Cafe stories

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Regional towns have the coolest cafes! Here’s stories, music and theatre from Uralla’s cafe culture in the 1980s. Just one of the many stories featuring in our upcoming Soundtrails app. The pic is the Uralla Arts team recording ‘The Accidental Poke”, a play that was performed back in the 80′s in one of Uralla’s wonderful cafes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Testing the app – Getting closer!

Testing on location outside McCrossin's Mill

What a massive few days it’s been; fixing up the finer details of the stories, sound levels up or down, sound field shifting up the road twenty metres, adding new versions to the back end, on the blower to developers, then back down the streets testing on both IOS and Android.

Tomorrow I am back in Bingara with Georgia Standerwick testing in Warialda and Myall Creek. Yesterday I was with Andrew Parker from Uralla Arts. Today I was on my own. That tall skinny man walking the street with his ear phones and strewn with cords. In the evening, during the middle of the day, there I am writing down notes on my pad, walking past, walking back again, stopping and staring into space. You doing that sound recording thing? A group of people cross the road to where I am. I show several of them the map on the phone in my hand and we walk together for a few minutes while a man tells me about the old morgue as we pass it by. Or the man from heritage who wants to shake my hand and tell me about his backyard museum; or Sam and Liz from White Rose cafe who are making their wifi freely available a week before the launch.

So many people are interested or know something about what is happening and want to stop to talk. The motel owner at Stokers, the gentleman at the Hunting Haven who is closing up while I stand right there on the footpath. Have a listen. I proffer my earphones and I watch from a distance as he concentrates then starts to smile. Ah, that smile. How I love to see that smile as people connect with what they hear.
For nine months now I’ve worked alongside a team who’ve not only been there to support me, but believed in this project. Then there’s the many many local people: musicians, actors, historians, and salt of the earth story tellers. Each story is but a small part in the collective picture. Each story entails a weave of connections and an underlying trust that’s written into the relationship; hundreds of relationships. Thank you all. I’ve cultivated these stories, nursed them into shape with generous help and support of so many. To think that soon they will be pubic. Overlaid across a town via a GPS map or online.  Over fifty stories at three locations. It’s getting close but it’s not quite there yet.


Sound Trails and Squatters

The Henry Dangar Brand

Here in the Sunshine Coast, while producing the stories for Myall Creek and Warialda and Uralla, I come across the name Henry Dangar most every day. Henry Dangar the squatter, the surveyor, the society gentleman. The man who vouched for the guilty stockmen during the Myall Creek massacre but who clearly didn’t like his hut keeper, Anderson: Anderson who couldn’t ride a horse, who was there the day of the massacre and whose testimony brought the practice of killing blacks to the attention of the Australian public. Up and down the east Coast, today Dangar’s name is like council confetti; used for streets, lagoons, islands and waterfalls. When I walk the track at Myaall Creek, as I read the court transcripts for the massacre; I can almost feel his breath upon my shoulder.

In February this year, I took trip out to one of Dangar’s former homesteads with locals from Warialda, farmer David Conway, former school principle and researcher, Peter Hancock, and local heritage expert, Jeanette Wilson.

We drove out over a land long cleared. While many of the old squatter runs have fallen into disrepair or been sold on or carved up for soldier settlement blocks, Yallaroi still operates today. Today it stands, albeit a little sagging in places, in the middle of vast wheat fields. Build in the 1840s, Yallaroi is slowly being restored by its owners, Paul and Sue. The old homestead sits level on black soil country, has a large old cooking range  in its kitchen and has survived countless droughts, flood and storms. In the old store smells abound. Smells my grandfather must have known, and smells strangely familiar to me. We are shown the old post office, the linking irons arrangement in the chain measurement and even Dangar’s branding iron. The land dry and cracked. The renovating task for Paul and Sue seemingly huge, the thirst of the land unquenchable as the water for their strip of green lawn pumped up from the artesian bores.

The eastern wing of the homesteadAmidst the endless stubble, Yallaroi is a marker of many things to many people; Australia’s glory days riding on the sheep’s back, pioneering days, our collective colonial history; what comes to mind to me are land grabs up the Liverpool Plains, this remote white domicile, the decimation of the Kamilaroi people, and the hardships of convict labour.

Near the abandoned tennis court, I walked out to the dam armed with my H4N recorder. I watched the farm dog stalk a wallaby and cloud burst far off in the west as I tried recording for atmos. I didn’t really get much other than flies and the odd galah. I was both impressed and a little underwhelmed with what I saw at Yallaroi. From soldier settlers in Uralla, the Government run at Warialda and the Myall Creek massacre, so many stories come back to these once-grand stations like Yallaroi and squatters like Danger.

