23 March 2009

Opportunities: Media project for refugee youth in Western Sydney

Filed under: community,education,western sydney,young writers — westword @ 3:55 pm

ICE (Information and Cultural Exchange) has announced a new project for young people in Western Sydney from a refugee background. The project—Create Media!—aims to train and mentor the young participants in developing their creative new media ideas and turning them into business ventures. It’s for young people from a refugee background aged 16-30 years, who have lived in Australia for less than 10 years, who currently reside or study in Western Sydney and have a demonstrated interest in digital media.

The official press release follows:



MEDIA RELEASE | 11 March 2009


A foot in the digital door for Western Sydney’s young refugees


Young refugees from Western Sydney will enhance their digital media skills to run their own arts enterprises through an impressive new project, titled Create Media! to be managed by Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE).


Supported by the Westpac Foundation, Create Media! aims to train and mentor a group of young participants to develop their own creative ideas, and turn them into business ventures. Ultimately, the project will select a group of participants to develop one new-media enterprise to be hosted and developed at ICE.


‘The Westpac foundation believes in enabling life long learning and education leading to employment, as well as encouraging youth leadership and empowerment, through Create Media!, young people of refugee background will use the latest technology to tell their own stories, collaborate with other artists and find long term financial sustainability’ said Dr. Gianni Zappala, Executive Officer of the Westpac Foundation.


Create Media will deliver targeted training and mentorship to participants as they develop creative ideas, digital media skills and become business savvy. The training will be supported by a work-experience and mentorship program, components of the training will be accredited, giving participants a heads-up for further study.


The key aim of the project is to support the emergence of a new media enterprise, led and managed by young refugees.


‘We want to give people the skills and ambition to turn their interest into income,’ says project coordinator Gary Paramanathan. ‘Participants need to learn how to actualise their creative ideas, and also how to present and sell them. At the end of the project, participants will have the chance to pitch to a selection panel, and the successful project will be hosted and funded at ICE through a long-term mentorship.’


ICE is at the forefront of presenting Western Sydney culture to the world. For over 20 years it has trained and assisted artists from Western Sydney, especially those from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds.


ICE is currently recruiting young people from a refugee background who have lived in Australia for less than 10 years, currently reside and/or study in Western Sydney, aged between 16-30, and have a demonstrated interest or experience in digital media.


For further information on the project please contact Gary Paramanathan on, ph: (02) 9897 5744 or email createmedia@ice.org.au

Applications close 5pm 6th of April, and can be downloaded at www.ice.org.au






12 February 2009

Bush fires—resources and how to help

Filed under: authors,books,children's lit,community,western sydney — westword @ 6:47 pm

Like everyone, I’ve been equally transfixed and distressed by the news from Victoria. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald front page story about the teachers who lost students in the fires had me weeping before breakfast. I imagine there has been lots of discussions in classrooms and families across the country about what happened and what we can do to help.

It was actually a colleague in the United States who alerted me, via the child_lit listserve, about this page on the Victorian School Library Association’s blog, about how schools can help contribute to the bushfire appeal. There are links to the major fundraising sites, plus a number of posts in the comments section about the creative things schools around the country are doing to raise funds.

I think it’s really important that young people feel as if they can do something concrete to help, and these ideas for mufti days and so on are a great idea. If your school or library or community is doing something like this, do leave a comment and share your ideas.

Similarly, I guess people might be looking for resources to help young people understand what’s happened. I’m not a great fan of bibliotherapy—I suspect the last thing a kid suffering a trauma wants to do is read a book about a kid suffering a trauma—but I was interested to note the children’s book editors from Allen and Unwin blog about a book that helped one of them as a child when she had experienced the Ash Wednesday fires. So if you have found any books that you’ve used successfully to help young people explore the emotions that this week’s events have brought up, please use the comment section to tell us about it and how and why it worked.

