Telstra Foundation |

The art of being digital: young women discover the power of place and identity in isolated NW Tasmania

By Bettina Richter September 16, 2020

Place can inform who we are, especially if you live in rural Australia. For young women who live in north west Tasmania, and participate in Big hART’s Project O, this rings very true. Traditionally, the north west of Tasmania has been viewed as an isolated, untapped area which has struggled with issues of unemployment, poverty, literacy and family violence. However now young people are reshaping this view, drawing from the unique strengths of their region to create strong futures.

Clare Spillman manages the work of Project O in the small town of Smithton which lies in the far North West region of Circular Head, over 400km from Hobart. “As a consequence of the remote places where the young women of Project O live, they do feel that identity and place are very much entwined.”

In the past many young people of the North West have felt stigmatised, struggling with isolation and negative perceptions, but Project O is helping change all that.

Project O works with rural young women aged 14-18, offering them opportunities that young people in cities would benefit from, tapping into local resource to build skills. Participants are mentored by top level artists to engage in high profile local events like Acoustic Life of Sheds, Tunes in the Tulips and more recently the outstanding Paper on Skin. This engagement builds confidence, leadership and a ‘can-do’ attitude in the young women, as they begin to take pride in themselves and where they live.

“Coming from London I understand how rich and lucky these young people are to grow up in this area”, says Clare Spillman. “I think celebrating place and celebrating the rich produce that comes out of this region is really changing how they see their world.”

Project O Smithton workshop with artist Maeve Baker. Photo courtesy of Big hART.

The art of place

16 year old Mishca joined Project O in Wynyard at the beginning of this year. Mishca has really grown as a digital artist during this time, learning how to use Procreate and working with leading VIC, NSW and WA artists including digital illustrators Maeve Baker and April Philips, designer Jes Hoskin, photographer Nicole Reed, filmmaker Nicky Akehurst and sound designer Leith Alexander.

“Being a part of Project O has really helped boost my confidence in my artwork”, says Mishca. “I’ve gained a lot of new experiences that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.” Mishca was invited to participate in the National Gallery of Australia’s teen ‘Digital Lab Online’ and in May presented a digital portrait she had created for International Women’s Day.

Project O Participant Mishca Linden speaking at International Women’s Day dinner event in March. Photo by Nicole Reed.


“My art is heavily influenced by nature, especially the beach”, says Mishca. “Growing up on the North West coast has made me really appreciate the beauty and wildness of where we live. I really enjoy being able to drive 15 minutes and end up somewhere that feels so far away from the rest of the world.”

In June Mishca was invited back again NGA’s teen digital lab to participate in an Instagram live streamed in-conversation event with Wiradjuri-Scottish digital artist, illustrator April Phillips, where they discussed their practice and techniques with young people across the country. “I use art to express feelings that I may not be able to easily speak about, as it just feels easier”, says Mishca.


Digital self portrait by Project O participant Mishca Linden with artist mentors Maeve Baker and Nicole Reed.

Collaborating with artists

Throughout COVID-19 young women have been learning new digital media and design skills, creating digital works of film, animation, illustrations, poetry and TikToks. The unique opportunity to collaborate with artists also saw their work stretched further and reflected back to them. Young women might write some words about the view from their window, take photographs, and then the work would be collated by the artists, adding animation, a sound bed, design and digital illustration into the work.

“The most important thing I think for the young women is the realisation that they are heard and valued by noted artists in the industry”, says Clare Spillman. “For any young person to realise that they’ve been seen, and they’ve been heard, and their contribution is valued is huge, especially in COVID times where we all feel very isolated, very alone, and very cut off.”

Words by Project O participant Shania Spanner. Artwork by Maeve Baker.

Challenges

The period of lockdown has not been without its challenges for young people living in an already isolated area of the country, trying to keep up with education and contact with peers. In Smithton where Clare works, the young women work out of local youth centre SEVEN UP, and the Project O team take a proactive approach to maintaining relationships and building trust, with Clare ringing the young women twice a week to check in.

“During lockdown it was very hard to ensure that we were being a source of support and not creating an extra pressure”, says Clare Spillman. “Many of the young people felt a lot of pressure being home-schooled, juggling that with staying in one place with your family, and also doing all your duties from home.”

Young women from Project O. Photo by Nicole Reed.


