It’s storytime

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    Favourite story of the week was told me in front of the mince shelves at Countdown.

    An old friend recounted how he was caring for a partly tame magpie, who’d lost the top half of its beak. To help feed it, he was buying mince, rolling it in small balls and leaving it for the beleaguered bird, who, as he told it, would hop along, spike the balls with his remaining lower beak, throw them up in the air, and then catch and swallow them.

    “It’s amazing to think these cartons were once proud beasts walking around paddocks,” my old friend wondered out loud.

    “Eh?” I countered.

    “The mince. It’s amazing to think it was once proud beasts. Now, where does it say on the carton that it was grass-fed beef?”

    Being a vegetarian meant my old friend was unused to scanning the meat aisle – but if he was going to have to buy beef mince to feed a moribund maggie, then he was damned sure he was going to buy the best.

    The reasons why I love journalism – why a career working for newspapers like Gulf News around the globe is, in my estimation, the most fulfilling way I could have spent my adult life – is neatly encapsulated in that Sunday afternoon exchange.

    Firstly, I enjoy storytelling. I positively relish the chance to hear others’ tales – even by a supermarket meat counter – and then get the chance to repackage them and send them back out into the world. 

    Secondly, I have a fondness for the connection that these stories bring. To my mind, the joint knowledge that comes with the re-telling of stories is how a community forges its path together. 

    And thirdly, there’s seldom a story that doesn’t contain a nugget of some higher truth buried away in what may outwardly be a simple anecdote. In the case of my old friend and his magpie, for example, he was willing to compromise his vegetarian beliefs to help an old beak-less bird – that personal understanding on his behalf has kept me smiling for the past two and a half days as it demonstrates the constant internal bargains we have to strike to get through life.

    The importance of storytelling was also central to Commander Margaret Weller’s speech at Waiheke’s Anzac Day service. It’s said that someone only truly dies when their name is no longer said out loud – and for those who died fighting for their countries, memorial days such as Anzac Day provide a way to not only remember the immense sacrifice they were willing to make, but also to keep their individual memories alive.

    “To the children here,” Commander Weller said, “don’t be afraid to ask questions and to learn the stories of our veterans, alongside the stories of your family. Don’t leave the questions until it’s too late, because once our veterans are gone they will never again have the opportunity to tell their stories. Tread gently and help our veterans to tell their story, so that those sailors, soldiers and airmen who never saw their next dawn have the opportunity to be heard and remembered through the stories of our veterans. Don’t let their lives be lives lost in vain.”

    This week, Gulf News is celebrating something of a milestone in our storytelling as we’ve been shortlisted as a finalist in the News Publishers’ Association 2021 Voyager Media Awards for Community Newspaper of the Year. This is a first for us and we’re genuinely proud that our small, tightknit team has been recognised for the work we do in our tightknit community.

    What’s more, the publications that have earnt us this accolade are the editions we put out exactly a year ago during New Zealand’s first level-4 Covid lockdown as we strove to keep telling our community’s stories, to keep forging and safeguarding this community’s links between one another, to inform and entertain, during some of this country’s strangest days.

    That Gulf News was unique among community newspapers to continue uninterrupted during March and April took an island’s-worth of effort: from the management team that fought right up to central government to be allowed to print and distribute the Gulf News during lockdown; to a publisher who recognised the importance of disseminating vital information outweighed the requirements of a cover charge; to the staff who worked the phones to keep our advertisers, local businesses and local organisations in the know and, who, in return allowed us to keep our readers informed about their rapidly evolving enterprise; to the printers and delivery team who came to understand the physical realities of being essential workers; to the writers who wouldn’t let being housebound stymie their story-gathering and who fashioned new contacts to help tell the tales of our new world; and – perhaps most of all – to the Waiheke community who reached out to us to share their stories.

    The internal email that broke the news to
    us of our Voyagers success was signed off with a whakataukī that’s worth repeating on behalf of all those who tell the stories that make Gulf News and Waiheke what we are:

    E hará Taku toa i te toa takitahi, he toa takitini!

    My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective. • James Belfield

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