Skywriters Newsletter #1

May 2017: Our first Skywriters newsletter about our future  challenges, our first ‘big gig’ in Parkes on 8/9 July, our new members-only Facebook group, our Wiradjuri Skywriters Pilot Project, a brief recap on our Project’s goals and aspirations, a reminder about the May MOOC, and observations about the poor internet service many of our rural Skywriters still suffer. Plus photos from all those fantastic Skywriters launches in March/April 2017!

Greetings dear Skywriters

We now have more than 100 registered Skywriters (110 at last count!), a dozen Skywriters Hubs, and three new writing groups (Orange, Forbes and Condobolin) within our 700 Kilometre Array region, as already reported on Facebook and our web site. Congratulations to all of us on this achievement!

Narrabri Skywriters Launch, 27 March 2017: Guest speaker, astrophysicist Jamie Stevens, Senior Systems Scientist at CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) near Narrabri – and now a Skywriter himself – discusses ATCA’s most significant discoveries with fellow Skywriters.

Meeting you all, and listening to your ideas for your skystories, has been been both inspiring and a great privilege for me. Thank you. My apologies, however, for taking so long to get this first newsletter together, and for not sending welcome emails to many of you after your local launches! March and April, when we were establishing our Skywriters Hubs, were fairly rugged months for me – especially in the northern half of our 700KA where the tail end of Cyclone Debbie caught up with me – and I’ve taken a while to recover! Thank you for being so patient.

So now to our Skywriting future: the twin challenges of deeply-thinking-about and crafting our skystories, and welding ourselves into an enduring inland network to nurture, support and sustain our creative writing hopes and habits.

Gilgandra Skywriters Launch, 25 March 2017: Library manager and Skywriter, Liz McCutcheon, and Merrill Findlay  and the assembled Gilgandra Skywriters cut the now-legendary blue Launch Cake .

To begin the welding process, Sine Dellit, one of our Orange Skywriters, is administering our members-only Facebook group (see below), and I’m doing other stuff, including negotiating our first’ big gig’ to be held at Parkes. With these two modes of meeting – virtual and in-the-flesh – we’ll be able to get to know one another, chat about our writing, exchange ideas and skills, listen to guest speakers telling us how important we Creatives are to society, do a bit of astronomy, and, hopefully, find support and inspiration.

Grenfell Skywriters Launch, 20 March 2017: Grenfell Skywriters with Henry Lawson, Grenfell’s iconic C19th poet, as sculpted by Gillie and Marc Schattner in 2014.


Our first Big Gig will be held in Parkes on the weekend of 8/9 July 2017, at two venues, Parkes Shire Council’s Coventry Room, and The Dish Cafe, at the Parkes Observatory. It will be co-hosted by Parkes Shire Council, Arts OutWest and the Big Skies Collaboration, with other in-kind supporters. All Skywriters and their friends are invited – and (except for the dinner) it’s all free. Please let us know you’ll be attending via our FB Event.

Parkes Skywriters Launch, 22 March 2017 – plus a little cheeky headwriting with the the Parkes Shire Mayor, Clr Ken Keith OAM – who wore his special astro-tie for the occasion!

We’re trying to make this event as interesting, easy (and inexpensive) as possible, especially for Skywriters at either end of our 700KA who’ll have long way to travel. We’ll be starting early on the Saturday afternoon (so long distance travellers can drive in daylight), with one or more keynote speakers, an exhibition of Scott Towney’s Wiradjuri Constellation Art, possibly a screening of Ellie Gilbert’s feature documentary, Sky Stories of the Dreaming, and a Saturday night dinner (plus astro-speaker?) at The Dish Cafe. With lots of networking and sharing opportunities. We’ll meet up again the following morning, Sunday, with a few speakers, some genre-specific ’round tables’ and skill-sharing, then lunch, accompanied by some space-themed live music before the drive home.

Everything, except meals and accommodation, will be free to Skywriters under this plan. How does that sound?  To make it even easier for our long-distances travellers, some of the Skywriters living in or near Parkes might like to make their spare rooms available. Something to chat about in the FB group perhaps.

