Hello again. No news on the writing front, except that an agent has expressed interest in my work and is currently reading the manuscript. I hope to hear some news soon. Meanwhile, through my teaching position with BackTrack Youth Works (the youth work organisation that features in my memoir), I was involved in an inspiring writing-related activity earlier this week when I attended the BackTrack School’s inaugural poetry camp with eight dogs, nine teenage boys, my co-teacher Simmo, three youth workers – Dusty, Blissy and Matt, and one bush poet: Murray (Muz) Hartin. We camped by the Macdonald River at Marinka, a property near Walcha, and slept in swags under the stars.

Four nights after leaving the riverbank, my head is still filled with images of the camp: the oaks along the river; the boys unloading their truckload of firewood; sitting around the campfire sharing songs, stories and poems; the change in Murray Hartin’s face when he recited poetry; Dusty reading ‘The White Horse’ from his note-book of poems; Simmo’s torch-lit rendition of Tonchi’s song Gallipoli; stone sculptures popping up everywhere; a midnight yabbie feast; eight black and white and brown dogs gathered by a tree, watching everything; and a circle of swags around the fire. Murray Hartin was very entertaining, and by the end of the first day, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose cheeks were aching from laughing so much.

After breakfast the next morning, I saw Blissy and a group of boys sitting some distance away – guitars and notebooks in hand – thinking up words to fit the tune of Stand By Me, while others sat back and read their signed copies of A Whole Lotta Muz. Later, we dragged the rolled-up swags into a circle in the shade and shared poems, thoughts and feelings, and everyone rated the camp well into the 80s or 90s out of 100. Before we left, we did charcoal drawings on large sheets of white paper – some people drew the trees and rocks along the river, and others drew what was in their heads. Murray did a tree ‘rubbing’ by holding his paper against the bark of a tree, Matt sketched the sheep’s skull I’d found on my walk that morning, and two of the boys asked if they could move away and spend time drawing in solitude. That’s where we were at by the end of the camp.

I think I’m still absorbing the experience – which was right up there in the 90s out of 100 for me. In our ‘outdoor classroom’ at Marinka, we may have learnt about rhyme, rhythm and rap, but, for me, the poetry camp also offered a lesson in cooperative living and respecting each other and our environment. I’d never been camping with so many men, boys or dogs before, and it’s not common for a woman to be on a BackTrack camp either, but I felt an accepted and welcome member of the group. I also noticed that whenever the word ‘black’ was used in any context, like describing a black horse or a black container, someone was sure to joke: ‘Don’t be racist!’ – but as far as race relations were concerned, I thought we lived in harmony during our time by the river, and we can all take that lesson away into our everyday life.

Thanks to Regional Arts NSW for funding the poetry camp, thanks to Murray Hartin for being such a fabulous guest artist, thanks to Sally Denyer for providing us with a range of nurturing and delicious food – to sit by the fire and eat pavlova with local berries and freshly-whipped cream was probably worth 100 on the rating scale – and thanks also to BackTrack’s Jen Kealey and her family for sharing their beautiful property with us, and for joining us in poetry and song. All in all, the poetry camp was a huge success and we’re keen to organise more professional artists – starting with a singer/songwriter – to join us in 2014. Check out some of our photos at http://backtrack.org.au/1000-words/

This project was made possible through a Quick Response Grant provided by Regional Arts NSW through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government initiative supporting the arts in regional, remote and very remote Australia.

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