Yallaroi Homestead

Even today, I have a sense that the sound stories I am producing, that carry the voices, the songs and sounds from the region, are but the latest manifestations wrought from this tough land and Australia’s penal years and beyond? Secret faultlines that go far beneath the surface and tell another story. There must be, even today, still hundreds of places like Yallaroi, there would have been many squatters like Dangar; English upper class quick to take advantage of the rich pickings; the cattle prices, who had deep pockets and political willpower to determine their own laws in remote reaches of Australia. Dangar wasn’t the only one with land aplenty, guns at the ready and a free labour force to support his enterprise. Just the most salient at this point in the sound stories I am producing.


Second production trip for Sound Walks – Feb 2014

It’s mid February and the tail end of summer with heat waves reported down south. I’m driving down to New England, first to Armidale to talk with local musicians, then to Uralla and then onto Bingara – North West, as it’s called by the locals. On Tuesday I have a meeting at the Warialda library to discuss ensuing sound walk with locals. My first time back there since November. The sound walks are at an exciting point for I can now start to test the back end of the app on locations using GPS, testing the sound levels and recalibrating the sound fields. Spend some time with our developers yesterday testing the app in Maleny. Many things still to do but I’m very confident we’ve got a strong and dynamic app that will travel far. So far, I’ve collected nearly all the primary material for the sound stories for Warialda, Uralla and Myall Creek and now it’s about testing the rough edited sound stories and gleaning additional material – readings, original material,, music on site sounds.

Call To Arms document


I’m working on forty something stories. Many of them I’m particularly excited about. To name a couple: There The Call to Arms story for Uralla which I think will be something of a stand out. It’s based on a number of rare archival documents from the area that are now housed in the Armidale archives. The documents were part of recruiting campaign in world war one. Have interviewed academic, Bart Zino, who paints a compelling story around the dilemma young rural men in the area faced when it came to making the decision of whether or not to go to war, and how this situation played itself out on their family and their communities. Then there’s also a story I’m dubbing ‘Why Did You Come Forward?’ which will be part of the Myall Creek sound walk. It is based on Beulah Adams and Des Blake and steps listeners through their decisions to come forward as living descendants of the perpetrators of the massacre.

Four and a half months to go before we launch on June 28. Very exciting.

Warialda – Big lives in small towns. Week four

Warialda, once deemed the civic hub of the northern Liverpool Plains and mooted to be on the rail line through to Inverell, is today a sleepy town en-route from Moree to Inverell. Land was snatched up in the 1830s when the squatters pushed north from the Hunter and Sydney into Kamilaroi country. The gloss of the large sheep stations that once carried the local towns has dulled and more recently Warialda has suffered the same fate as many other smaller councils, when it amalgamated with Bingara council. Both Bingara and Warialda share a similar history and some fantastic old heritage buildings, but Warialda feels just that little bit further away from everything.

Keith Moore - Warialda

So what is it you’re doing?

It’s a GPS sound walk app. Audio stories that you can experience on location. With your phones.

With your phones. Right. Well the kids love the phones.  

In the back room of the local servo, I sit with Keith Moore. Keith is ninety two, five foot nothing and he has a gentle face and soft spoken voice. He’s still pretty nimble on his feet despite his knee replacements and the death of his dearly beloved. In the office, workers mill around and his brother Athol is finishing up for the day. Brothers with only a few years apart. Keith and Athol have worked here their whole lives. It’s a business their father started, was the holden car dealers for fifty years and while they don’t sell Holden anymore, the business is still going strong. Keith might not understand these GPS sound walks things, but he does appreciate the notion of story and he likes to talk. He tells me about his dad who was born in the late 1800 from convict stock. Mr Moore, as Keith refers to him. He started the town’s electricity supply, then the freezing works, the rabbit processing plant, then Moore’s cordial, the swimming pool (I think) and then, to cap it off, he helped build the local bowls club. Keith’s father’s name is writ large in this town. Down the back of the business, Keith shows me the place, where at 4am in the morning, he would come in from the house ‘just over there’, and start the generators for town’s electricity supply.

A big life in a small town. Precious.



New England Sound Walks – week three

A busy week. Drove from Uralla down to Bingara on the Liverpool Plains. Here I have my very own house thanks to Jo Miller from Friends of the Myall Creek and Jo’s parents, Tony and Jan. Am driving big distances; out to the memorial site, to Inverell and Warialda. This country is beautiful, open, long grassed, umber and dry. The horizon omni present, the land carrying many secrets; the huge granite rocks and their myriad weathered waterways, the ancient grass trees of Upper Bingara.

Met with Georgia Standerwick Gwydir Shire and her offsider, Jen at the Bingara Visitor’s Centre. Feeling very welcome. Georgia showed me through the Roxy. Very impressive. A centre piece for the community. In Warialda, Georgia and I met with counsellor Tim Smith, librarian Betsy and some members from the historic society. Spent some time going over what a sound walk is and piecing together the many lives and stories that underpin this regional town. Slow at first. Now starting to pick up. Jeanette Wilson talking with the tall skinny man with his microphone. The sound walk idea, I do believe, is now starting to catch the imagination, albeit the eye, of a few locals.

