Inspiring Australians – deepening the heart (and sharpening the brain!)

October 26, 2015 at 1:04 am | Posted in Books, Winston Churchill | Leave a comment
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The Irish have a saying, ‘A good story deepens the heart.’ I borrowed it for the blurb of my new book, Inspiring Australians: The first fifty years of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (Australian Scholarly Publishers, October 2015.) Finishing it was, as I’d suspected it might be, like doing a PhD in one year. But more fun. (Even though intellectually a tall order. But it’s good to have the opportunity to sharpen the brain by organizing a vast quantity of information into something readable and entertaining.) It took about a year full-time – before that I was writing it on the side of a four-day a week job so took longer than a year but was very part-time before I resigned from the day job. And now I’m back, beginning again on my long-neglected blog and happy to be here.

‘We all love stories. We’re born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.’ (Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED Macmillan, 2014, p. 52)

Connecting through stories is the basis of my blog, where I can share with others my love of language and ideas, literature, film and the arts in general. No wonder there are so many blogs – they present the opportunity to connect with people, to be creative and to express oneself. All these are very good things!

One of the Churchill Fellows I interviewed last year for the book was Richard Fidler, whose ABC radio program ‘Conversations’ is the most downloaded podcast of the ABC. It’s not surprising because Richard’s ‘Conversations’ with ordinary people reveal the most extraordinary stories.

Google and you’ll find the podcasts and lists of guests over many years. The most recent conversation that had me dropping my jaw with amazement and also had me laughing was with an Irish guy who lives now in Australia, called Martin McKenna. He ran away from home and lived with street dogs and he knows things about dogs that most people don’t, and has, in spite of his tough life – or perhaps because of it – an idiosyncratic wisdom and an uplifting story to tell. He has written a few books too, which I can’t wait to read.

A previous conversation that Richard Fidler recommended once was with Wendy James, who experienced the World War II bombing of Darwin and Cyclone Tracy there in 1974. You should look her up too – remarkable woman. The one I have laughed at loudest is Greg Fleet, an ex-heroin addict and comedian. And how could you miss the wonderful, engaging writer Iain McCalman on his most recent book on the Great Barrier Reef and about other fascinating things? You can go through the Recent Guests or look them up alphabetically by their name and there you have at your fingertips free access to wondrous stories of the lives of people like you and me who have weathered some storms and lived to tell the tale.

I listen to a Richard Fidler Conversation nearly every day. If a good story deepens the heart then my heart must be deep indeed – and it is, what with those stories combined with a probable average of two books a week since I was little, and I learnt to read at four. (My favourite book at five was R. M. Ballantyne’s Martin Rattler, which I identified with immediately when I read the first sentence: ‘Martin Rattler was a very bad boy.’ Ballantyne’s more famous The Coral Island influenced Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, another much-loved book. I loved my older brother’s books about boys’ adventures and became a Tomboy, in isolated East Gippsland and later when we moved to Sydney.)

I grew up to have my own adventures travelling and meeting amazing people, and as a free-lance writer I’m happy to say the adventures continue. Hearing the stories of the Churchill Fellows for the book Inspiring Australians – and also the Board and Committee members, volunteers and other workers connected with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – was fascinating and, like the people on Richard Fidler’s ‘Conversations’ they are optimistic and uplifting because they are resourceful people who put their energy into interesting, worthwhile activities.

The Churchill Fellows whose stories I tell in the book are the tip of an iceberg, to coin a cliché, because otherwise there would have to be about fifteen volumes to cover fifty years’ worth of Churchill Fellows. But every Churchill Fellow’s name is in the book, listed alphabetically at the back, and if they looked at the cover (a collage of hundreds of Fellows’ tiny portraits making up a portrait of Churchill) through a magnifying glass perhaps they could spot their photo. One Fellow I hadn’t had the space to mention in the text laughed at that and said at the Sydney book launch, clutching his book, ‘Don’t worry – I’m going to do exactly that when I get home!’

They say that busy-work comes from your To Do list but good work comes from your heart. Yes, I’ve been busy writing this book but it came from my heart because I was so fascinated with the Churchill Fellows whose stories I was telling in the book. Writing Inspiring Australians was an honour and a joy because of the stories that unfolded and I got to meet smart, entertaining, adventurous people like Philip Green, eco-educator, and David Goldie, film maker, and Helen Lochhead, vibrant, visionary architect and so much more, and because I share the ideals of the Churchill Trust. For those ideals and more plus a way to buy the book if you don’t want to wait for the Canberra book launch (6.00 p.m., 30 November, National Library of Australia) look up

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