Opening the World’s Eyes to Australia through Podcasting
© Jim Low
A podcast is an audio broadcast on the internet that can be listened to on a computer or personal player by freely downloading it. It can be played at any time and for any number of times. Anyone can make a podcast if they have a computer, internet access, some form of recording device and a place on the web to house their podcast.
In September 2006 I made my first podcast. My aim was to broadcast a number of programmes of approximately 20 minutes duration. The initial plan was to make about four podcasts a year. At the time of writing I have just finished my sixth one, so I was rather over ambitious when I began. However, I have learnt that they cannot just be thrown together and that they take some time to produce.
In the late 1980s I composed a song entitled Open Your Eyes to Australia. Because my broadcasts were going to feature Australian history, people and places, I decided to use the first verse of this song and its reprise to start and conclude each podcast. I hope that this provides the programmes with a unique identity, an Australian reference and eventually establishes a familiarity for the listener. To further achieve these aims I kept a sameness to my introductory greeting and played a little of the Waltzing Matilda tune after it. I also planned to include at least one original song in each podcast.
Since primary school I have always had a fascination with Australia and its history. Teaching and writing about Australian history have been rewarding experiences for me. Many of the songs I have also written have been inspired by that history. I usually return from the parts of this country that I have been fortunate to visit with a wealth of ideas for songs. Many of my songs are inspired by the stories of the people I have met or heard about along the way. Sometimes it is the places themselves that have their own stories crying out to be told in song.
The idea that these podcasts could be useful resources for teachers was always a consideration right from the start. At the moment, the integration of the podcasts into lesson plans is left to the ingenuity and imagination of those teachers who see their potential. Perhaps in the future, when I have produced more podcasts, I shall include on my website some suggestions regarding their use as learning materials.
As a singer and songwriter, I have often found that live performances do not always allow you the luxury to talk very much about your songs. You are there to sing and there is often little time really for information such as why a song was written or what historical background may be helpful and of interest. I saw podcasting as a possible way of being able to share such background information in an interesting way. I have always felt such information is important to share.
My aim is to have a tight, well researched and interesting script that hopefully makes the listening experience worthwhile. When writing the script I always remember that my audience is the world. I cannot assume that people know where places are or understand certain expressions that I might take for granted.
I believe that it is very important to share the reasons for my interest in a person or place, for this then gets around to my motivation for writing a song. For example, the podcast I did about Charles Kingsford-Smith’s 1928 Pacific flight was very much influenced by my father. Shortly before his death in 1976, he gave me his copy of “The Story of the Southern Cross” by Kingsford-Smith and Ulm. The book gives a graphic account of their fight across the Pacific Ocean. On the book’s front piece, in my father’s writing, are the words “What a story”. A few weeks after his death, I read the book and then wrote a song about the Pacific crossing. In my podcast I have included the song and a recording which I made of my father telling me about the night the Southern Cross became lost on the return flight over the Tasman Sea in October 1928.
I am also hoping that the podcasts will encourage more information to come to light about some of the people and events featured in them. The stories I relate in my fifth podcast about the lady travellers, Syrian Mary and Charcoal Annie, are based only on snippets of information. Syrian Mary was a hawker who lived in the New South Wales country town of Mudgee.
She walked the lonely roads and tracks of the district between the years 1890 and 1910. The bushman ‘Duke’ Tritton remembered meeting her. She obviously made a significant impression on him. Some fifty years later he described her as “the most remarkable woman” he had ever met. Charcoal Annie roamed the Riverina district of southern New South Wales. A reference to her “deep sad eyes” is about the only specific description I have come across. I would love to know more about these women.
It is also very satisfying to use the podcasts to document the lives of people who are not known in our history. I believe that the stories of King Tommy and Polly Flood in podcast 6 are very important ones to tell. These two Aboriginal people lived in the northern New South Wales town of Angledool. Their lives were uniquely documented by local poet and writer Jim Harper. Harper, a friend of both, knew only too well how the spread of European settlement impacted on their lives.
The time taken to practise reading the script is another important part of the process of making a podcast. I usually allow myself a week or so to get comfortable with the script. I am always amazed at the changes that become necessary when the written words are said aloud. The length of sentences often has to be considered as well. The obvious aim is always to try and have it all sound right so that the information can be easily followed and understood.
The placement of linking music to break the script at appropriate places and so assist in its comprehension, or perhaps establish a particular tone, is decided. It is important that these musical links neither obscure the script nor distract the listener from the script.
It is very satisfying to hear that someone in England is listening on their lunch break to one of my podcasts, or that someone else in America is eagerly waiting for the next one. What a thrill it was to learn that a high school class in Poland was using my podcast to assist them with their mastery of English. Through the making of these podcasts, I am enjoying being a very small needle in a gigantic haystack that is the world wide web of information.