Regional Arts NSW
Skip to content

Celebrating the Stories of Northern Rivers' Indigenous Elders

Our Way Stories, a book celebrating the life stories of Indigenous Elders from the Northern Rivers, will be launched with the 10 Elders in conversation with acclaimed Goorie novelist Melissa Lucashenko at the Byron Writers Festival this August.

Through the book the Elders share their personal experiences of growing up on missions in the Northern Rivers trying to maintain their culture and language to encountering prejudice and discrimination in education and employment.

Despite the challenges the stories show their resilience and strength, their hope for the future and their overwhelming love of family, their love of country and their love of culture.

Aunty Dorrie Gordon became the first female Indigenous ordained minister in the state; Uncle Athol Compton’s interest in culture and language took him to New York to study acting and brought him home to star in films and work for the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association Dance College (NAISDA), while Aunty Gwen Williams became involved in the Aboriginal protest movements of the 1960s and became an ambassador for her people at home and abroad.

The book was made possible by the generous donations of 158 people who supported a crowdfunding campaign run by Arts Northern Rivers’ to help cover the cost of printing the coffee table style book.

Arts Northern Rivers CEO Peter Wood said, ‘The response to our crowd funding campaign has been extraordinary; we’ve received pledges from our local community, from across Australia and even a few international supporters. Clearly the project has struck a chord with the community – in the same way it did with us when Dale brought the idea to Arts Northern Rivers.’

Peter also spoke about the extra funds raised from the campaign saying ‘because we have exceeded our target we have committed to producing volume two of Our Way Stories – ensuring many more of our much-loved Elders have a chance to share their wisdom with the world’.

Arts Northern Rivers partnered with local Aboriginal woman Dale Simone Roberts who was engaged to work alongside the Elders to record their stories and commissioned award-wining Bangalow photographer Kate Holmes to take their portraits.

Dale always had a great love and interest in her Indigenous culture and history and 15 years ago when she moved back to Country she began to reconnect with the local Aboriginal community.

‘The project started with listening to the stories of my friend Uncle Magpie. I just thought to myself what a wealth of knowledge he has to share and he wanted to share it so generously. I just wondered if he doesn’t get to pass on his knowledge where does it go?’ said Dale.

‘I attended all the cultural events I could get to and began introducing myself to the Elders. We spoke a lot about sharing knowledge and stories.’

After discussing ideas for a book project with some of the Elders, Dale and Arts Northern Rivers engaged four Elders to act as cultural advisors checking through the stories and content and to give their feedback on protocol and cultural issues.

The book will be launched at the 2016 Byron Writers Festival on Friday 5 August with a panel discussion between the Elders and acclaimed Goorie novelist Melissa Lucashenko.

The Elders hope is that the book will enable their stories and knowledge to be passed on to generations to come.

Our Way Stories can be pre-ordered by emailing or by calling 6628 8120.