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November 22, 2017

Embracing the act of knowing

How a story we were, until recently, too scared to tell taught us the value of community.

  • Picture: Dave Laslett
  • Taken as we interviewed Inawintji Williamson and Tjinkuma Wells for 'The act of knowing'

Editor’s note: You can now read ‘The act of knowing’ in full by becoming a subscriber or logging in to City Standard

There are a lot of reasons stories don’t get told in 2017. There’s not enough money, not enough time, it won’t get enough clicks.

But for a long time, recently, I had a story I wanted to tell, but couldn’t. And the reasons weren’t practical – the reason was fear.


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A while back, I learnt a lot during an interview with Karl Winda Telfer. I was overwhelmed with some of the things he said – their truth was heavy, even though Karl’s conversation was welcoming and light.

Farrin is CityMag and City Standard’s editor

Apart from the things I wrote about as a result of that interview, Karl talked about other stuff ­– including cooking roo tails in his backyard for family BBQs. In that quick conversation I was welcomed immediately into a world of Indigenous cultural practice with which I was entirely unfamiliar – a daily, unremarkable practice that quietly and constantly perpetuates and evolves significant traditions.

This – what’s left of the journalist in me realised – is a story. It’s hard to describe what makes a story. Knowing the difference is the real, instinctive, near-impossible-to-learn, oft-unrecognised skill of the best journalists. I’m a little hit and miss with it, but this idea had simple appeal – it would be telling people something they didn’t know, but that they should know. It would be telling Australia something fundamental about itself.

The execution of the story should have been simple too. All I would need to do is find an array of people happy to chat about how they maintained their culture on the daily. I could learn from the people I met, I wouldn’t need to get my head around the intricacies of Lender’s Mortgage Insurance, or read acts of Parliament stretching back into the 80s.

Despite that, for almost a full year, the idea languished on a bit of paper headed ‘possible stories’ that lives in a permanent state of semi-loss somewhere on or near my desk.

My reasons for not pushing forward with it were myriad – I’m not Aboriginal, so maybe I don’t have the right to tell the stories of First Nations peoples, I thought. Or, maybe I don’t have the right mix of people lined up to be properly representative. Or, I had trouble envisioning the right kind of photography to work with the piece.

All of these are things that could be addressed, but I didn’t work through them because I was scared. I feared doing a bad job of something that really deserved to be done well.

In September, we took the story idea to our City Standard subscribers, and they voted for it above two other story ideas the online community had developed. They wanted to hear this story, and they trusted us to tell it.

Their trust enabled me to overcome my fear, and over about two months we worked on the story. Next week, we publish The act of knowing on

It is one of my proudest pieces of work. I think that I, City Standard’s creative director Tyrone Ormsby, and contributing photographer and film-maker Dave Laslett have done a good job. In the story, I believe we’ve told a version of the truth that comes as close as possible to capturing the essence and intent of those who shared their stories with us.

I think The act of knowing shows the potential of the great experiment we are rolling out with the City Standard.  

The platform is subscriber-funded, and we ask our audience to help us identify and develop the kind of stories that often go untold. I wouldn’t have made this story without the trust and support of our subscribers.

And I’m keen, and still a little scared, to find out what we’ll be able to make together in years to come.

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