Children’s/YA writer Penni Russon lives in one of the fire affected towns. She and her young family weren’t at home when the fires hit, and fortunately their home was not lost. Penni has been writing about the aftermath of the fires on her Eglantine’s Cake blog. Today’s post about her young daughter’s questions is very moving indeed. I recommend Penni’s blog to you in any case, but especially at this time.

Another wonderful blog post about the fires I came across is this one at the Barista blog. The author of this blog is a scriptwriter who worked on a documentary project about the 1939 Victorian bushfires. His post “We lived again but life was different” is not only a fantastic piece of writing, it’s a wonderful resource for older students. Highly recommended.

If you’ve come across any excellent writing about the fires or other useful resources, please share them here.

Updated to include: Perry Middlemiss at the wonderful Australian Literature blog Matilda posts an extract from Charles Darwin‘s The Voyage of the Beagle. It’s a description of the Australian countryside and you won’t want to miss it. It’s so timely, because of the fires, as we all think about our landscape, but also because it’s Darwin’s 200th birthday.

10 February 2009

New year, new resolution!

Welcome back to westword and the second year of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project.

I was a bad blogger last year, and I am determined to update westword far more regularly in 2009. I will be adding posts soon about some of the highlights of 2008, and will also start listing forthcoming events and plans for the project.

I also plan to use this blog as a bit of a resource hub. In the past few months I have finally got myself organised with google reader, and have now added more than one hundred blogs, most of which deal with children’s and youth literature, literacy, publishing and related topics. (Also I am also now on Twitter, using my personal blog name (misrule_au) and am using it to post links to articles I have read of interest (as well as other bits and pieces of sense and nonsense). But I will also be putting those links here, starting with this post.

First of all is this interesting article  from new Zealand about a new approach to literacy that is having enormous success, especially with Maori students:

In the first South Auckland study, involving seven schools, each child’s reading leapt ahead by an entire year. The technique also pushed far more children into the average or above categories – 40% made these top slots before the study started, and in three years that jumped to 70%. Maori children again did particularly well. The second group of seven different schools showed similar results.

The article doesn’t go into enormous detail about the program, but it’s been written up in Reading Research Quarterly, which I was able to access through ProQuest via Blacktown Library’s database.

Over in England, the battle is on to save the school library. Spearheaded by authors Philip Pullman, Alan Gibbons and the wonderful Michael Rosen, the campaign is against closures of school libraries as well as changing their name (and focus away from books) to “learning resource centre”. Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the brilliant Millions, has also had his say on the matter:

Mr Cottrell Boyce said: “When I visit many schools, I see a big, fat, glaring, expensive anti-reading for pleasure signal.

“It stands where the library used to stand and it’s called the learning resource centre. To turn your library into a learning resource centre, you generally have to chuck out a bunch of valuable, durable assets – books – and replace them with sub-prime computers which will quickly date.”

From time to time I hear people say similar things are happening in Australian school libraries: can anyone comment? Are our school libraries in danger of refocusing away from books? Are we losing teacher-librarians from our schools? Please add your thoughts to the comment section. (Ditto public libraries, by the way—are we losing specialist children’s and youth services staff from our public libraries? We need to be really vigilant that we protect our libraries and the specialist support they offer young readers.)

Speaking of supporting young readers, and of the delightful Mr Rosen, read this article about Michael Rosen working in a school in Wales to encourage a love of reading. The BBC has made a TV show out of it (here’s the link, but we can’t watch the video outside of the UK), a la Jamie’s School Dinners. What do you reckon the chances are the ABC will screen it here? Should we start a campaign?

(And before I forget, I found this when I was looking for links to Frank Cottrell Boyce. Liverpool, where he lives, did one of those whole city reads the same book things with Millions. Isn’t this fantastic? If we did a Sydney Reads (or even a Western Sydney Reads), what book would you choose? And if you’re looking for resources to accompany Millions, don’t forget this official site from the publisher, which also happens to be very entertaining.)

