Skywriters Project Newsletter #2

July 8-9, 2017: Around 40 Skywriters and astronomers from throughout Inland NSW met in Parkes for our first Big gig to share ideas, experiences and their latest skystories. And WOW, what a powerful and affirming community we found ourselves to be!


Our Big Gig’s Stellar Program
First Readings by Skywriters
Inland Writers Groups: Similarities and Differences
Skywriters & the New Inland Press
‘Compassionate’ Editing with Nicole
UPDATE on our Skywriters Anthology project
Wiradjuri Murriyang Exhibition
Social Media Panel: Who Uses What & Why
Star Stories of the Dreaming: Special Screening
Panel Session: Inland Astro-tourism Trail
UPDATE on our Inland Astro Trail project
Dinner @ The Dish with Skysongs
Stargazing @ The Dish
Solar Observations: Fresh Flock of Sunspots
Next Skywriters Gathering

'Big skies link inland creators' by Daniel Pickering, front page, Gilgandra Weekly, July 2017.
One of many newspaper articles about our Big Gig. This one, by Skywriter Daniel Pickering, made the front page of the Gilgandra Weekly on 11 July 2017! See our Facebook page for more articles about this event.

Big Gig’s Stellar Program!

Our panel discussions covered astro-tourism, social media, local newspapers, and Inland writers’ groups; we learned more about the secrets of editing and publishing from Skywriter Nicole Matthews; we encountered Wiradjuri astronomy in Scott Towney’s constellation artworks, and Euahlayi and Gomeroi (Kamilaroi) astronomy in Ellie Gilbert’s documentary Star Stories of The Dreaming; we visited distant star systems and the rings and moons of Saturn with our guest astronomers; we enjoyed good food, skysongs and yet more skystories at the Dish Cafe, Parkes Observatory; and, most importantly, we found ourselves a community of simpatico souls to break the isolation so many of us Inland writers feel.

We even made it onto WIN CentralWest’s local news! See the WIN vision here >>

All this was achieved with zero budget! No cash, but lots of good will, in-kind support and generosity as part of our Big Skies Collaboration. So thank you to everyone who made this amazing weekend possible: Parkes Shire Council for allowing us to use its Coventry Room; Mayor Ken Keith OAM for opening our gig; Tracey Callinan, Christine McMillan, Jo Dicksen and Maryanne Jacques from our partner organisation Arts Outwest, for the graphics, promotion, AV support, framing and hanging of the exhibition, and much more; our guest astronomers Les Dalrymple, Donna Burton, Peter Starr and Trevor Leaman for educating and inspiring us; artist Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney for sharing his Wiradjuri Murriyang images; all our panel chairs and speakers; and all those who spontaneously helped when help was needed. And, most importantly, to all our Skywriters, even those of you who couldn’t get to Parkes during the school holidays, for giving us a reason to make this gig happenl! Thank you. It was, we hope, the first of many such gatherings.

First Readings by Skywriters

Orange Skywriter Sam Dean airing one of his skystories for the first time flanked by Phil Leman (Warren), Sal Mackean (Parkes), Leanne Wicks (Bathurst), and Val Clark (Dubbo). Photo by Deborah Green, Parkes, 8 July 2017.
Warren Skywriter Phil Leman with a folder of his own skystories, plus a collection of haku by Warren Primary School students who were once better known for misbehaving than for composing stunningly insightful 17 syllable poems! Photo by Skywriters Project.

Our Big Gig gave Skywriters an opportunity to test their skystories on a captive audience …  and yes, we were all truly captivated. Phil Leman, Sal Mackean, Sam Dean, Leanne Wicks, and Val Clark held us spellbound and confirmed what most of us already knew: that our Inland is home to some really, really good creative writers!

Two Skywriters, Annette Irving from Warren and Neville Jennings from Murwillumbah, were unable to attend our Big Gig but contributed remotely. Neville sent a video of his skymemoir, Calling Parkes Skywriters, about teaching in the village of Bogan Gate in the 1960s when the Parkes Observatory was being built. His video is now available on our new Skywriters Youtube channel, the first of many Skywriters’ videos we hope.

