– by Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Sunday March 22
A grey Sunday morning couldn’t dampen the warm welcome at Where the Deadly Words Are: Us Mob. Writers of diverse ages and backgrounds gathered at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) for a writing workshop run by Us Mob Writers. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed with participants being greeted at the door. A morning tea provided at one end of the room added to the convivial atmosphere.
Proceedings took place at ring of conference tables decorated with photos and sprigs of eucalyptus. Dr Jeanine Leane opened with an acknowledgement of the Ngunnawal people –the traditional custodians of the land on which the workshop took place, her Wiradjuri ancestors and the Indigenous Australians present in the audience. Introductions were followed by beautiful ceremony led by Kerry Reed-Gilbert. Participants were invited to close their eyes and have their face daubed with ochre by Us Mob while gentle music played in the background. This then became the first writing prompt of the day, with participants asked to reflect on their experience. Many were clearly moved and the work shared afterwards held common themes of belonging and spirituality.
Sharing such raw work can be intimidating for even the most experienced writer and several participants who shared their work expressed doubts regarding the quality. The next writing exercise was designed to help overcome that. A single word served as a prompt for three minutes of continuous writing. The results touched on issues of identity, such as personal experiences of what it is like to be a new migrant to Australia.
With the workshop almost half over already (time flies when you’re having fun), there was a quick break for tea, coffee and some delicious lemon myrtle damper that formed part of the morning tea. Then it was back into the writing exercises. Participants were split into two groups, with one group remaining in the conference room while the other relocated to the foyer. Each participant was given a list of half-a-dozen words that were particularly meaningful to Us Mob and asked to write something using those words. More time spent unpacking how those words were meaningful to Us Mob would have made for a more rewarding experience.
The final writing exercise involved using photographs as prompts, with the group in the foyer examining the photos AIATSIS had on display and the group in the conference room utilising the photos provided by Kerry Reed-Gilbert.
After sharing the results, the groups reunited and the workshop was wrapped up with readings from the Us Mob Writers.
The prompt-based approach wasn’t suited to all writers, but the workshop remained a valuable experience for forging connections and grappling with cultural heritage, making Where the Deadly Words Are a highlight of the Noted Festival.
(Photo credit: Yasmin Masri)
Elizabeth Fitzgerald is a freelance editor and owner of Earl Grey Editing. She is a committee member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and served as Secretary in 2011 and 2012. She also previously ran their novel critiquing circle. Her short stories have been published in Burley, Issue #2and the CSFG anthology Next, and she has had poetry published in FIRST in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Her weaknesses are books, loose-leaf tea and silly dogs. She tweets @elizabeth_fitz