Personal Patron Mentorship – a reflection

Thursday, December 8, 2016
Kat Clarke

Lyndel Caffrey and Kat Clarke
Mentor Lyndel Caffrey and supported writer Kat Clarke

When I think back through the journey of my Personal Patron mentorship, I think it’s funny how fast the months flew by. I never thought I’d even get the chance to have such an amazing opportunity like this. I had written so many unpolished short articles and stories, not to mention isolated myself from the outside world. I needed this mentorship to help keep me on track of my writing aspirations and it was about time I got a fresh opinion.

With my eyes wide open, I went in search of my perfect mentor and discovered Lyndel Caffrey. Modest, a welcoming smile, someone who has a background in creative writing and someone I would be comfortable working with. Perfect! With the help of from the ladies at Writers Victoria, Lyndel and I arranged to meet. After working out the nuts and bolts of what I wanted to develop and improve further, which was my grammar and dream of writing a family history story, we were on our way. Initially, we met every two to three weeks, working on some of my older work while building frameworks to begin researching my family history and figuring out how it would be structured. It wasn’t long until those unpolished articles and stories began looking brand-spanking new.

During this time I also penned my Personal Patron a letter. Dorothy Hutton took a shot on me and I wanted to share the news of my development and progress with her. Part of the mentorship is to write to our patrons, but I would have done this regardless. It wasn’t long until I had a response with Dorothy offering to visit me in person. We decided on somewhere local in Sunshine and again with help of Writers Victoria chose a date. I picked Dorothy up from the station, we found a café and shared stories. I had learnt that she too had just begun researching her family history. She said it was funny how she had never thought to do it earlier in her life and yet family history has been vital for Aboriginal people since forever. It was only in recent decades that a lot of other Australians – and herself – were beginning to understand this importance. Hearing this made me realise how we all are in some way searching for answers in order to better understand ourselves. More to the point, Dorothy had been a gentle reminder that no matter what stage we are at in life, we are always learning.

In sourcing books and information that would improve my writing Lyndel has been my navigator and confidante, especially in building the courage to get my work published. I had written a few published pieces for the Rag and Bone Man Press but that was all. Because of Lyndel’s reassurance I found the guts to contact a publisher for a few magazines (mainly focused on health), to publish what I wrote about my mum and her life with lupus. Then came the brick wall – I didn’t get a response. Setbacks can be hard to handle, but I must say, I work better under pressure. It has helped in producing some of my best work. So after many used tissue boxes and self-cussing I decided to try again. Really, that’s all you can do, right? I sent Lyndel an email and she suggested I try a few newspaper organisations, let it go, and then come back to it once I felt I had given it enough time for a response. It was a token that was worth hearing, sometimes it took weeks, even months for publishers and newspaper editors to respond. So I focused on my next goal: writing a family chronicle.

I have always dreamt of writing the Australian version of 'Roots'. Besides the frameworks we had built and the structures discussed, I still hadn’t harnessed the nerve to begin. Writing family history can be a bit of a puzzle and sometimes even when you have all the pieces not everyone is willing to share them. Not all family stories are going to turn out the way you had first imagined. I found this out the long way round and probably backwards too. Patience, I’ve found, is key. One thing that has come out of this was that I actually started writing. I have decided on telling my family history through a collation of fictional short stories – a collation of voices. I have also reached a point where I know my strengths as a writer, and I realise that to just begin wasn’t possible without the help of some great mentors, my family and some life experience. 

Where to from here, then?

Dorothy has invited me to meet with her and her bookclub, so I will be going walkabout and visiting her very soon. Outside of writing, I also have some great film and art projects that I have begun to sink my teeth into.

Finally, as my family and Elders tend to say, Home is always here. Go and get the knowledge and make something out of it. Then return home to Country when the time calls to share it.' 

This is something that has stuck with me throughout my education and career. So, I hope to eventually return home to Country once I have accomplished all I can in the city. Back home where I can incorporate my writing, business and artistic pursuits, and build a safe place for all to learn, share and create. Each piece, every thread woven, has led back to my own Aboriginal heritage, family and identity. The experiences throughout my life up to this point, and the dynamic personalities that have wandered in and out, have contributed to developing my own creative voice and practice as a writer. Now, I just want to share it. 

About Kat Clarke

Kat Clarke is a multi-talented creative and consultant from the Wimmera. Being a proud Wotjobaluk woman, Kat takes pride in being active with both her own community and the Aboriginal community in Melbourne. Having graduated from RMIT with a specialty in writing and film, Kat dreams of one day developing her own stories and a business that is focused around the Creative Arts Industry. With an aim to incorporate a learning environment for disadvantaged cultural groups and low-socio economic groups and that supports creative talent, encourages self-worth and self-management. Kat has worked as a writer, cultural consultant and public speaker/performer for various organisations, festivals and communities. 

This commission was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.

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