Dubbo Skywriter Val Clark reading from her novel to an engrossed audience at our Big Gig. Photo by Skywriters Project.

Inland Writers Groups: Similarities and Differences

From left: chair Merrill Findlay (Forbes), Liz McCutcheon (Point Blank Writers Group, Gilgandra), Sine Dellit (Orange Writers Group), Sal Mackean (Author-ised, Parkes), and Val Clark (Outback Writers Centre, Dubbo). Missing from this photo is Bonnie Gwyn (see below), who spoke about the Condo Writers Group. Photo by Deborah Green.

Many of our Skywriters draw great fellowship and support from their local writers’ groups, as participants in this panel discussions, observed. Although these groups share many similarities, they each function in very different ways and have remarkably different histories though. (See caption above for groups represented at our Parkes gig.)

Unfortunately, the designated chairperson for this panel, Rochelle Bright from the Forbes Writers Group, was ill on the day, so Merrill Findlay stepped in at short notice. David Rumps, from the Grenfell writers’ group, contributed his insights by email.

Condobolin Skywriter Bonnie Gwyn with Wiradjuri artist Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney and Carol Smith enjoying the panel sessions at our Big Gig. Photo by Skywriters Project.

Skywriters and the New Inland Press

Deborah Green (Bathurst) documents an intense exchange between Inland Media panellists and panel chair, Tracy Sorensen. Photo by Skywriters Project.

Bathurst journo, CSU academic, novelist, and now Skywriter, Tracy Sorensen, chaired a discussion about country newspapers with fellow Skywriters Daniel Pickering (The Gilgandra Weekly), Yvette Aubusson-Foley (Dubbo Photo News), Raen Fraser (Parkes Phoenix), and Toby Betts (Orange City Life), in Parkes at our first Big Gig on 8 July 2017.

Our inland media landscape has changed dramatically since Tracy last worked full-time on an Inland newspaper (Bathurst’s Western Advocate). Traditional papers have either reduced their operations or ceased to exist, and a new generation of media entrepreneurs has emerged to offer free advertiser-driven publications which give a feel-good positive spin to local news. This means, of course, that the news stories which most need to be told may never get written or published … unless we creative writers fill the breach in non-newspaperly ways. It’s a big responsibility!

Inland Media panel: from left, Toby Betts, Sam Dean, Raen Fraser, Yvette Aubusson-Foley, and Daniel Pickering, with panel chair Tracy Sorensen (standing). Photo by Skywriters Project.

‘Compassionate Editing’ & our Skywriters Anthology

Professional editor and Skywriter Nicole Matthews speaking about her profession at our Big Gig. Photo by Skywriters Project, Parkes, 9 July 2017.

Skywriter Nicole Matthews, who edits other people’s work from her home in the small rural community of Eumungerie, generously shared some her experience and knowledge at our Big Gig in Parkes.

Nicole began her presentation with the most basic of questions — What does an editor do? — and framed her answer within the context of the Skywriters Project’s current editorial challenge, our first Skywriters Anthology to be published in 2019 (which, Nicole insists, she will not be editing herself!)

Nicole’s commitment to ‘compassionate editing’ was especially reassuring to Skywriters who have not yet been published. Having listened to Nicole, they should now be aware of the range of services editors offer, and feel confident that the editing process can be positive, even a creatively liberating experience for writers, rather than something to be feared.

Nicole’s slides are now available from our members-only Skywriters Facebook Group which all registered Skywriters can join. If you’re not already a member, all you have to do is knock on the group ‘door’ and one of our administrators will let you in!  Also see Nicole’s blog post on editing.

Since Nicole’s seminar, our FB group has discussed establishing a working party to produce our Skywriters anthology. Several Skywriters have nominated themselves for the working party but we’re still looking for more volunteers. If you’d like to be part of our publication team, please dive into our FB group and participate in the discussion. A great opportunity to both share and gain knowledge and skills, and to get to know other Skywriters.