Also from the UK is this rather scathing assessment of the way secondary school crush creativity, especially in boys. This is author Joe Craig speaking:


I’ve visited over 200 schools in the last couple of years, which means I must have run workshops for over 40,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time the students reach Year 8, I can predict almost word for word what their story ideas will be, from any given starting point. Even if they think they’re being subversive, in fact especially when they think that, the older the student is, the more predictable the ideas.

The biggest change comes in Year 7, which statistically is also when there’s the biggest drop off in reading – especially in boys. Now, it perhaps seems obvious that the withering of originality is greatly caused by reading less. But I think it’s also the other way round: they read less because their creative spark is consistently doused. Their connection with stories, with ideas and imagination, is stifled by the school environment. If the fun has gone from stories, why read?

I imagine if I were still in the English classroom that I’d be a bit affronted by this article, but I actually suspect there be more than a grain of truth to it. We hear stories from time to time of boy students getting into trouble for things they have written—I think it’s partly teachers’ reasonable concerns about their legal responsibilities to report potential threats or child endangerment, but I do think that Craig is spot on when he suggests that boys’ “wacky ideas” need to be celebrated. Girls’ too, for that matter. (The stuff this article raises about gender as it pertains to reading, writing and classroom practice are, I think, fascinating.)

This is a very UK-centric post, for which I don’t apologise—I think it’s important we keep track of what’s happening with our colleagues, and with education and books and authors and so on around the world. Having said that, I popped over to the Sydney Morning Herald to see if there were any articles of interest in their Education section, and I got a “page not found” message. Humph.

More soon!

20 October 2008

(Light) Operatunity

Filed under: books,children's lit,community — westword @ 5:30 pm

I know, I pinched that name from the ABC. Nevertheless, I wanted to let people know about an opportunity that brings together children’s literature and theatre. The Kookaburra musical theatre company has set up an education program, along the lines of Bell Shakespeare‘s successful schools’ program, I guess you could say. Kookaburra were touring around the state with a couple of shows last termone for primary, one for secondary students—and by all accounts it was very successful.

The next thing they have on offer is an “enrichment experience” (clunky name, but we’ll forgive them that) with their forth-coming production of the musical version of Louisa May Alcott‘s classic novel Little Women. The event, to be held on Saturday 15 November, offers young audience members a backshow “sneak and peek” before a matinee performance, and then a Q&A session after the show. And they get to see the show, of course! Sounds like fun, and an excellent opportunity for young people interested in theatre, and for fans of the book.

Follow the link above on “enrichment experience” and it should take you to a pdf with all the details.


Filed under: books,community,libraries,schools — westword @ 4:59 pm

That’s what the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project is all about: opportunities for young readers and writers, but also for their teachers and librarians. Opportunities to participate in events, to meet and work with authors and illustrators, but also opportunities to help others out, which brings me to today’s post:

A young man named Morgan (he’s 16, but I am not sure where in Australia he lives) is building a library in Fiji, where he has worked as a volunteer during his last two winter school holidays. I’ll let Morgan speak for himself (which he is clearly more than capable of doing!):

My name is Morgan Hayton. I am 16 years old.

I have spent my winter school holidays for two years in Fiji volunteering at a local school as part of my schools mission team. We visit a very remote school that is struggling and has only handful books in the whole school, the teachers there can only dream of starting a library.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? But think it is impossible because we are just one person? Me too. But then I came up with this idea.

We are going to build a library together.

One person, one book at a time.

One person can’t build a library but if everyone that reads this gets a book from their bookshelf (they don’t have to be new) and posts it to the school in Fiji, we can build a library together.

Step 1
A small book no more 2cm thick up to 250g ( that’s like a Dr Seuss soft cover) in an A4 envelope costs $4.20 to post.

There is no sea mail to Fiji so this is the best way to get books there. Mark the package either used book, ift or printed matter only.

Namara Village District School
Namara Village

Step 2
Please write your a small bit about yourself or family inside the cover the kids would love to know who you are and where to book came from.

