The Launch

On Sunday December 1st, After Yasi Finding the SmileWithin, a full colour  photobook with accompanying true and practical stories about how you can regain your joy through creativity after a cyclone, was launched at the Bingil Bay cafe in the Cassowary Coast.
It was partly born out of my community reporter work for the community recovery project, blogging in the aftermath project for ABC Open and an exhibition Smile Within put on a year ago at the Mission Beach Arts community centre.   All of these projects were motivated by the role of the stories and the arts in the healing process for people who have experienced a natural disaster.
Last weekend was a true smile within and without occasion when several of the community contributors, family, friends from as far away as Tasmania, local community, fellow workshoppers from Song Trails,  local Red Cross community cultural development officer, and members of Mission arts and Licuala WINQ Writers all came together to welcome the book into existence and to pick up their copies.

We listened to the powerful words of Christine Jenkins, one of the contributors, who movingly told us more than the anchor story included in the book to put that story into context; perhaps one day when she is ready she will write her own book on the recovery process.Music was a big part of the launch, with my children playing some, and also receiving mentoring from some of the songwriters in attendance.

We shared stories about our lives and celebrated our community in an informal and creative environment.Two other locals featured in the book Sally Moroney and Pam Galeano gave farewell speeches, as our family is about to move to Brisbane and the launch also became an opportunity to say goodbye.

DSC_3344These two special human beings have made our time in the Cassowary Coast truly blessed, with their welcome and support for my wish to combine the arts with healing and peace.  A part of our family’s heart beats will always remain beating in the cane, rainforest and beaches of North Queensland.

When the book was close to completion, Red Cross happened to be putting on an exhibition at Mission Arts of community books.

Cate Richmond ran workshops encouraging and skilling locals to make memory books and use print on demand facilities to make beautiful books of these memories, especially because so many people had lost things in the cyclone.  They invited the After Yasi  Finding the Smile Within book to be included as it fitted so well with their project goals.

Cate  took The Smile within  book to a work related gathering in Brisbane, and interestingly one of my fellow bloggers in the aftermath project, Heidi Den Ronden saw it and was able to flip through it.

Full colour books are not cheap to produce and so the initial challenge after all the photographs and stories were collected was how to bring it to the public.

A traditional publisher did not seem the way to go for a specialist history/recovery book which would mean a lot to the Cassowary Coast or to others going through a natural disaster recovery process but perhaps not much to others.

Colour books are very expensive to sell unless you produce large numbers and so there was a quandary I had to solve as I didn’t have a lot in reserve, we were still replacing cyclone damaged goods for a good year and half later.

After mulling over this and looking at and finding how this project didn’t fit several grants on offer, I chose to self -publish using a print on demand printer that has a choice of high quality printing papers, an accompanying layout program and is relatively user friendly and options for hard cover and soft cover books.

I did the layout, research and editing work (with some help from kind proof readers at various points) and made the decision to make the book as beautiful as I could to honour the many contributors. I felt it had to be a coffee table type book which would be compelling readers to follow the story through images with a few words to support this.

I was able to do a bulk book order that reduced the cost for locals and several showed their support by pre-ordering the book. The local Cassowary Coastal library has bought the book for both loanand for their historical and reference sections at the library.

The goal of making this book was to capture and preserve the story of how Cassowary Coasters used creativity in their recovery.  Another goal has emerged though, which is to encourage people from other communities to do this as well and so I will be promoting the book to libraries so more people can access it.

I am presently working on an ebook version for release next year to make the content of the book widely and more inexpensively available and everyone is more than welcome to purchase a copy of any version if they wish.

Smile Within is a project blog which has charted the progress of the book, you can follow the books continuing journey out into the world of readers and send in responses to the stories from contributors and to my photographs.

The journey of this book, and its content, show that arts rather than being something people should put aside as a luxury can be a rich source of recovery.I was delighted to hear that one of my friends is about to take her guitar and go to the Philipines under the auspices of an NGO charity for a month to assist in the rebuilding and recovery process there.

A big thankyou to all the people who contributed stories to go with the photographs as without you this book would not have had the same power.

So thanks especially to Christine Jenkins, Emma Gardiner, Lillian Galipo, Jennifer Giufridda, Lydia Valeriano,  Dina Milone, Nicole McClymont, Jenny Ottone, Moala Sitapa, Kerstin Pilz, Carolyn Bofinger, Danielle Stephens, Danielle Wilson, Sal Badcock, Donna Jones, Pam Galeano, Julie Headlam, Brendan Porter, David Perkins, Jean Vallianos,  Jennifer Morton, and Renee Schluenz,  the song trail song writers, and the many people featured in the photographs for their inspiration.

Review from Graham Nicholson

“After Yasi”, by June Perkins and Residents of the Cassowary Coast,
(ISBN 9780 98073 1163, ebook 9780 98073 1156, June Perkins/Gumbootspearlz, 2013).

Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi was a very destructive and widespread tropical cyclone that made landfall in northern Queensland, Australia on 3 February, 2011.  By this time, the cyclone had intensified to a Category 5 system.  It had moved offshore down the tropical coast and crossed the coast between Innisfail and Cardwell, with gusts estimated at up to 285 km per hour.  The eye crossed at Mission Beach just before midnight* and passed over the mill town of Tully a little inland soon after.

The cyclone continued on its path inland as it slowly lost power, affecting a huge area as far west as Mount Isa as well as areas well to the north and south.   It caused billions of dollars in damage and destruction over a very wide area, making it the costliest tropical cyclone to hit Australia on record.  Many buildings were damaged or destroyed and crops were flattened.  There were some injuries and one death.   While not as destructive as the recent cyclone to hit built up areas in the Phillipines, it was a devastating event nevertheless.

Experiencing a severe cyclone is a traumatic event for those directly affected.  One would think that a book about that experience would be full of terrible tales, stories of damage and injuries, of environmental loss, many pictures of devastation, as well as a questioning of why it happened to those affected.  After all, this book records the effect on those people in the region most heavily impacted.   But not this book.  It is not a negative book at all.  There are a few pictures of the damage and some descriptions of what happened.  But the emphasis in the book is on the other end; the recovery, the explosion of spirit and hope that followed, the cooperation that it engendered, the artistic expression that the disaster gave birth to.  And there were amazing visitors to lift the spirits – Prince William, Premier Anna Bligh and others.  Many have contributed to the recovery.

The poetry in the book is tinged with both a sad seriousness and also humour.  For example:
“Who said Cassowaries can’t fly
Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why
I’ll tell you no fibs not even a lie
I tell you my friends Cassowaries can fly.”

And as for the positive side of such severe trials in life, one commentator wrote:
“There is a lot to gain from these experiences – helping and connecting with others; a sense of togetherness, a shared resilience formed and foundations reinforced.”
Another writes:
“..amidst all the destruction and loss at the hands of Yasi, the true story and spirit of Yasi is one of kinship, resilience and the road to recovery.”

Another author adds that after the cyclone, she discovered a different kind of thankfulness.  We are reminded, in reading this book and viewing the excellent pictures, that in the darkest recesses of the events of this material world, when it can be most destructive and depressing, there is the light of real meaning and purpose in life, a realisation that tends to escape observation when things seem to be going fine for us.
Worth the read.   Congratulations to June and all the other contributors.

Graham Nicholson
Hidden Words Bookshop, Kuranda

*corrected – original read noon.