Community Voices

The National Oral History Association of New Zealand (NOHANZ) held their biennial conference in Wellington last weekend and I was fortunate to attend. The conference drew professional and amateur oral historians working in the most amazing range of areas –  from interviewing train drivers in Picton,  to former gang girls, to Quakers and to well known artists.

The theme was “Using Oral History in Communities” and apart from the stimulating opportunity to learn and network (for people who do a lot of listening they sure can talk!) some fascinating speakers provided great inspiration.

Gaylene Preston was one. Her War Stories our Mothers Never Told Us project produced a book and a powerful film based on the original interviews. Now she is producing a companion piece – a film called Home Before Christmas which will be out next year. It is a dramatisation of the interviews she recorded with her elderly father about his war experiences.  She writes, directs, produces and even has as small appearance and judging by the sneak preview she showed us it will be well worth seeing. Gaylene is a real Kiwi treasure and her work is well worth following up.

Pip Desmond shared the process of developing the book Trust: a true story of women and gangs. In the 1970s Pip lived and worked with a group of young women who had connections with the Black Power gang. She helped them to find work and some degree of shelter with the Aroha Trust and thirty years later she recorded their stories and worked with them while producing the book.

Jack Perkins talked about his experiences with the Spectrum documentaries on Radio New Zealand and Jacqui Foley talked about her work recording oral histories for the North Otago Museum in Oamaru. Judith Fyfe and Tony Hiles talked about working with the artist Michael Smither. Judith Fyfe recorded him in the 1980s talking about the many notebooks he kept for recording ideas. Tony Hiles is a documentary film maker who has made films with Smither before  and has now embarked on a ten year, 20 part documentary project chronicling the artist  at work. The first film, Shared Harmonics, was released in September 2009. An earlier film Flight of Fancy can be viewed on the NZ on Screen website.

Jonathan Kennett is a well known writer on cycling in New Zealand. Some years ago he interviewed the Canterbury cyclist Tino Tabak who is still our most successful Tour de France rider. This lead to Tabak asking him to write his biography, which is due for release this month and promises to be a fascinating read. Karen Hansen is a primary school teacher who is passionate about her Irish ancestry. She has recorded a number of oral histories with Irish migrants and has self published a book called New Zealand Irish Voices – Stories from Irish Migrants and their Descendants, but she has also created a multimedia dvd weaving her thoughts about her own family and her visit to Ireland with photographs and music.

Fashionistas would appreciate the chutzpah of Angela Lassig, a senior curator at Te Papa specialising in Fashion and Decorative Arts and Design. Between 2007 and 2009 she recorded interviews with a who’s who of New Zealand fashion designers as the basis for a book New Zealand Fashion Design which is due to be published in 2010. Needless to say she had to meet many conditions to build trust and rapport, she was interviewing people who are used to giving the p.r version over and over and who were super sensitive about reputation, commercial sensitivity and much more.

Based on my conference experience the future holds many exciting possibilities for community storytelling in the digital age.

5 thoughts on “Community Voices

  1. mj 5 November 2009 / 8:12 am

    Wow. Sounds like an awesome conference.

    I recently read Pip Desmond’s book and was moved by the experiences of the women, both during the hey days of Aroha Trust and their lives afterwards. And thanks for the heads up about the new Gaylene Preston film and the book by Angela Lassig.

  2. richard 6 November 2009 / 3:55 pm

    I’m pleased to see that there seems to be a lot going on in the oral history world. I really enjoy audio and soundscape style documentaries – you feel like you know someone quite well if you’ve listened to their voice for a while 🙂

  3. michelle bradley 9 November 2009 / 10:12 am

    NOHANZ is to be congratulated for provided such a diverse “feast” of presenters at the recent conference, providing a clear illustration of how the methodology of oral history has and can be used in many variations to the laid out conventions of the purist. The conference also demonstrated the immense amount of talent and enthusiasm in our community for telling stories, representating the lives and experiences of those we live amongst in Godzone – both the ordinary and extraordinary. My thanks to the confernece organisers and I invite others to check out the oral historian community – local or national.

  4. Nicola Robertson 19 November 2009 / 3:59 pm

    Marian – thanks for your wonderfully informative report on the NOHANZ conference this year (and Michelle’s comments too). I was sorry not to have made it to Wgtn and catch up with so many friendly oral historians this year – roll on conference 2011! I am particularly disappointed to miss hearing Johathan Kennett. He interviewed our neighbour, Tino Tabak, for his book. We are very excited that a fellow Lyndhurst resident (population of 7 houses!)has had his life story of cycling published. We have ordered 3 books from Tino (1 for us and 2 as Christmas presents). Keep up the good work fellow oral historians aroud Aoteoroa/NZ. The value of our work has been reinforced to me recently – from the last project I completed, 5 of 20 people interviewed have since passed away. A reminder of the value of local oral history projects.

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