Challenging the NT's Crocodile Dundee stereotype one story at a time

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Posted

October 14, 2017 08:02:19

Everyone has a story to tell — but in a tweeting era where 140 characters is the limit — is spinning a good yarn becoming a dying art?

Darwin creative producer Johanna Bell is on a mission to ensure that it isn’t.

She is leading the way by unearthing and promoting local storytelling in the Northern Territory.

Women’s Work

We all know her — the busy woman who finds time for more. We’re celebrating the extraordinary voluntary work, done by ordinary women, in the ABC’s new series Women’s Work.

“What I’m really interested in is uncovering untold stories. Indigenous storytellers, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people who’ve been in the Territory for different lengths of time,” she says.

“In Australia it’s really easy to find middle-aged white blokes that want to tell stories, they’re everywhere.

“I wanted locals to have a chance to tell their stories, in their way, and sometimes that way is pretty unique.”

Re-imagining the Territory

In 2015, Johanna saw a gap in the kind of stories Australians were hearing and decided to start an event called Spun — a live storytelling night showcasing people from the NT.

“It’s critical that a Spun event includes diversity because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to challenge the Crocodile Dundee stereotype of the Territory,” she says.

“I think it’s pretty hard to not listen to somebody who has the courage to stand up and reveal themselves.”

Johanna and her team of producers have now nurtured dozens of people from a wide range of backgrounds to pick up the microphone and share their tales with a live audience.

Spun has become a regular community event.

At the most recent Spun, John Price told his story about being a foster carer in Darwin.

“Johanna has just been fantastic, from the moment we met to talk about the story she’s kept things light-hearted. She’s helped me feel very much at ease to get that storytelling out,” he says.

Next generation storytellers

Aside from Spun, Johanna works in the community running writing and storytelling workshops with school children from diverse backgrounds, as well as programs for residents of regional NT towns.

Her latest workshop has been with Year 5 and 6 students at Malak Primary School in Darwin’s northern suburbs, where she has helped children illustrate and write picture books about local animals.

Johanna’s well qualified to inspire her students, having just received a Children’s Book Council Award for Go Home Cheeky Animals, her second book collaboration with Tennant Creek illustrator Dion Beasleyn, who is profoundly deaf and confined to a wheelchair.

Together they have created educational and fun picture books with a sense of place for Indigenous children.

“One of the reasons I like working with children and young people is that it’s an opportunity to get to them early, help shape their ideas and show that everybody’s story counts,” she says.

“If we don’t invest in them now, if we don’t help them develop the courage to take risks, then it might be a pretty sad and boring place in a decade’s time.”

Disclosure: Johanna Bell is the partner of an ABC employee. He played no role in nominating Johanna to feature in this series.

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