Dubbo Skywriters Launch, 23 March 2017.

Our second Big Gig will be in Dubbo, at the Outback Writers’ Centre‘s WordFestWordFest, 15-17 September 2017. (Val, would you like to tell us more about this in our next newsletter?) Other Skywriters gigs will probably be held at or near Coonabarabran’s Siding Spring Observatory, the Bathurst Observatory, and Mt Stromlo Observatory in 2018.

WarrenSkywritersShirleyTodhunter,AnnetteIrving&ClrKarleneIrving 21March2017-DSC02257
Warren Skywriters Launch, 21 March 2017: Warren Shire Councillor Karlene Irving, with two of the district’s published authors, Shirley Todhunter and Annette Irving, and their books. All three are now Skywriters.

Sine Dellit, our volunteer FB group administrator, is now waiting for you to click on our members-only Skywriters group and start chatting. Sine recently made the tree-change to Orange with her family after working as a lawyer in ‘ the big smoke’. She joined Skywriters, she told me, because she was eager to connect with other writers and creatives in the region,  and because she loves reading, writing and taking photos of the night sky. In her own creative work, Sine is experimenting with all kinds fiction and non-fiction, but is particularly drawn to history and historical fiction, detective stories and folk tales. So anyone else into these genres in or around Orange?

Orange Skywriters Launch, 7 April 2017. That’s Sine Dellit, our FB group administrator, with the orange scarf around her neck on the far side of the table.

As a lawyer, Sine is very aware of privacy issues on FB, and has some excellent advice about what to post, what not to, and why. (You can ask her about all this once you’ve joined the group.) She has set down a few firm guidelines for using the group to ensure that it remains a safe and pleasant meeting space.

Sine’s guide for joining our FB group and enjoying it
“This is a closed, members-only group for the writers participating in the Skywriters Project, a space for sharing ideas, encouragement and support and getting to know one another,” Sine told me by email. Her instructions for joining are below.

* Follow this link s/241779279581095 s/241779279581095/ and click the button. Sine will approve all registered Skywriters’ requests.

* Once you’ve joined up, please read the pinned Welcome post and then introduce yourselves in comments below. If you are using the Facebook App, just remember that you’ll need to tap the View Pinned Post tab at the top of the page to see it. It sits just under the horizontal bar with the Joined, Add Members, Search and Info tabs.

* If your Facebook name is different to your Skywriter’s registration name, please email Sine at smdellit[at] so she’ll know who you are when your join request comes through!

Bathurst Skywriters Lauch, 11 March 2017.

Sine’s basic guidelines for the FB group …
In order to help us all get the most out of this space, just remember that this is a group focused around the Skywriters Project to help us:
// connect with each other
// ask questions
// share ideas
// celebrate achievements
// reach out to one another to collaborate
// support us to create new works
// share our work on-line

“In essence, be kind,” Sine advised. “Constructive criticism honors the positive and suggests things in a tone that is clearly supportive. And please remember that our group is not a place for selling or other types of self-promotion. We hope you understand that any promotional posts or comments we do see will be removed.”

If you are in any doubt about what to post and what not to, then please check with the Sine before you post. That’s what she is there for!

Forbes Skywriters Launch, 6 April 2017.

What NOT to post on the FB group
“It goes without saying that you must not post or make comments if the copyright is the property of somebody else, or might be,” Sine warned. “Also, don’t post anything that is
// defamatory, discriminatory, offensive or pornographic,
// threatening or abusive
// a breach of another person’s privacy
// considered as spam.”

“Any of this type of material with be removed, and the member will be warned. If the member contributes anything further of that nature they will be removed from the group.”

Coonabarabran Skywriters Launch, 4 March 2017.

Other things to keep in mind on FB
“If you are not currently a member of Facebook, I would really encourage you to give it a go.” Sine sais. “It’s free and quick to join, and pretty simple to use once you understand the basics of how it’s set out. However, if you are new to Facebook there are a couple of things to keep in mind.”

