local stories

Photo 25-10-14 12 45 59 pm

This weekend the Polish Community in New Zealand has celebrated and remembered the arrival of 733 children (most of them orphans) to a small town called Paihiatua.

My friend Juliette Laird was down with her lovely trees Dreaming of Summer which represent the 733 children who arrived.

There were workshops by her and friend Basia Smolnicki and several exhibitions of photographs and other talks, not to mention of course food and dance. Everywhere there were people greeting, exclaiming, telling stories and I had a couple of conversations about digital storytelling.

While those crowded situations are not best for gathering stories, they are a wonderful way to make connections. Essentially dst is about people telling their own stories in their own voices and indeed creating their own story online, but in reality many people whose stories we want and who want to tell their story are not prepared to sort images and edit audio.

Barbara Scrivens and Karol Wilczynska who collect stories for Polish History of New Zealand.ORG, from 1772 – till present time …. had set up a table, like a kitchen table, which is a nice idea, and there conversations were happening. They were meeting and greeting people new, then following up….. and existing people were given transcripts too.

Once anyone collecting stories has made initial connections I suggest you find some images or ask the people for images. This helps them focus and talk and gives you an opportunity to ask questions. The more you talk to them without recording, the better you understand what to ask. When I talked with John Ryan we had only one or two images, he was focussed on what he wanted to say, and I was able to ask the right questions. When I interviewed Ngaire with a local PCC staff member too, the range was wide. The resulting recording is long and needs a lot of editing, which then makes the story my interpretation of her story rather than hers alone – and we return to editorial intervention which we are trying to avoid.

The best thing to do is to get a small hand-held device, leave it running and ask pertinent questions. The preferred format for dst is 3 mins. Consider perhaps cutting the stories into discrete bits – think of the audience. Younger people used to the internet and short sound bites may not want to watch something on their smartphones for 30 mins, school children need the pertinent bits. Older people may watch for longer.

Take a look at links in here about choosing images and editing. Ask me questions.


getting started


I wanted to create a sense of community and to record histories of people who lived in the area. There were the older people, many related to the farms that once were in this area, there were the stories of Ngati Toa Rangatira who used the area for food gathering (including I understand, juicy eels) and there were the younger people who had stores to tell about dairies, being Samoan, playing in the road.

I started with some of the older residents and found, through members of the Ranui Residents Association, some people who had lived in Ranui. I met with them, talking a bit about their history and looking at photos, then I wrote up a story for them to read and recorded them using my old Mac laptop.

This was quite good as a start but the stories sound a bit stilted, and the problem is that it’s my words really, although I tried to keep to their voice. This video is Reg and Nan Early’s  –14 Arawhata Street.

I followed a similar approach with Margaret and Roy Hughes and ended up with 3 different stories – one about catching flounder, another about living in Porirua and a third and about Margaret’s influence on the development of an over bridge/intersection. I recorded these on my iMac.

For John Ryan I followed a similar idea. He had some images of Mungavin House which his grandparents had built, and an image of old Porirua. When I returned with the scanned images nd the story I had written, he put that aside and began talking. In many ways this works better. We have some images to look at, and because I had spent time with him I knew which questions to ask. There are two stories: one about Mungavin House and another about Porirua village.

I am now recording a woman who is the granddaughter of the Windleys – also farmers in the area. I visited her with a local Landscape Architect, Andrew Gray, who wanted to gather stories about where people lived and the roads. Between us we have recorded an hour’s worth of talking – and I am now editing this, taking out the ums ad arghs and extracting stories about social history. I think there will be one long story where she is looking at old images and pointing out houses, and two shorter ones where she talks more about social history.

Doing it this way is fine but it takes some time to edit the stories, and in the end the editor has control because she decides what is worth keeping.

In the next blog I’ll talk about the stories of Bill and Mazina, and then I’ll talk about the editing process.