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 Grant, Solua 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 Cox, Kathleen 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.