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Byron Shire
November 29, 2021

Interview with Jeanti St Clair, Curater of Flood Stories

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Flood Stories: An audio walk and storytelling project about the 2017 Lismore flood and recovery. 28 April–6 May, 2021 at Lismore Quad.

Flood Stories

Jeanti St Clair has curated a powerful, immersive audio experience that takes audiences into deep water. She speaks with The Echo about Flood Stories.

We’ve had fires, we’ve had a pandemic; the floods seem so long ago. Why did you decide to focus on these stories?

In late 2019 when I began working on this project, the fires and pandemic hadn’t yet happened. 

I’m very interested in capturing personal perspectives of major events. It’s up close and personal but somehow incredibly universal as well. 

Several storytellers said they hadn’t told their story to anyone yet, and that Flood Stories was the first time they shared their story. It’s been very therapeutic for them, but I think it will be like that for the audience too.

Tell me the basic concept.

Flood Stories is an immersive audio walk and storytelling experience. 

You arrive at the Lismore Quad, and find a shipping container just plonked there, as if it were left by the floodwaters. Inside though are two rows of bright yellow raincoats that run along the walls; and a pair of gumboots sits beneath each raincoat. In the pocket of each raincoat is a small audio player and set of headphones.

Visitors don a raincoat and gumboots, put on the headphones, press Play on the audio player to hear the story of someone who either survived the flood or was part of the rescue and recovery teams. Each storyteller directs the visitor to follow a specific route from The Quad into the Lismore CBD streets before returning to the shipping container. 

What were some of the common themes that came through?

Loss and grief, of course, and discovering what is most important to us. Another big theme was the urge people had to be at home during the flood. And community – how incredible Lismore and the broader Northern Rivers was in supporting, in cleaning up, and in caring for each other. I also asked everyone to reflect on what we learned as a flood town, and what we need to remember for the future. 

What would you like audiences to take from Flood Stories?

A sense of what it was like to be part of a major flood, to be part of a community that really came together to clean-up, to understand that our experiences aren’t too different in some ways.

Flood Stories is also a way for our Northern Rivers community to reflect on our preparedness for future floods and climate emergencies, and we can do this through both telling and listening to our flood stories.

Ironically your show about a natural disaster got put on hold because of a global disaster. 

The plan was for Flood Stories to happen on the flood’s third anniversary because we might have some emotional distance from the event, and could use it as part of the healing process. 

But, bam, we got COVID-ed about 10 days out and decided to postpone for a year. I was gutted but it was the right thing to do. I’m so pleased we are able to share these stories now. They are so powerful. 

Interestingly, we’ve also had a flash flood, two minor floods, and one moderate one since then. 

How have things changed or adapted in what you put out now?

Nothing’s really changed, except the dates. In August for the Shine Festival, I plan to re-version Flood Stories. This will be an app-based montage of the 10 stories, with sound design and music. An immersive ‘blockie’ of the CBD. Keep an eye open for more about that. But this time round, it is just you and one storyteller’s voice. It’s quite intimate in that way.

What should people expect for this season?

Expect to be moved, and probably surprised at how, by walking as if in the shoes (or gumboots) of another person, you can come to understand their experience. 

From Wed until Thurs 6 May starting a The Quad and going through the streets of Lismore. Tix lismorequad.org.au.

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