Step 3 Tell a friend

Checkout my photos go to my facebook page “Books for Fiji” or email my at
and I will keep in touch and next June when I visit I will take some more photos and show you what some great people can do.

Thank you

I know you can’t access Facebook from school, but nevertheless you can join Morgan’s Facebook group here.

I always love it when young people take an initiative like this, so if you have a spare children’s book and a spare few dollars lying around, why not send that book off to Fiji.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to support our own Indigenous Literacy Project.

More soon: opportunities galore!

1 July 2008

Planning in progress

I am busy at the moment putting together some programs that I want to pilot in the second half of this year—which, of course, is already upon us! How did that happen?

There is, I was pleased to discover, a decent amount of money in my program budget, which will allow me to run some substantial pilots at no cost to the sorganisations who may be involved. I have a few program ideas I am working on, involving writers and illustrators of books for young people—graphic novels and “make a book” programs are two potential programs—and designed to run one day/session per week over a number of weeks, rather than a one-off workshop. It’s engagement over time we’re aiming for with the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Program, for what the good folk at The Song Room call sustained outcomes.

Next step—well, one step of many to come—is to identify the schools, libraries, community groups, perhaps even TAFE courses (for a skills development component where relevant) to work with on these pilot projects. I have a few ideas about how to go about this: working with education department consultants, putting out for expressions of interest, taking enquiries through this blog…

Once we’ve worked on these pilot programs, the idea is to “package” them so that other groups across the region (and state) can take them up.

I’m also working with the curator and cultural advisor on the Penrith Regional Gallery‘s Strictly Samoan program. Depending on funding, we’re hoping to work with three schools in the Penrith area which have significant numbers of Samoan students on a storytelling and writing project. The schools for this project have already been identified, so stay tuned as to how this project will develop. (Similarly, I’m hoping to get up a writing project associated with two arts and historical exhibitions coming up in Parramatta later this year.)

So, busy days, and exciting prospects—and yet there’s lots more it’s still too early to report on!  So bookmark or subscribe to the blog, and I’ll keep you posted.

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!

11 February 2008

Welcome to westword


This blog is attached to a new project supported by the NSW Department of Education and Training and Arts NSW. The purpose of the project is to develop programs to engage the children and youth of the greater western Sydney region with literature, both as audience and as creators.

Your (primary) blogger is me, Judith Ridge. I was appointed to direct this new project late last year—my title is Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer. I work three days a week (Mon-Wed) out of the arts and cultural development unit at Blacktown City Council. I will be working with community and arts organisations, schools and libraries and anyone else with bright ideas, energy and a commitment to bringing innovative children’s/young adult literature-based programs to the region. You might like to read my report from my 2001 Churchill Fellowship, which gave me the opportunity to study community-based literature programs for young people, and which has provided an enormous amount of inspiration for this position.

My brief is wide—from early childhood to school leavers and, perhaps, beyond. I also plan to develop professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians, information sessions and resources for parents and carers, and support for adults wanting to write for children and young adults.

My definition of literature, for the purposes of the position, is broad—I’ll be working with traditional and contemporary forms of the book (including graphic novels and manga), and also with technology, Web 2.0, zines, writing for performance and so on.

I’ve set this blog up for a few reasons. First of all, there are a lot of people interested in how the project develops, and this will be a way of documenting and communicating progress. I will also be listing opportunities and events for young writers and readers, and other arts- and literature-related news. I’m also going to leave it open for my colleagues in arts and community projects in western Sydney to become fellow wordwest bloggers and add their own entries.

I hope that westword will become a communication and resource hub for the project, and that lots of people will get involved. In time, the plan is for a website with many opportunities for interaction, especially by children and young adults. westword is not exactly an interim measure, as I hope it will take on a life of its own, but there will be plenty more to come.

So, join me! (And bear with me as I explore the Word Press blogware.)

Finally, thanks to Jennie K for suggesting the name of the blog.

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