Tiny schools and big ideas.

By jessica bellamy

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It’s Week 7 of the Outback Story Generator and I’m about to finish my time in regional NSW. It is very sad to leave, and to deal with the sadness, I am eating double dessert at every meal.

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My last week of work involved continuing my classroom sessions with the Year 10 boys of Deniliquin High, as well as teaching drama workshops at 5 primary schools around the area.

Claire Harris and I had a hilarious and exhausting time visiting Deni North, Deni South, St Michael’s, Conargo and Mayrung Schools. The last two schools are very remote and very tiny, with a whole cohort of only about 30 children. Sometimes our group of K-2s consisted of 5 kids. Sometimes our group of K-6 consisted of 40 all together. It was a great chance to work things out on the fly and feign supreme confidence through it all!

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It was also exciting to get to know these energetic and creative young minds and to share with them the fun of theatre-making.

I was lucky enough to participate in a night of creative exchange with the Deniliquin Creative Writers and the Bush Poets last Tuesday. They each shared information about their organisation and the work they do, as did I, and we read out some of our recent work. Then we ate a lot of cheese and gossiped. I also found out how to butcher a cow.

Friday culminated in the last live stream of the project. We shared the fantastic stories written by the boys from 10B to an excited group from Hay Memorial High. There was a particularly fun Q&A session afterwards where Jake from Deni High had to give a Hay High student the proper rundown of pig hunting. We all learnt something, and let’s never speak of it again.

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The final week of this project has been one of the best experiences I’ve had as a writer: the Writing Boot Camp.

Talented young writers from Deni and Griffith have come together at the Big 4 Caravan Park to take a 3 day masterclass in writing techniques.

Not only does this caravan park have a massive jumping balloon, it also has lots of nice tranquil spots to sit down in and write a masterpiece.

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I have been working with the young women on this camp on their own creative blueprint, on character-writing, structure, stakes, and dramatic action. Today our work culminated in a guide to pitch-writing. As I type, I’m surrounded by diligent young writers all working on their own pitch of a play or other creative work.

They have big ideas about small-town life. They are writing about what matters to them, and making it applicable to everyone, not just fellow regional Australians. These young people have a lot to say, and I really hope they get to share it as widely as possible.

(There’s also a cute dog here called Lily who’s watching us carefully and making sure we get very good work done.)

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So. With a heavy heart and a stomach full of deep-fried ice cream, I’m getting ready to farewell the Riverina region…for now. It’s definitely not goodbye, since I still get to mentor the winner of the EMERGE commission during the drafting of their own outback story.

It has been a real pleasure to work on the Outback Story Generator and to immerse myself in an entirely different sort of lifestyle. I will treasure these memories for a very long time.

Thanks OTYP!