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News_ Why ancient stories bring transmedia inspiration (or why books are shit).
Why ancient stories bring transmedia inspiration (or why books are shit).

"Once upon a time", began the story, and straight away we were hooked. We knew there would be a hero, a struggle, love and a spectacular ending.  We would listen to these stories at bedtime as a child, on a journey, after dinner, or as ghost stories around a campfire.  Our eyes would widen, we would gasp, laugh, shriek and cry – and the storyteller would respond by adding colour and detail to the moments we responded to. 

And then the book happened. A black and white type-set, mass-produced object that reduced the story to an inflexible monologue from an unfamiliar narrator.  Heavy metal typesetting limited creativity with fonts, and the social nature of storytelling was confined to schools and a few lucky kids at bedtime.

Books are now centralized and controlled by monolithic publishing houses which make the decisions over what we should read and what stories will never see the light of day. 

But behind this corralling of story form and structure, a new wave of storytelling has recently been emerging that will challenge the orthodoxy.

With the combined cultural innovations of the internet and the worldwide web, the static, linear forms of story-telling are being reimagined into playful, colourful, social and interactive experiences again.

Once more, interactive dialogues and conversations drawn from oral storytelling can be created.  Words can move, can become sounds, images and the form – the very structure of the story itself – can be revolutionized.  As well as creating new stories, life can be breathed into old stories through the digital medium.  In Western cultures, our oral tradition of storytelling has been all but eradicated through centuries of book publishing.  Yet there are some nations which have a rich heritage of stories, stories that were never shoehorned into the written word, ready for a reawakening at the right time.

As part of the 2014 Perth Writers Festival, I was fortunate to take part in a day dedicated to exploring how digital media can be used to help Australian indigenous cultures tell their stories.  Many of these stories from ‘country’ Australia have been geologically dated to being over 40,000 years old.  That’s to say that the narratives reference rover systems that have been replaced by mountain ranges.  These are the oldest stories on the planet.  To the shame of the white conquering classes – and those who continue to govern Australia – these storytellers were punished for telling their stories.  And as frequently as not, punished meant being imprisoned or shot dead.  These stories did not make it into print.  Yet, through generations, some have survived in the memories of the elders and some – a smaller number – are being passed down to a new Aboriginal generation to tell once more.  And, as can happen when stories nudge up against oblivion, they can reemerge more powerful and more relevant than ever before.

I put this concept to Warwick Thornton, director of Samson and Delilah, and more recently The Darkside.  Warwick has changed recently from being a “total technophobe” to someone deeply passionate about how digital media can intersect with Aboriginal storytelling.  As part of the production for The Darkside, he created The Other Side, a website to collate ghost stories from Aboriginal communities.  At first, you could hear pixelated tumbleweeds, but one by one, the stories started coming – to the point where this digital storyhub has now provided Warwick with the story for his next movie project.  

The purity of these stories told in the oral tradition – one social medium to another – is exciting to me as a storyteller and digital practitioner. There is a match of form that could bring these stories to a new global and networked audience that longs for authenticity.

In addition, many Aboriginal stories are strongly rooted in place  - the nature, flora and fauna of Australia.  They reference landmarks, animals and natural evolution.  With a recent app we produced – Ringbalin: River Stories -  we were able to take the stories contained in the video documentary and place them where they were told geographically.  As the Ringbalin ceremony moved south through the tribes along the Murray Darling River basin, the journey was charted on a hand-drawn map of the area.  If you visit the area with the app, you will be given directions for how to find where these ceremonies took place, and you will get an alert on your iPad when you pass through a place where there is a story.

Ringbalin is a first step, but with the conversational capabilities of the internet through interactivity, we can broadcast these stories out to the world.  With the non-linear nature of the medium, we can match the engaged audience of the campfire with the engaged audiences online.  More than that, we can retain the authenticity of the original story form.  I believe that the internet allows us as audiences to have a storytelling experience that is based around dialogue, not monologue, and that the power and intensity of this experience is double that of a monologue.  It is a brave new world for writers:  we need to tap into their core storytelling capabilities and open up the conversation with their audience.

Ringbalin was recently nominated at the SXSW festival in the US.  Simply through this achievement, it will show to a new and global audience how digital media can marry with ancient Aboriginal culture and bring to light again the oldest stories ever told.



Guy Gadney
Group Executive Director

Guy brings to The Project Factory a deep understanding of how to build a stable, innovative and creative environment in order to produce the best quality projects possible. With over 18 years experience in digital media production for major media companies worldwide including Penguin Books, the BBC, FoxKids, FOXTEL, BigPond, Channel Nine and ACP Magazines, Guy is clearly passionate about exciting, cross-platform offerings. He was on the Board of AIMIA in Australia for 10 years, a judge for the Webby Awards in the US, and for the World Summit Awards globally.

Follow Guy Gadney on Twitter @ggadney