Profiles of Bellingen Shire's elders

Bruce Jacups and Nicole Hind
Bruce Jacups and Nicole Hind

A storytelling art exhibition called Growing (in)Visible, which ran at The Stables from June 9-18, is being presented as a series of profiles in the Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun.

With words by Nicole Hind and photos by Bruce Jacups, the profiles will shine a light on eight people across our shire aged from 67 to 95 years who were asked to speak about their lives, roles, passions, protests and experiences of growing older.

Sharing the wisdom they have gleaned over decades will be Dorin, Ruth, Wally, Dianne and Chris, Colin, Rod and Ruth.

Nicole said she and Bruce had two main motivations: to capture people's stories before it was too late and to explore the politics of ageing.

"We'd both known people who talked about becoming invisible in our society despite walking around carrying so much wisdom," she said.

Nicole took care to make the process of being involved in the project comfortable and enjoyable for the participants.

"I wanted it to be a warming experience, so we sat with everyone for at least an hour. It was more of a conversation than a straight-up interview. And we went to where people said they wanted us to meet them, which was mostly in their homes."

It turned out that ageing was not what most of the participants wanted to focus on: they just wanted to tell their life stories.

"The only person who really spoke in depth about being old and what it is like was Ruth Phillips, who is 95," Nicole said.

Across the stories, a theme recurred which perhaps relates to our region and its particular appeal.

"People talked about how they had moved here very intentionally," Nicole said. "A couple of people talked about how they gave up secure careers and jobs to move here when they were in their late 30s.

People talked about how they had moved here very intentionally

Nicole Hind

"And a few retirees moved here with a strong intention, with a vision like wanting to build a passive solar house."

In writing the stories, Nicole hoped to help the audience reflect on their own ideas about ageing.

"Either how they are with aged folks or how they view themselves. To break down the barriers of people being afraid or infantalising old people."

Nicole came to Bellingen from Melbourne about 18 months ago and she works as a counsellor specialising in narrative therapy.

She said the idea for the project came from long-term resident Bruce Jacups, and they were introduced to each other by a third party.

"He was talking to people about wanting to do a photo story project and wanting someone to do the interview side of it. To me, it sounded like it had real potential. And I was excited by it because I wanted to do something creative."

Nicole and Bruce received a small creative placemaking grant from Bellingen Shire Council to assist with costs of the project.