Community Access Radio Station 2WEB was barely a year old when I stepped into the Bourke studio in 1979. In those early days the name Western Educational Broadcasting meant you could surprise the outback audience with almost anything. The Brekky program with a unlikely mix of Slim Dusty, the Beatles, a community announcement about a lost dog with 3 legs, one eye, answering to the name of ‘Lucky’, followed by the BBC News, then climaxing with Let’s Learn Japanese and poetry readings from Geoffrey Chaucer. No complaints about variety!
And then there was me – juggling studio equipment in the wee small hours to produce a weekly oral history program called Bourke and Beyond. Recording those old-timer’s stories was my apprenticeship as a historian. Those weathered bush people trusted me with narratives that opened my eyes and gave me new understanding of my own country. Editing those remarkable stories was Australia Day for me every week!
I recently sat listening to a retired Bourke citrus grower outside his tidy, vine-covered cottage near the Macquarie River at Dubbo. It was back to the future – capturing fading chapters for the Back o’ Bourke Exhibition Centre for future generations to hear. In 2000 he got into his shed and built a 70ft state-of-the-art riverboat for the town in 5 months. He did it without detailed plans – and thought nothing of it. He just wanted to help the community.
It brought back memories of meeting stockmen, farmers, truckies, doctors, ANZACs, indigenous leaders, pastoralists and women who raised families on lonely stations. I mean, how good was it recording Australia’s first woman pilot Nancy Bird Walton, telling of her days flying for ‘The Two Revs’ – Rev. John Flynn and Rev. Stanley Drummond – painting a picture of what they’d given to Australia in the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Far West Children’s Scheme. Who wouldn’t want to be a historian? I love it!
This month I've been tracking some stories from the early days of Sydney and presenting some radio spots on HOPE103.2 FM. I’m also finalising the editing of my new book on my journey with stories and storytelling. Next month I plunge back into old Sydney town for a three day walking tour with Stuart Piggin, Australia's leading Christian historian. We will be unearthing some great stories. Bring it on!
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.