Clare says the strategy they used to get through this difficult time was simply to be consistent, supportive and communicating a lot via emails, text messages, Google Classroom, phone calls and using Zoom to deliver workshops. Thanks to the support of Telstra, Project O was also able to reach out to young women who didn’t have the technological resources at home to offer them iPads so that they could take part in all the opportunities on offer.

“I think they have learnt that they are as resilient, as we’ve been telling them”, says Clare Spillman. “The outside artists also validate the young women, echoing what we’ve been telling them this whole time – that they’re strong, growing, fantastic women who have the power to do exactly what they want to do.”

Shariah Broom learns filmmaking with Project O. Photo by Nicole Reed.


“The work around place goes back to validating the North West Coast of Tasmania as an important place to be, an award-winning place which is really important for young women to hear. Whatever path they want to do they can follow, they just have to identify that path”, says Clare Spillman.

Project O is an initiative of Big hART, and in 2020 celebrates five years of helping young women be change makers in isolated and disadvantaged communities across Australia. Project O is proudly supported by Telstra, the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Community Fund. To find out more go to the Project O website.

Acoustic Life of Sheds - Tasmania
Technology For Kids | Telstra Foundation |

Transforming the life of sheds – and the local community

By Bettina Richter May 30, 2019

In North West Tasmania, a unique music event held in farm sheds is enabling young disadvantaged teens to learn life skills along with new digital abilities.

There is something quite extraordinary happening in North West Tasmania. A music festival held in farm sheds is equipping young people with confidence, capability and digital tech know-how. In March this year, 35 young women aged 14-16 from Big hART’s Project O initiative, helped produce Acoustic Life of Sheds, which saw over 1200 people enjoy musical performances in farm sheds along the stunning North West Tasmania coast.

The event ran for four days as part of the Ten Days on the Island festival, with 51 performances at five sheds. For these young people, who come from a community which struggles with literacy, employment, family violence, poverty, isolation and school retention, the event built not only a renewed sense of community but also developed self-confidence, agency, leadership and digital skills.

At Acoustic Life of Sheds, young people were acknowledged and welcomed by the community, made friends with farm owners, spoke to the media, joined in with the crew and cast and were an integral part of the event. They were no longer invisible or on the outer – they were strong, capable and inspiring; they had a voice and we heard their story.

At the Potato Shed, we stood transfixed as young women performed percussion with professional vibraphone artist Maggie Abraham, and listened to a spellbinding audio experience where young people talk about their favourite local place and what it meant to them. At another shed we saw teenagers assisting with digital filmmaking, photographing, sound engineering, stage management and creating posts and video content for social media.

Local entrepreneur and former policewoman Andy Jackman has mentored the young women of ProjectO through her family business Red Cow Organics, which specialises in organic artisan cheese created with sustainable farming practices. “I grew up in a really stable household”, she said. “Mum and Dad were there, my siblings were there. Normal life was family life. A lot of the girls we’ve worked with, that’s not normal for them.”

Young people from the program assisted Andy at her food stall at one of the sheds, learning catering and hospitality skills. “The progress that a lot of these girls have made, it’s amazing”, said Andy. “You can see the transformation from when they first start the program to when they graduate in Year 10. I can see the power in that and I love it.”

In the weeks leading up, ProjectO participants from Wynyard and Smithton learnt digital podcasting, audio craft and storytelling skills with Helene Thomas, of mobile recording studio The Wayfinder, creating immersive audio stories that audiences listened to at Acoustic Life of Sheds.

“As someone who was born and raised on the North West Coast of Tasmania it was such an honour and privilege to be invited to mentor young women in the art of audio storytelling. These Year 9 and 10 girls have profoundly strong voices with powerful messages”, Helene told us.

One young woman Helene worked with was 15-year-old Trinity from Wynyard. “Trinity took me to her special place, spoke about why she liked to go there and how it made her feel. She captured sounds of the water and birdlife so beautifully. It’s heartening to know organisations such as BighART are committed to engaging with young rural women to help build personal agency, skills and employment pathways.”

You can listen to Trinity’s story here.

