Storyfest Out West is back for another year, bringing quintessential literary programmes to the town of Longreach at the end of July. 

Children’s literacy events and programmes play an integral part in encouraging a love of storytelling, reading, and writing. Not only that, but they support children in the expression of their interests and passions, as well as giving them the key to knowledge itself. 

Children in larger cities definitely see the benefits of such programmes, and the Storyfest Writers’ Festival has been a source of such inspiring events on the Gold Coast for the past three decades. Rural towns, however, have not been so lucky. 

The past few decades have seen numerous research done on and around the levels of education and, within that, literary comprehension in rural versus metro Australia. While these findings are showing slight improvements over the years, there is still a great divide between the reading and writing skills of those children studying in regional and urban areas. 

Storyfest’s mission is to inspire young people and families through all forms of storytelling – creating a positive impact and influence on individual’s lives and across the community. As part of this mission and in an effort to bring the power of storytelling to regional Australia as well, Storyfest ventured Out West for the first time last year, delivering a two-day writer's festival in Longreach aimed at the empowerment of school children in their relationship with books.

For the second year in a row, Storyfest will return to Longreach between 26-28 July, and with us we’ll bring a host of incredible authors for some fun workshops, family-friendly events, and even more books than last year! Through Storyfest Out West, we hope to not only spark a new interest, but to provide a means for a sustained, beneficial practice in literature for rural children.

In preparation for the festival, we got the chance to talk to Storyfest Out West Ambassadors Rachelle Moore and Peta Bates. From their involvement with Storyfest, through to their own experiences with literature as children, get to know these two incredible women below!

Storyfest: Tell us a little bit about yourselves – what do you do and where are you from?

Rachelle Moore: I am the Deputy Principal at the Longreach School of Distance Education (LSODE). I was sent out to Longreach in 1995 to do my country service, 28 years later I am still here, married with two children who are now 18 and 16. I have always had a passion for the arts and providing students with opportunities that they never thought were possible. Since moving to Longreach, I have been involved in many projects that provide opportunities for our rural and remote students. Three highlights over the years are: in 2020 I choreographed the Olympic torch relay celebration dance for 600 students in the entire central west region; for 10 years since 2012, I have been involved in producing school musicals with distance education students; and of course being an ambassador and part of the foundation of Storyfest Out West for Western Queensland.

Peta Bates: I am Head of Department for our secondary students, known as the Western Alliance. We combine our teachers from Longreach School of Distance Education, Charleville School of Distance Education and Mount Isa School of the Air and work as one. My role is to oversee all operations and face-to-face field events for these students. I came to Longreach from Harrisville in the south east corner with my husband and three children in 2014. We only planned on coming for three years and this is now our tenth. This year, our youngest will graduate high school. It is a wonderful place to raise children and the community is amazing.

S: Growing up, what sort of a role did books play in your lives?

R: Growing up, I used to borrow books from either the school library or my local council library. It was my Nana who was a regular visitor of the local library and I used to go there with her. However, my real love of reading for pleasure came when I was in my first year at university. To get to uni, I used to travel on two trains to get to the other side of town. The girl I used to travel with was an avid reader, she lit a real passion in my soul for books.  Providing opportunities for students to immerse themselves in books through libraries, teachers and role models is so important to develop that love of literature.

P: I was only recently chatting to my mum about my childhood not too long ago. I was the girl who always had her nose in a book. Mum would often come and tell me I had to ‘go outside, get some sunshine, play with my brother’. She would then put her head out the window a little later and sigh as she saw me outside, nose in a book again. I love how books create escapism, transport you to other worlds and how the words on the page create pictures that appear in your mind like your own personal movie.

S: How did you get involved with Storyfest? What are your roles as ambassadors for Storyfest Out West?

R & P: We became involved with Storyfest when we met CEO Andrea Lewis after a board member visited our tour at LSODE. Storyfest were so very generous to take some of our students down to Somerset Storyfest on the Gold Coast several times. This opportunity was priceless for our students and their enthusiasm for books was wonderful. Upon their return, we met with Andrea who was passionate about seeking ways to deliver a literacy festival to be able to reach more students in the outback and provide them with the same opportunities as their city peers. This is where Storyfest Out West was born. 

Seeing how Storyfest impacted those students who went to the Gold Coast, we were so passionate about the opportunities that could be provided to our students, that we quickly became champions who wanted to be involved in this amazing opportunity. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between LSODE and Storyfest that then led to Storyfest Out West.

Our roles entail being the link between Somerset Storyfest, their staff and Longreach. We provide local knowledge and links to all the other outback schools in the central west of Queensland. When planning the first Storyfest Out West, we were keynote speakers at the Storyfest Soiree to raise funds for the festival out west. It was an honour to be able to tell our story of how our geographically isolated students learn each and every day. 

S: Do you believe that it’s essential for organisations like Storyfest to venture further west, into more regional or rural areas?

R & P: LSODE’s vision is ‘Excellence in Education for Isolated Families’, whether that be geographically isolated or isolated in other ways. For organisations like Storyfest, it is vital that they bring such ventures out west so that our students can achieve that excellence through experiences that enrich their education and learning regardless of where they live.

S: What were some of the highlights from last year’s festival?

R &P: Highlights were seeing students make connections with authors and grow in confidence with their literacy skills. Seeing the excitement on their faces as they attended a session then lined up to get their books signed and have a chat with the author. A particularly inspiring story was from a secondary student, Dom, who attended a session of Joel McKerrow’s on day one and was so inspired that he went home and wrote some slam poetry that night. He came back on day two to perform it in front of a crowded room. Let me tell you – it blew us all away. Joel even took more time during his day to connect and nurture Dom’s curiosity and passion for learning. To see Dom be able to express himself through this medium of storytelling was certainly inspiring.

S: What are you the most excited for coming up to this year’s Out West festival?

R & P: Last year’s authors, author sessions and workshops were second to none. They were such a generous and friendly group of people who totally embraced the west and our students. We are very excited to meet a new group of authors to share this experience with. We know how much our students gain from this experience, but the authors also learn so much as well. Some have never been in outback Queensland themselves. Being able to have another group of authors ignite a passion for storytelling in our students and inspire them to explore is going to be epic.

S: As ambassadors, what would you love to see at future festivals?

R & P: At future festivals, we would love to continue seeing authors who tell their stories in various ways. We were blessed last year to have storytellers, poets, podcasters, musicians and oral storytellers. Showcasing these authors to our students and asking them to challenge their traditional preconceptions of stories only being in written books will hopefully inspire them to tell their stories in ways that suit their personalities. Imagine if everyone did this – the world would hear so many more stories – and how wonderful would that be? 

Want to find out more about Storyfest Out West, or even purchase tickets? Click here!