentation might potentially make me feel. Solua was amazed I could contribute so much material whilst my family was going through the recovery process, ‘How did you do it?’

I was a little bit embarrassed when Solua enthusiastically introduced me as a star for ABC Open’s guest bloggers. I never set out to be a star, I just wanted to share the story of my family and our area from my heart with the best words and images I could find. Yet, moving into the role of spoke person, being a storyteller for the community has become an unavoidable part of guest blogging.

My kind and wonderful hosts whilst in Brisbane are also digital storytellers, Karen Tunny and Daryl Bellingham. They looked after me both before and after the presentation for ABC Open. Karen got me into blogging many years ago, by inviting me to a workshop about blogging. It seemed apt to have them both there in the audience. They kindly showed me and my son around Brisbane. We even tried to plan a trip up to see Marty but ran out of time.

The absolute highlight of the day was meeting another guest blogger in aftermath, Heidi Den Ronden, who shared stories of Brisbane’s floods. I wish I had more time to speak with her, and ask how she was doing. I wished we had more contributors there as I would have loved to have just given all of them a hug – for sharing their stories with such courage and being such strong community builders.

Another amazing gift was the Queensland Museum giving my son free tickets to the science centre. He had an absolute ball and was so happy to solve a murder mystery and experience a science show.  The presenter of the science show had connections to Tully! And we learnt all about the nature of light.

Ordinary people are sometimes called upon to do extraordinary things, and to have writing and telling stories become extraordinary is probably the dream of every writer.

Yet despite all this I really would have rather not gone through a cyclone to have this experience. I would love to be free of the memory of it, but life is what it is and this is now a permanent fixture of my life experience.

What doesn’t break us, makes us… and that is what aftermath has been to my life.

(Presentation given March 10th 2012, Queensland Museum South Bank)

First Published by ABC Open 14 Mar 2012.

Links  to ABC Open will be broken after June 30th 2019.

One thought on “Our Story – Your Story: Bouncing Back from Disaster

  1. Comments from ABC Open Blog

    What brave people you all are!! Bravo!

    Thanks Heidi – I was rapt to meet one of the other bloggers in the project, it would be great to meet up with lots of the guest bloggers for that project wouldn’t it.

    It was an absolute privilege to meet you June 🙂 It was such an amazing presentation and you all did a fine job 🙂

    June Perkins
    Thanks Sonya for your comments – that’s great if you pass it on to Rob, I found it so helpful reading the blogs of other contributors and it was definitely a help when we were going through so much – butI realise too there are always people who have bigger challenges, and as a lady was saying to me today – it’s people and our relationships with others that are the most important- things can be fixed and mended and I am always mindful of bigger disasters in our world. If the blogs help others in anyway in the future I would be so happy to know they had somehow made it easier for those future readers.

    It was great to read about your experience of presenting June and your reflections on taking part in the Aftermath project. I’ll have to tell Rob that you mentioned him, he’ll get a real kick out of that! I remember when he first realised that you had been through the cyclone and had been commenting on his blog, he was really humbled and touched. I think Aftermath will have another life for audiences around Australia, particularly with the recent floods in my patch. I hope people will look to it as a source of inspiration, to see just how people got through the recovery process with their own strength and the love and support of their communities, friends and family. When they’re ready I’ll definitely be pointing them in the direction of your blogs.

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