Making of the Book
The idea for the book came from the Wilcannia community and the boys families. When it became apparent that there was going to be some income from the song Down River, author Melinda Collie-Holmes travelled out to Wilcannia in March 2003 to set up the trust fund for the boys.
Melinda had been involved in the story from the beginning as the Artistic Director of the company Shopfront Theatre for Young People. Below is an interview with the author:

Where did the idea come from for the book?

In March 2003 I travelled to Wilcannia to meet with all the parents and to do the paper work for the trust fund. When the boys had come to perform at Homebake the parents had said they wanted the money to be kept in trust for the boys until they were 18 – with a clause that they could access the money for educational needs before that if they needed it. Anyway, my boyfriend Mick Angus had taken all these fantastic photos of the boys at the Homebake festival, so we brought the albums out to show everyone. Everyone we saw in the community asked for a copy of the photos, so I thought rather than print 100 copies of all the photos –why not write a book?

Sounds simple – was it?

Well it took a lot longer than I had imagined. I really wanted the book to reflect the whole story and feature lots of different voices telling the story. So I got a couple of grants from the NSW Ministry of the Arts and the Australia Council,  to go back out to the community and do a series of interviews with elders, family members and the boys. We also took another photographer with us Simon Rippingale and took lots more photos of the boys, their families and other people in the community. The grants also paid for the design and printing of the books. I worked with the fantastic Sydney based design house, Boccalatte on the design, which I’m sure you’ll agree, they’ve done a stunning job.

When did you first go to Wilcannia?

I first visited Wilcannia in 1999 with a team of artists from Shopfront Theatre, to run workshops out of the Drop – In Centre during the holidays.

What were your impressions?

To be honest I think I was quite shell shocked when I left Wilcannia the first time. Mainly because it had been such a whirl wind time, but also because I had no idea about the conditions some people live in. I’m originally from New Zealand, and have spent most of my life  living in cities, so the Australian outback was a whole new experience for me. At the time some of the housing in Wilcannia was almost third world – there were houses with dirt floors and no running water. You’ll be pleased to know that since then all those houses have been pulled down and a whole lot of new ones have been built.

What made you decide to go back?

Even though I was distressed by some of the things I saw, the thing that really touched me was the people and the kids. They were so welcoming and enthusiastic. It’s a very magnetic place Wilcannia, once you get to know the people. When we were leaving that first time we just knew we wanted to come back. “People say that but they never do” one of the kids replied. Well we had to take up the challenge. I have to acknowledge my co-workers at Shopfront at the time, Annie Macnamara and Sahraya Stewart who worked together to get substantial funding so we could take an even larger team of artists out  twice in 2001. It was the second one of these trips that Down River was recorded on.

Will you go back again?

Of course. I live in Queensland now, with Mick, our three yr old son Toby, and another on the way, so its not quite as easy, but I’m trying to organise a community book launch and some community participation in this website so I hope to get out there in the next couple of months.

Interviewed on 20 June 2008.


 

 

 

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