A fresh look at history
Updated: Aug 27
When a great cook gets in the kitchen, they open the fridge, see the ingredients and get an idea of what they can make. That’s what I’m like as a storyteller. I can see fragments of research and the client’s goals and immediately I know what I’ll make.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been creating content for the Facebook Page Victoria Remembers to mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War in Australia. I'm working on this with the incredible women at Pitch Projects, for The Department of Veterans Affairs.
This is where I’m most at home, scouring partial ingredients of a story, knowing where I need to go deeper to complete the meal.
A good cook is equally happy in a commercial kitchen or souring cupboards at a friend’s house. Likewise, I’m just as happy crafting stories for an individual as for an organisation.
The only condition for my creativity to come alive is that it has to feel like the intention is fundamentally good and the story is true. If I feel like the intention is mercenary, or dishonest, I’ll get choked up.
Boiling down the details a story into a compelling narrative is as simple as reducing a white sauce. Quite simple really, but not that many people can do it without the sauce getting lumpy. Just look around the content you see on social media - most of it is straight out of a packet.
Each of the stories that I research for the WWII project had an obvious story arc in that there was always a character with complication to get over - the war. But each story had its own themes. And each theme has more resonance when looked at through contemporary eyes.
Here's an example of one of the most compelling stories, a man who fought for his country before he was even classified as a human.
As a young aboriginal man, Reg Saunders grew up around the stories of colonial wars and the wars of nations. He hunted his own food, he spent time in the bush.
His daughter Aunty Glenda Humes explains: “It was really about the people around him, his aboriginal family, the boys he played cricket or football with. The stories about his land, his country that needed protecting. Those were the things dad joined up for, it wasn't about king or country.
Reg Saunders accomplished extraordinary achievements in his military career. He was Australia’s first Indigenous officer and he later rose to become a captain.
After his first experience of close combat, he spent 11 months as a fugitive evading capture on Crete.
However, on returning to Australia, he found that his lack of status meant few jobs were open to him.
His daughter explains; “When he left the army there was nothing for him. He had commanded troops in a time of great victories, but when he came back, for him there was no job waiting.
It was a very difficult time for my father after the war. He had to work in labouring jobs. He had to deal with racist comments. He felt more comfortable with his army mates.”
Saunders later led the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) during the Battle of Kapyong in the Korean War.
It wasn’t until after the 1967 Referendum, however, that opportunities in civilian life started to open up for him.
After retiring from the army, Reg eventually moved to Canberra to the office of Aboriginal Affairs which later became the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He was a great advocate for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and returned soldiers.
In this interview, Aunty Glenda Humes, daughter of Captain Reginald ‘Reg’ Saunders, reflects on her father’s service in the Australian army and the challenges he faced as an Aboriginal man in post-war Australia. Watch the full interview here: https://www.wwiiathome.com.au/crs.html
When we tell a story we don’t tell people what to make of it. We present our narrative and they bring their own experiences and perspectives to it.
I’m proud to be part of a process where Australians look at their own history honestly and take stock.
Image: Captain Reg Saunders, Australian War Memorial