Over at cattle property Gumhill, where a woodworking shed has been turned into a performance venue, farm owner Devon Cruickshank also talked about the community that Acoustic Life of Sheds has created. The young women linger between shows in her kitchen, lapping up her homemade cakes and sharing recipes. Unofficially, Devon has also become a mentor and friend of the young women, someone who will look out for them in the community. “It brings the community together. The experience for the girls is lovely, to see how warm everyone can be and support them”.

Northwest Tasmania is an area marked by lower levels of digital inclusion, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. Arming these young women with digital skills is important to foster capability and confidence in an increasingly digital world. But it is more than that, as digital inclusion specialist Robert Morsillo from Telstra says. “Digital inclusion is vital to social inclusion. To have a sense of connectedness is to have a sense of community and hope.”

A few weeks later, nine ProjectO young women took Acoustic Life of Sheds on the road to the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania, as part of a special community recovery weekend after the intense bushfires that affected the area. The young women took over the ProjectO Facebook page, posting pics and stories during the weekend. Shania says, “We have had an amazing experience with the whole project and we are so proud of ourselves.”

Project O is an initiative of Big hART and proudly supported by Telstra. For more information visit www.bighart.org

Telstra Foundation |

Young women bridging the digital divide in north-west Tasmania

By Bettina Richter November 12, 2018

A new digital inclusion strategy enabling young women to be change-makers and bridge the digital divide is taking shape in north-west Tasmania.

As the world moves forward with the next industrial revolution, tech skills are critical to a young person’s future and their ability to adapt and be innovative in an ever increasing digital landscape. Big hART’s Project O enables young women to learn new skills and create new employment pathways, building confidence and aptitude in digital media.

Whilst there was some improvement in north-west Tasmania evidenced in the 2018 Australian Digital Inclusion Index Report, digital inclusion in the north-west is still amongst the lowest in Australia, with economically disadvantaged communities across rural Tasmania having high exclusion rates.

Kimberley Chaplin, 15 from Wynyard in north-west Tasmania, is just one of the young women involved in Project O. With very limited computer access at home and school, Kimberley has joined Project O as she says it gives her more opportunities and gets her out of the house. She hopes to one day become an engineer and is hoping to learn programming, engineering software, and also film editing as part of the program. 15 year old participant Kailee Hanson had the opportunity to be mentored by Hobart filmmaker Eliya Cohen as part of Project O, learning about camera techniques, lighting and also working with editing software, Kailee said “I want to learn editing because it’s a form of art and it’s cool.”

Also supporting the young women is 17 year old Izzi Ward, who has come through Project O and is now a mentor. ‘It’s great the support Project O has in the community”, said Izzi, “It really creates a sense that there’s powerful women around you, supporting you.”

Through the program, young women participate in innovative, highly engaging workshops in graphic design, animation, augmented reality, virtual reality, drone-piloting, sound production, podcast creation, blogging, filmmaking, entrepreneurship, digital media and more. This will culminate in a series of high profile events engaging the community. These are run by the local young women, promoting them as capable, confident and digitally savvy.

Genevieve Dugard, National Director of Project O, says that Project O’s approach is not a one-size-fits all program but one that is tailored to each young women’s interests and needs, providing them with experiences and opportunities they would not normally have, led by strong female mentors. “The aim of our digital inclusion strategy is to equip these young women into the future with not just tech skills but also a confident, creative and entrepreneurial mindset, growing future young female leaders and business owners which will in turn strengthen the economy of north-west Tasmania”, says Genevieve.

Speaking at the launch of Project O’s digital inclusion strategy, 7th October 2018, at Table Cape Tulip Farm in Wynyard, north-west Tasmania, Robert Morsillo – our Digital Inclusion Senior Specialist – talked about the importance of being connected, having a sense of community and contributing creatively to society. “I commend Big hART and Project O and the amazing hard work of these young women who make it so special, “said Robert, “We want everyone to be able to thrive in our increasingly digital world and digital economy. Inclusion is really important for everyone – for jobs, for accessing government services and it can also be a lifeline.”

Project O is an initiative of Big hART, Australia’s leading campaigning arts organisation, which won the Telstra Business of the Year and Charity of the Year in Tasmania in 2017, and is led by 2018 Tasmanian Australian of the Year Scott Rankin. Project O’s new digital inclusion strategy is being rolled out in Wynyard and Smithton in NW Tasmania, Frankston Victoria, and Roebourne in the Pilbara in Western Australia.