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On their way

Retirement Living Connectedness Community Positive Ageing Residential Stories

Recording stories and writing memoirs is something many aspire to but a team of dedicated residents at IRT Kangara Waters have made it a reality.

26 October 2020
IRT Kangara Waters residents Robyn Hipkiss (left) and Dawn Laing were involved with producing a book of residents' stories.
“Many of the residents were very excited to see their story in print.”
Robyn Hipkiss
IRT Kangara Waters resident

As the saying goes, ‘everyone has a story to tell’ and a dedicated trio at IRT Kangara Waters have brought together more than 60 residents’ life stories to create a book.

Annie Carrick, Robyn Hipkiss and Dawn Laing are the ones behind the book called On Our Way to Kangara Waters. They formed a planning committee to bring it to fruition.

“It began when Annie suggested we produce a book of life stories from the residents for our community’s tenth anniversary,” Robyn explains. “Independent of that, Dawn and I had been considering creating a course for residents on memoir writing, as we had both been involved previously in collecting stories and producing books of memoirs. So the three of us got together to work out how we could produce this book.”

The book concept was pitched to the Residents’ Committee and ultimately a general meeting of the residents, and the project was approved and funded. It was 15 months in the making – from the original concept through to the final printed version. “We had some delays along the way, including COVID-19, but we had it ready for the tenth anniversary on the 24th May 2020,” Dawn says.

They encouraged residents to participate through advertising, sending emails, putting up posters and having lots of conversations. “It was slow at the beginning but gradually more became involved,” Dawn says.

Robyn and Dawn with copies of On Our Way to Kangara Waters.

When the opportunity arose through conversations with residents, they would ask them about their lives and encourage them to share their stories. Robyn would often sit down at her computer with residents and while they chatted, she typed. “Everyone has a story to tell,” she says. “Many of the residents were very excited to see their story in print.”

In the end some 63 residents contributed their stories to the book with tales about everything from living and working abroad, growing up, international travels, migration and family life, to moving into IRT Kangara Waters. Some 400 copies of the book have been printed.

There was a lot of planning involved including deciding on word lengths for the stories to developing a style guide for consistency. Generally, stories were submitted to Dawn, who would standardise the content and then send them onto Robyn to review. It was then Annie’s job to do the final review and approve them for publication.

They saved costs by using Dawn’s son, who donated his services, to do the graphic design work and Annie took the authors’ photos for the publication. The book has been well received but due to COVID-19 the book launch was a much quieter affair than first planned. “Residents came through in waves to collect their books and have their photos taken,” Robyn says.

Dawn hopes the book inspires the residents to write a bit more and Robyn says the connections the book has created are wonderful. “Two residents worked out they were on the same migrant ship to Australia,” she says. “It creates a talking point.”

When asked about the next project, Dawn says there might be another book in the future. “But we just want residents to enjoy what they’ve created now.”

Robyn is also happy to share her knowledge and expertise with other communities considering taking on a similar project.

Limited copies of the book are available for $10 each plus $7 postage. For more details email editor@irt.org.au.

Judith’s story

Here’s an excerpt from IRT Kangara Waters resident Judith Erskine’s story, Baby David’s Flying Adventures, which was published in On Our Way to Kangara Waters.

Judith (pictured right) lived in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s when her story takes place.

After taking off, we flew west following a narrow strip of coastline. Very soon black clouds gathered, obscuring all landmarks. We were flying blind in a narrow alley with mountains on one side, open sea on the other. Uneasily, I sat back, cuddling the baby and trying to relax. The flimsy plane rocked and bucked, tossed about in the turbulence. The propeller sputtered, stopped for an instant, and then picked up again, stopped once more and so on. I was starting to feel very tense, but as Father McKee seemed unperturbed, whistling a happy tune, I reassured myself that, in the face of a pilot with such nonchalance, surely everything was A-OK. Wasn’t it? Brave thoughts vanished however, as the priest turned and asked me, “Has this baby been baptised?”.

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