Uncle Lyall Munro

Aboriginal elders/descendants of the massacre: Uncle Lyall Munro stands on his porch and watches the traffic of Moree as I drive in. A figurehead of the Kamilaroi people. Lyall and Gough Whitlam, Lyall and no end of other Australian leaders. The signed black and white photo of Charlie Perkins which was taken while he was being removed from the Moree baths during the freedom rides; Uncle Lyall was there with Charlie. The photos on Uncle Lyall’s wall are a testament to his big family, to race relations, aboriginal activism and a hard-won life.

Aunty Elizabeth Connors grew up around Tingha. Mother of twenty something children – both black and white kids, some hers, some family, some fostered. She is playing bingo with other women and the room erupts into shrieking laughter when they hear Aunty Lizzie has a man here to see her.

Beulah Adams from Glenn Innes; descendant & great-great grandniece of perpetrator Edward Foley: one of the seven men hung for his part in the massacre. She tells me what it meant for her to unexpectedly discover that she was related to ‘him’. Near a hundred and eighty years ago. Or just yesterday? The pain, the guilt, the anger, the bravery, the moves towards reconciliation; playing itself out in the collective Australian imagination. Still playing itself out. Barry Brown; descendant of John Fleming, the man who led the raid then fled the massacre scene while the others hung. Barry has written a small book on John Brown, so I am told. You out there Barry?

I sit out in country, in the late evening and watch the blood red setting sun. I wonderer how to place stories alongside this ancient land. If only just a few stories. Stories from the past. Stories from the present. Voices alive. How to do this?

Myall Creek area

New England Sound Walks – week one

My first week of the sound walk production here in New England. I am staying in Rocky River out of Uralla in a mud brick building with friends. Clear blue days, cool nights and two labradors that dip into the fish pond. I’ve been working on the sound walks, mostly on the blower and collecting contact details. Met with Tamworth’s ABC Open’s Tim Leha to discuss ways to link ABC Open in with the sound walk and youth in the area. Tim and others will host a series of workshop over January. Fingers crossed this leads to some material for the Uralla sound walk. Jo Fletcher from the Uralla Neighbourhood Centre, Andrew Parker and Joseph Bell from Uralla Arts and Georgina Standerwick from Gwydir Shire Council were also there. Andrew, Georgia and I have become something of a team.

My focus is on collecting material for the three sound walks: Uralla, Warialda and Myall Creek. It’s a tribute to Gwydir Council that they would see Myall Creek (the massacre site) as a priority in terms of sound walks when their region is so large and there are many other towns that would be great candidates for sound walks. Thanks also to the Friends of the Myrall Creek for getting behind this. Yesterday I spoke with Uncle Lyall Munro and Aunty Elizabeth Connors who are both descendants of those who were massacred. They have agreed for me to record with them in weeks to come. The Myall Creek massacre is surely a terrible chapter in Australian history. But in my dealings thus far, I’m not hearing anger or denail. I’m hearing a quiet maturity and a dignified determination to bring this story to the attention of all Australians.

Norm Mitchell in front of his granite toiletToday I interviewed ninety-one year old, Norman Mitchell from Rocky River. What a cute old house, what a dunny!   Tomorrow I’m recording with Patrick O’Donohue on the Chinese in the area and the water races. Also hoping to record with local Fay Porter here in Uralla about a much loved artist, Annie Mackay who was a ceramicist who lived out at Racecourse Lagoon from 1974. One of the new breed of artists to arrive in this area. To all those who speak with me and whose stories attest to the rich bevy of material that lies hidden in the nether regions of New England: thank you.

It begins! New England Sound Walks

After many months of hard work, long and grinding grant applications and complex negotiations with app developers, we’re finally heading to New England to start producing GPS sound walks.  This comes on the back of the work The Story Project did in Uralla last year and we’re very excited as we believe this is something of a first in Australia.

In short, it’s a single New England Sound Walk  app that can host many sound walks for different towns and locations. It will work with phones and tablets – we’re also going to have a website too for virtual visitors. Once you’ve downloaded the sound walk you want, you can then take off on an adventure seeing yourself on a map while you listen to stories at leisure. And as it’s GPS based, you wont’ need mobile coverage so you can listen in remote locations.

Right now, we’re about to embark on sound walks in Uralla, Warialda and Myall Creek. These will be launched in June 2014. Then fingers crossed and all going well, we’ll bring in other sound walks in the New England region.

We love the potential this project has to showcase something of the incredible wealth of stories regional Australia has to offer.

Will keep you posted.

Check out our launch video

Exhibiting StoriesCombining gorgeous pics and app technology, here’s how we like to launch community stories.  [Read more...]

Coming soon – Stories from Sydney’s inner west

Watch this space for moving and personal stories from one of Australia’s most culturally diverse communities, Canterbury in inner-western Sydney. Coming soon.