Wiradjuri Murriyang Exhibition: Scott, Trevor & Christine’s Excellent Collaboration

Artist Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney and cultural astronomer Trevor Leaman answer questions during their floor talk at Wiradjuri Murriyang exhibition hosted by the Skywriters Project in the Coventry Room, Parkes, in July 2017. Photo by Skywriters Project.

What do you get when a cultural astronomer, Trevor Leaman, commissions a visual artist, Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney from Peak Hill, to paint the star constellations his Wiradjuri people have known for possibly 60,000 years or more?

Answer: 13 culturally significant images in urgent need of an exhibition. (More on the artworks here >>)

But what if you don’t have an exhibition budget?

Then you have to depend on your project partners and fellow Big Skies Collaborators. In this case, Collaborator Christine McMillan, who’s really good at framing and hanging exhibitions; Arts Outwest, which found the funds for the matboards and frames; Parkes Shire Council, which let us use its Coventry Room; and Skywriters Project’s Merrill Findlay who pulled it all together.

The result was a collaborative triumph! Wiradjuri Murriyang was a highlight of both our Big Gig and of the CWAS AstroFest the following weekend.

Section of the Scott and Trevor’s audience at the Wiradjuri Murriyang exhibition. Photo by Skywriters Project, Parkes, 9 July 2017.

Wiradjuri Murriyang was first exhibited as a Stellarium (computer program) projection in a dome at Cementa 2017. At the Skywriters exhibition, however, both Scott and Trevor were able to discuss the images and take their audience on a live journey through the Wiradjuri Sky World, by recounting some of the skystories associated with each of the depicted constellations. We needed those stories to make sense of the images … and now we can see the night sky very differently.

Scott and Trevor have big plans for the Wiradjuri Murriyang images as the Wiradjuri Astronomy Project unfolds. The outcomes will be profoundly important not only to Wiradjuri communities but also to whitefellas in Inland NSW.

Download the exhibition ‘catalogue’ here >>
Parkes Skywriter Lyn Everingham with Dr Brad Tucker, from ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA), appreciating Scott Towney’s Wiradjuri Murriyan images at the Parkes Astrofest, on the weekend after our Big Gig. RSAA is an in-kind sponsor of our Skywriters Project. Photo by Skywriters Project, 15 July 2017.
Wiradjuri visitors from Condobolin Faith Richards, Tanya Atkinson and  Janine Richards, at the Wiradjuri Murriyang exhibition, with Rebecca Shepherd (Condo), Ellie Gilbert (Canberra) and Merrill Findlay (Forbes).  The exhibition is expected to open in Condobolin in October 2017.  Photo for the Skywriters Project, Parkes, 8 July 2017.

Social Media Panel: Who Uses What & Why

Our social media panel chaired by Val Clark. So what’s the question? Who tweets? Who does Facebook? Tumblr? Instagram? Pinterest? Photo by Skywriters Project.
More on social media at our Big Gig in Parkes. Photo by Skywriters Project, 8 July 2017.

Outback Writers’ Centre president, award-winning storyteller, visual artist, penny whistler and Skywriter Val Clark, from Dubbo, chaired our panel discussion on social media, Panelists Denis Mills (Millthorp), Deborah Green (Bathurst) and Sine Dellit (Orange) described how their preferred platforms enhanced (or didn’t) their creative writing, and challenged the ‘Luddites’ in the audience to experiment with social media.

Deborah and a few non-panellists, including astronomer Donna Burton, and Liz McCutcheon from Gilgandra Shire Library, tweeted this event on#skywritersbiggig1 and shared some great photos. Check them out!

Unfortunately, panellist Maryanne Jaques, Arts OutWest’s social media guru, had to leave early, so wasn’t able to participate fully in this event.

Some of us now waiting for our next big gig so we can tweet it on #skywritersbiggig2!

Star Stories of the Dreaming: special screening

Canberra-based documentary maker Ellie Gilbert introduces her film, Star Stories of the Dreaming, at the Skywriters Big Gig in Parkes. Photo by Skywriters Project.

