Our Soundtrails app – taking stories to the streets

Screen shot Uralla SoundtrailWe’ve got an app! Soundtrails links people, places and stories through GSP locative technology. Walk the street with your smartphone and hear stories and sounds, local voices and music, history and contemporary tales. Your community can join too! Explore the website and download the app at www.soundtrails.com.au.

William Verity & The Freedom Ride Soundtrails

TSP producer, William Verity, outside the Walgett RSL

TSP producer, William Verity, outside the Walgett RSL

Just got back from four days in Moree and Walgett working with William Verity. William is a large man, a freelance radio producer, a former Fairfax journo and now he’s our producer on the Freedom Rides Soundtrails.

Fifty years ago, this February, a group of ratbag Sydney students set forth in a bus into outback NSW to highlight entrenched segregation and racism in outback NSW. With its name drawing parallels to the civil right struggle underway in the American south, the Freedom Ride bus went to a number of outback towns like Wellington, Walgett and Moree. The trip drew international attention on the reality of the issues and is today considered as a pivotal precursors to the 1967 referendum.

Fifty years later, William and I were in Moree and Walgett to scope out the Freedom Rides Soundtrails, to talk to people, ask them what, if anything, has changed, and explain what we were doing – no easy feat explaining a GPS sound app that works on mobile devices to an eighty year old Aboriginal aunty! There will be two Freedom Rides Soundtrails; one at the Walgett RSL and one at the Moree pubic baths. Both were sites of significant protest during the original 1965 Freedom Rides and it was outside the Moree baths, that the famous photo of Charlie Perkins was taken as he was escorted from the premises. Talking to prominent Aborigines was a humbling experience for me. Never far beneath the surface was a sense of the brittle race relations of the day, the heavily regulated life on the missions, the fear of the welfare who took the kids away, and a two-tiered outback economy that relied on a pool of cheap, albeit, free black labor.

Supported by Catholic Schools Armidale and in particular, the fabulous Sharon Cooke, an Aboriginal women from neighbouring Brewarrina, the Freedom Rides Soundtrails should be up and running mid 2015 to coincide with the 50 year anniversary of the Freedom Rides. We understand that Sydney University is planning a reenactment of the bus ride. This will be travelling the same route as in 1965 and, fingers crossed, will have our William on board. Go Will!

Four months after Soundtrails launched, we now have five new Soundtrails in the offing. Five New Soundtrails! We’re very excited.

Au revoir Bingara my friend

Georgia and Jenny from the Bingara visitors information centre

Georgia and Jenny from the Bingara visitors information centre

Ten days in Bingara. I survived the searing November heat in a drought that is challenging everyone out here. The farmers, the businesses, the council. I was never far from an air conditioner, but never uncomfortable.
And here they are – drum roll please – the ‘long and short of it’ as Jen says. The faces that meet us all when we arrive at Bingara after a long day’s drive. The hard working women who take the public on the Roxy tours, who set up shop for each and every performance, opening, closing, running here and running there. Jenny Mead and Georgia Standerwick striking a pose for me outside the box office. Thank you.
Thank you Carmen Southwell for your help in the research and procuring the material that will make up the Bingara Sountrails. Thank you to Bingara Central for allowing us to record with the kids. I will not miss the heat, but I will miss my long walks, the friendly people, my office upstairs in the Roxy.
See you all again in February.

Hamish Sewell interviewing primaries at Bingara Central - notice the faces in the window behind

Hamish Sewell interviewing primaries at Bingara Central – notice the faces in the window behind

Circuses and hard-won wars – Soundtrails in Bingara

Pat Brown and daughter Judy and Judy's husband, Rick

Pat Brown, her
daughter Judy and Judy’s husband, Rick

Two times today I’ve braved the Bingara heat and been to Patricia Brown’s on the western side of town. The first time was to talk to about the war. The second time to talk about the circus.

Born in Bingara in 1930, Patricia grew up on the banks of Halls Creek, as one of 10 kids. Her dad sewed up feed bags and her mum worked in the local hotel while the kids ran free and easy. When the second world war came, five of her bother’s enlisted. So keen were they for adventure and to see the world, two brothers, faked their age. 

