12 February 2008

First report

Filed under: children's lit,community,libraries,western sydney,ya lit — westword @ 8:51 pm

Day two on the westword blog. I’ve sent emails out today to start letting people know this blog is here, and I’m hoping word will start to get out fairly quickly.

I thought I should give readers some background to the position and document my early investigations into how this new project may develop.

The position now known as Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer has been a long time coming. The Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria has been well established for some years now, ditto the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre, but Sydney/NSW has been without a dedicated position of this nature. There has been lobbying to establish such a position—and centre—for a long time, most notably in the last few years by author Libby Gleeson, and I think it’s fair to say that without Libby’s dedication, it may never have happened. Libby, along with representatives from the education department, Arts NSW, the Blacktown Arts and Cultural Development unit and Blacktown City Library make up the advisory board for the project.

Starting a new job, and project, from scratch has been an exciting and at times daunting prospect. Since starting in the position in early December, I’ve been undertaking an “audit” of existing arts and community projects in the greater western Sydney area, meeting key people and starting to get and understanding and formulate ideas about priority areas for the project.

One thing I needed to do early on was get a sense of the very diverse community of the region. Western Sydney is by no means foreign territory to me—I have lived and worked in the west and south west—but even so it’s been important to get past my own experience and assumptions. Community development officers from various local councils have been invaluable in this regard. They’ve helped me get an understanding of the demographics—the fact that, socio-economically, the region has some of the most disadvantaged communities in Sydney as well as a large number of young professional families. It’s also a young region—Blacktown local government area (LGA), for example, has the largest 0-4 population in Australia. And of course, there are scads of older children and teenagers, and not as many resources and activities for them as in more privileged parts of the city.

The region has many emerging communities, a good proportion of them from refugee backgrounds—Afghani and various African nationals. There are significant (and is some instances long-standing) south-east Asian and Pacific Islander communities. And there is a large Aboriginal community as well. (If I’ve left anyone out, apologies! I’m still learning.)

Western Sydney has a very lively and innovative arts scene, particularly in the areas of visual and performing arts, but little in the way of literary events outside of some library initiatives and satellite Sydney Writers’ Festival programs. So there’s an enormous amount of good will around this new project, and a genuine feel of excitement at the possibilities. The people I have met with—staff from cultural centres and galleries; children’s and youth services librarians; curators; program directors; community development workers from various western Sydney councils—have been uniformly enthusiastic and willing to offer whatever support they can. (We are just a week into the new school year, and I am beginning to contact the education community.)

Already I can see three ways my position will work.

1. Developing original programs. I’ll have my own ideas and initiatives that I want to work on, and I’m very fortunate to have access to a large range of venues across the regions and colleagues willing to support such initiatives. A couple of ideas I hope to work on sooner rather than later include a program of graphic novel workshops and establishing a creative writing group for teenagers. I am also looking to mounting a couple of “travelling” programs with children’s/YA writers and illustrators, with me developing the program and then offering it as a partnership deal to public libraries and possibly other arts centres. (And credit where it’s due—Mylee Joseph from the State Library of NSW suggested this as an efficient way of spreading the workload and resources around this enormous region.)

In the longer term, I want to raise gazillions of dollars to establish an on-going author in residence program for priority schools and establishing an annual writers’ camp for teenagers.

2. Responding to already identified areas of priority by working with (piggybacking on!) existing programs developed by other cultural centres and community development officers. For example, one of the regional galleries has planned an extensive cultural program with one of their Pacific Islander communities later this year—it will involve exhibitions and various public programs and events. The curator and I have discussed developing an inter-generational, bilingual writing project as part of the program. Another arts centre is interested in developing projects involving youth and technology, so I’m investigating how we might develop a project involving narrative/storytelling and technology.

A community development officer I’ve met with is looking at ways of involving literature, books and reading and creative writing in projects designed to support some of the most disadvantaged and disconnected communities in her LGA. We’re talking about involving some children’s writers/illustrators in a “Neighbourhood Stories” project, and developing an “Adopt a Community” project to get books into these needy communities (and publishers reading this?).

I’m keen on seeing how I can work with young parents, modelled on the Literature for All of Us program I saw in Chicago on my Churchill Fellowship.

I’ve already organised a zine workshop to run at Blacktown’s Youth Week festival “The Burbs”, which may develop into a longer-term zine program across the region, and I’m working with the library on its Sydney Writers’ Festival event.

3. I very much see the position as functioning as a resource and communication hub (thus this blog). I have extensive connections with the writing and publishing community, and I am hoping that people will start to think of me as someone they can come to for ideas, contacts and information about the wide and wonderful world of children’s and youth literature. Part of this will be developing professional development opportunities and resources; it will involve networking and hopefully, helping people with little or no access to the cultural and publishing communities bridge that very large divide.

There’s also the possibility of developing partnerships with academics in the areas of teacher training and literature. I’m particularly interested in seeing how I might work with already existing research projects into engagement with the arts, including author-in-schools programs.

So, big plans—and I am open to ideas and offers of partner projects. As Ben Lee sings, we’re all in this together!


  1. Just a thought about the proposed graphic novel workshops – there is a great young graphic novel artist named Matt Huynh (Stikman) who has done a couple of excellent sessions for us. His webpage is:
    http://stikman.netica.com.au/comic.htm if you want to have a look at his work.
    The project looks really exciting, looking forward to being involved in some way.

    Comment by Carolyn — 13 February 2008 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  2. That’s excellent, Carolyn. Thanks for the tip!



    Comment by westword — 13 February 2008 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  3. Looking forward to working with you, Judith. How about visiting us one day soon? J

    Comment by Jan@Delany — 18 February 2008 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  4. Hi Judith,

    Congratulations, sounds like your dream job has found you at last! Your ideas sound great and I am happy to offer any support I can. All the best with the program. Laurine

    Comment by laurine croasdale — 18 February 2008 @ 11:52 am | Reply

  5. PS oops, I put Lindy Batchelor’s email on the last comment instead of mine. Sorry!

    Comment by laurine croasdale — 18 February 2008 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  6. Looking forward to meeting you on Monday Judith! I’m meeting with the English method students this afternoon and will encourage them to enagage with you via the blog as well. We are exctited (here at UWS)…

    Comment by Susanne Gannon — 20 February 2008 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  7. Excited (I mean)

    Comment by Susanne Gannon — 20 February 2008 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  8. Hi Judith,
    sounds great, looking forward to writing about the writing!
    have you heard of Powerhouse Youth Theatre’s (fairfield) project with Canberra Youth theatre? They developed an online soap which they wrote and are now shooting and editing. Go to http://www.pyt.com.au/ and on the ‘whats on’ page it will give you more information. Claudia Chidiac (artistic director of pyt) might have ideas on how that online process worked.
    talk soon

    Comment by Jo Winchester — 20 February 2008 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  9. Hi again Judith,

    NSW DET launched a brand new blog format for the Libraries and Information Literacy Unit’s book rap on the picture book, “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” at http://rapblog.edublogs.org/

    Lots of emails and blog entries back and forth, helping numerous new educator bloggers to blog for the first time! I thought you might like to lurk or take part?

    Comment by Ian McLean — 22 February 2008 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

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