Saturday afternoon at our Big Gig, a talk by documentary maker Eleanor Gilbert, of Enlightning Productions, followed by a special screening of her film Star Stories of The Dreaming.

Star Stories is based on research by astronomer Robert Fuller for his Masters thesis. It premiered at Paddington’s Chavel Theatre in 2016, and, since then, has been screened around Australia and on NITV. The film introduces two astronomers from very different traditions, Euahlayi lawman and knowledge holder Ghillar Michael Anderson from Goodooga, New South Wales, and CSIRO astrophysicist Professor Ray Norris, who discuss the similarities and differences between their own astronomical heritages.

For most Skywriters, Star Stories of the Dreaming and Scott Towney’s Wiradjuri Murriyan were their first exposure to Australian Indigenous Astronomy. None of us who attended our Big Gig can ever plead ignorance again!

Astro-tourism and the Inland Astro-Trail proposal

Astro-tourism panel: from left Les Dalrymple, Mayor of Parkes, Ken Keith OAM, Donna Burton, Peter Starr and Trevor Leaman. Photo by Margaret Jacovac, Parkes, 8 July 2017.

Astro-tourism is HUGE in other parts of the world, as guest astronomers Donna Burton from Milroy Observatory, Peter Starr, whose Tenby Observatory Group operates observatories near Coonabarabran and Dubbo, Trevor Leaman (Wiradjuri Astronomy Project), and Les Dalrymple (Bilimari Observatory) reminded us during our astro-tourism panel session.

So why is astro-tourism so relatively undeveloped here in Inland NSW, a region with some of our planet’s darkest night skies, most famous research telescopes, and an astro-heritage dating back at least 60,000 years?

Why aren’t we Inlanders better at promoting our big dark unpolluted sky to the rest of the world as our most valuable tourist ‘asset’? Why aren’t we attracting thousands more stargazers to our Inland villages, towns and regional cities? Why aren’t we supporting Inland astronomers and cultural tourism operators – including First Nations communities – to develop this industry sector to its full potential? (Have a look at Chile’s astronomical tourism portal and compare it with Destination NSW‘s limited promo, for example. Even Dubai does astro-tourism arguably better than us!)

Such were the questions our Astro-tourism panel asked, in the presence of the Mayor of Parkes Shire Council, Cr Ken Keith AO, and panel chair Merrill Findlay.

Our Big Skies Collaboration has defined several routes for an Inland Astro-trail to link the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory, in the ACT, with CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, through a region we call southeastern Australia’s 700 Kilometre Array (700KA).

But why should we creative writers be interested in promoting astronomy and astro-tourism? Why? Because we’re inspired by astronomers’ work; their observatories are potential venues for readings, exhibitions and other creative productions; many astronomers are also creative writers, musicians, and visual artists themselves; some astronomers recognise the importance of the arts in promoting creative and divergent thinking and innovation, which are as fundamental in Science as they are in the Arts; most astronomers are really good at collaboration; all those astro-tourists they attract are potential consumers of our skystories and other creative works; and we have a vested interest in the cultural, social and economic development of the communities we live in and the region Inland we love.

UPDATE: After our panel discussion in Parkes, our Skywriters Project has taken some practical first steps towards establishing the Inland Astro-Trail. We now have an Inland Astro-trail web page and members-only FB group (@InlandAstroTrail) for anyone interested in contributing to this initiative; several Inland astronomers, including Donna Burton in Coonabarabran, are lobbying fellow astronomers to support the concept; discussions are underway about establishing an incorporated association of inland astronomers and others to manage the Astro-Trail project; several Skywriters, including Yvette Aubusson-Foley in  Dubbo, Margaret Jakovac in  Blayney, Deborah Green in Bathurst, and Merrill Findlay in Forbes, are planning a publication and app. to promote the proposed astro-trail.

If you’re interested in this project and would like to support it, please contact us at, or via FB messenger, or ask to join our Inland Astro-Trail FB Group, and/or visit the Inland Astro Trail web page.

