John Morony 2013
Returning to where it all started...
In 2013 Unlocked returned to John Morony Correctional Centre in Western Sydney. This was one of the first centres to host an Unlocked project in 2010. Since then the project has grown and developed, and in 2013, two of the original Unlocked poets, Gareth Jenkins and Johanna Featherstone, returned to the centre to run the project with a new group. The class group was a small but supportive group of Aboriginal men. Many had limited literacy skills, but this did not limit their desire to write. Johanna ran intensive, supported exercises to help them find their way to expression; small moments of articulation that give a glimpse into their minds, their loves and passions.
Home and place feature heavily. Many of the group come from regional areas and grew up with an intense relationship with their natural environments, and they long to be back there, fishing and hunting. As Russel’s poem puts it, “Home ’n’ family = rivers ’n’ bush + campin’ ’n’ fishin’...”. Away from home and family, in the context of the poetry men supported each other like brothers. They constantly shared their work with each other, overcoming the shyness and embarrassment that typically accompanies the process of writing for the first time.
Most of the exercises used various materials to get the students writing, such as images to respond to, and found texts which the students erased until a poem emerged from the vestiges. As well as this there are epistle poems, letters to a younger self, love poems to a place or person.
Making a difference little by little
A real moment of revelation came when doing a close reading of a Tupac song, a song that all knew, but none of the group had ever focused closely on the lyrics.
Also, after the Unlocked workshops, the students took part in another series of workshops based around performance and rap, and the students mentioned to the teachers in the centre that it was Unlocked that gave them the confidence to attend the next workshop and write and perform their own work. While a single Unlocked project may not instantly change whole lives, the hope is that it might represent the first step on a new path.
T his Unlocked project was supported by the Department of Industry, the Australia Council’s Community Partnerships, and Anne Kantor. We are extremely grateful for their support. Thanks must also go to Rob Osborne and Noreen Pang, who, like Johanna and Gareth, have been collaborating on this project from the very start, and without whom none of this would have been possible.
Visit our online store to purchase publications and materials from this project. The Red Room Company is a not-for-profit organisation. All funds raised support the ongoing work of The Red Room Company.