Only three brothers made it back to Australia. One was just out of a POW camp. While the word sacrifice often seems overused when it comes to war, the full weight of its significance hit home when I listened to Patricia talk about what it meant for her family to live through this time, the price they all paid. Two medals were  issued to the Brown family in recognition of this sacrifice; one with five stars hanging – the number of sons who enlisted; the other with two stars  - the sons who died. Patricia says these medals mean a lot to her, but she doesn’t know where they are today. All she has is a picture. 

The second time I went to Patricia’s place today was to talk about the circus and while it was even hotter outside, it was cool inside and the conversation was more lighthearted. From my stool with Patricia, her daughter, Judy, and son in law, Rick, before me, I waved my microphone around madly as the conversation flew. It was all about the circus and Patricia’s favourite brother, Alec, or  ’uncle Alec’ as Judy referred to him. He joined Ashton’s circus on a whim shortly before the war ended and worked with Ashtons for the next thirty years. Alec became the clown and married Lorna the glamorous trapeze artist cum showgirl. Judy spoke about how each year when the Aston’s cavalcade drove up, it would all start up again: the setting up, a monkey one step behind Alec, the dancing dogs, the bearded man, the fat man and fat woman, the free tickets, the supping with the Astons after show time. For the Brown’s the circus was family. 

I hope to make both recordings available to the local library for this is a rich assortment of memories for these people, for this town.  For Soundtrails, I’d like to explore these two recordings in a much shorter form. Two to four minutes. So short is people’s attention when they do soundtrails, I’m told they tend to move on after two minutes – though I’ll go to four minutes because I can’t resist telling a good story. What form these stories will take will depend on the quality of my recording. What supporting material I find in the process, and how things travel while editing, remains to be seen. 

Patricia’s recount of the war – I’d like to position this story somewhere amidst the side of memorial orange tree that symbolise the fallen soldiers. This will be amidst a range of other stories connected with the war. Where exactly it is in relation to the other stories, I don’t know. With uncle Alec and the circus, I will place this story behind the IGA supermarket where Ashton’s used to erect their tent before they moved down to the showgrounds at the other end of town.  

One town, one map, so many landmarks, so many stories, so many voices.   

First week of Bingara Soundtrail

June from the local Museum with a cache of old war letters they've just discovered

June from the local museum holds up a cache of 1916 war letters between a local boy and his mother that has literally just been discovered

In searing heatwave conditions I drove down to Bingara last weekend. An interesting road and after working on Soundtrails here last year, it’s a bit of a coming home to be in this part of the world: the cyprus pine covered hills, the electric dry air, the wide roads of town.
For three days I’ve now been in Bingara and the weather has thankfully cooled down. We’ve begun compiling material for the Bingara soundtrail. Jan and Tony Miller are putting me up  (thank you) and I even have my own little recording spot in the upstairs part of the illustrious Roxy Theatre.
This is the first of three trips and I am working with Carmen Southwell and Georgia Standerwick from the Bingara Shire Council. With Carmen I’m working on a suite of stories that connect up with the memorial grove of orange trees in the centre of town. As with many of these regional towns, Bingara saw a high percentage of its young men head off to both wars and the orange trees, which were planted in the fifties as a tribute to the fallen soldiers, are now as close as it gets to hallowed status here. First they were Valencia – no good for eating I’m told – and now they’re Washington Navels. Each year there’s an orange festival where a bugle call announces picking time and the kids are unleashed. Alan Mitchell, told us this morning how as a teenager he once kicked the oranges down the street and threw them on the roofs – so poorly were the oranges regarded. Then as a school teacher things turned around and he started to see the symbolic importance of the orange trees and he found himself teaching the kids to guard over the fruit lest anyone steal them. Hence the orange police today. That’s right all you visitors to town. The orange police. Don’t even think about it!

Meanwhile Georgia and I, who have now two sound trials under our belt, are scoping out a range of other stories and sounds for town and where they might fit into a GPS map: the movie picture wars, the vision of the Greeks who built the Roxy theatre, the story behind the cumbersome rocks along the river. On and on. Am attending meetings with heritage group, the local theatre troop, the ex mayor and kids at school. Fun, challenging and much to get my head around.

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.