“The first is that, once you add something onto Facebook, Facebook can use it in a wide variety of ways without asking for your permission. So, if you’d like to share your work, please post a link to it rather than writing it in a post or uploading it as a document to Facebook.”

“The second is that, even though this is a closed Facebook group – which means that non-members can see that the group exists and that you are a member, but cannot see the content inside – if you post personal information, it will be managed in accordance with Facebook’s privacy policy, over which we have no control!”

Ao yes, sign in and have a go anyway! Sine will do her best to keep you safe!

Cowra Skywriters Launch, 8 April 2017: cutting the silver ribbon to formally open the Skywriters Hub at the Cowra Library.

Even though we Skywriters are a pretty diverse bunch in terms of our ages, backgrounds, abilities, genders, ethnicity, and other identities, we’ve so far been unable to reach out to many First Nations writers and aspiring writers. For me, this is not good enough in the twenty-first century! I discussed the problem with people in Condobolin … and, as a result, we now have a new Project Partner, the Wiradjuri Study Centre, and a pilot project to encourage Wiradjuri storytellers to author their own skystories in their own ways.

Wiradjuri Skywriters Project mentor and elder, Mary Whighton, and project manager  Vicki Swadling checking out our Big Skies Collaboration web site at the Wiradjuri Study Centre, Condobolin, May 2017.

We’ll be working with project mentor and Wiradjuri elder Mary Wighton, and the Study Centre’s financial officer/project manager Vicki Swadling, with the support of Condo librarian Theresa Jude, Arts OutWest, and others. Vicki submitted our first grant application last Friday. It might take a few more submissions until we get the funding we need, but I feel really good about this pilot project. Thank you Mary and Vicki. It will be a great pleasure working with you and your community.

We have at least 5 goals to achieve over the next two years of our Skywriters Project

  • to  each beautifully craft at least one piece of work of up to 3,000 words, in any genre (except polemic and propaganda) to publication standard
  • to publish an edited anthology of skywritings as an e-book and probably as a traditional dead-tree book, for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Walk in 2019
  • to also publish the skystories on the Big Skies Collaboration online database
  • to establish an inclusively supportive network of creative writers within our 700 Kilometre Array region, and grow this into something that will endure beyond the life of our project
  • to each find satisfaction, fulfilment, fellowship, even joy from our skywriting, and
  • to Dream Big!
Parkes Skywriters Launch, 22 March 2017.

And what about that MOOC I mentioned at our launches? It’s free and starts this month (May) through the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. (MOOC stands for Massive Open On-line Course.)  I’ve registered, as have a few other Skywriters. So why not check it out if you haven’t already done so, and start moocing in May too?

Condobolin Skywriters Launch, 15 March 2017.

Many well-known authors have also posted their own creative writing courses on Youtube. If you haven’t already tried some of these, why not have a go? We all need to learn new skills and brush up our existing ones from time to time! Maybe we can talk about this in the FB group, or when we meet up again at Parkes.

I’m very aware that, for a variety of reasons, some of our Skywriters have zero or very little access to the internet. For them, our dependence on online media and modes of communication is discriminatory, as one of our Skywriters, Simon Pockley, mentioned at our Coonabarabran launch. I still don’t know what to do to about this. (Yes, we’re already hand-delivering and snailmailing things to some of our older Skywriters.) Any ideas? Let’s talk about trying to solve this problem at our Parkes gig.

Narrabri Skywriters Launch, 27 March 2017: with Codey, the dancing, singing, talking robot (middle back row in the white with blue epaulettes), demonstrating his still very limited artificial intelligence.  Not quite HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Star Wars’ R2-D2 yet, but what if …?

I’m really looking forward to getting to know you all as our Skywriters Project unfolds. My thanks to you for being part of this adventure. See you soon!

Clear Skies ahead!

Merrill Findlay
Forbes, 2871

The banner photo at the top of the page is from our Condobolin Skywriters Launch, 15 March 2017.


We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Regional Arts Fund through our partner organisation, Arts OutWest.




Page posted 31 May 2017.