Dinner @ The Dish With Skysongs

Tracey Callinan and her accordion doing skysongs at our Dinner @ The Dish, 8 July 2017. Dodgy photo by Skywriters Project.

Skystories take many forms, of course, and at our Big Gig Dinner @ the Dish Cafe, Parkes Observatory, some of them were musical. Tracey Callinan, Executive Director of our partner organisation Arts OutWest, premiered her own skysong, a musical memoir she composed that morning about past lovers and the big northern and southern skies under which her memories of them were created. A theme and lyrics many of us could identify with! And then an older more familiar skysong, The Church Band’s Australian anthem, Under the Milky Way.

Our Dinner @ The Dish Cafe was excellent: good food by Craig and his crew, good local wines, good boutique beer, good company, good conversations, good live skymusic and skystories, and deadly desserts! What more could we want after stargazing outside with Donna, Trevor, and Les, in the glow of a full moon (which wasn’t that great from an astronomical perspective)?

Our Big Gig dinner offered Skywriters from throughout Inland NSW an opportunity to network and get to know one another in a more informal and relaxing atmosphere – and it worked! Thank you to all of you who contributed to the evening’s success.

Star Gazing @ The Dish

Another very poor quality photo by the Skywriters Project! This one of Les Dalrymple with one of his ‘scopes at the Parkes Observatory before our Dinner @ The Dish.

A suitably cosmic entree to our Dinner @ The Dish: three astronomers — Les Dalrymple, Donna Burton, and Trevor Leaman — with their ‘scopes, their favourite skystories from multiple astro-traditions, close-up views of Alpha Centauri A & B, the Jewelbox clusterSaturn’s rings, at least seven of Saturn’s moons, Jupiter and four of its moon, plus Earth’s moon, in all its full lunar glory, perched atop the iconic radio telescope.

Trevor reports that several Skywriters were astonished by the detail they could see through the ‘scopes that night, especially of Saturn’s rings. Just like the photos in astronomy books, several first-timers commented!

Solar Observations: a Fresh Flock of Sunspots

WIN Central West’s TV camera person shoots our solar observations in the courtyard of Parkes Council’s Coventry Room for Monday evening’s local news. Photo by Skywriters Project.

Earth’s Sun had been spotless for days, but by Sunday morning, 9 July, it was roiling again … which meant that Skywriters were able to observe a fresh flock of sunspots through the telescopes set up by Donna Burton and Trevor Leaman in the Coventry Room’s courtyard.

Our solar observations were recorded by WIN News Central West, and screened throughout the region on Monday 10 July, along with a report on the exhibition of Scott Towney’s Wiradjuri Constellation Art. Donna, @aussiestargazer, also tweeted our observations on #SkywritersBigGig1.

WestWordsFest in Dubbo, an opportunity to get together again,15-18 September

Val Clark, President of Dubbo’s Outback Writers Centre, and Bathurst Skywriter Deborah Green chose their t-shirts well for our Skywriters’ Big Gig in Parkes in July. But what will they wear for Cosplay at WestWordsFest in September? Join us to find out! Photo by Nicole Matthews, Parkes, 8 July 2017.

President of the Outback Writers Centre, Val Clark, invites all Skywriters to meet again at Dubbo’s 2017 WestWordsFest on the weekend of 15-18 September at Western Plains Cultural Centre.

WestWordFest is the Outback Writers’ Centre‘s major annual event. This year’s it will focus on speculative fiction to bring together writers, publishers, gamers, game writers, artists, Jedi Knights and cos-players for both serious workshops and creative madness. It will also include a session for Skywriters to read their latest skystories.

See the full program here >>

All events are gold coin donation, except the dinner ($25), workshops ($40 for a half day, $70 for a full day), and the excursion to Peter Starr’s Dubbo Observatory (TBC).

So see you in Dubbo in September!

Merrill Findlay
Skywriters Project
Big Skies Collaboration

Page created 3 August 2017. Last updated 9 August 2017.


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