The power of story was a central theme of the Voices of Strength cultural gathering held at the Leprena centre in Hobart on 18 April.
Approximately 130 people attended the event to launch the Voices of Strength book, which is a collection of women’s stories and artwork collated by writer and historian Terry Whitebeach.
There was also Indigenous welcome and cleansing dances, songs by Aboriginal artists and traditional food.
Leprena manager Alison Overeem said the aim was to launch the book in a culturally immersive setting that links the women’s stories to the wider story of the First Peoples of Tasmania.
“My idea was to invite both First and Second Peoples and connect them in this space,” she said.
“To say, ‘come in and see what we do and know that you are welcome and this is part of your story too’.”
Ms Overeem said that the day had been “amazing” and she had seen a lot of connections made, such as between members of Kingston Uniting Church and some prospective new members.
Also among the attendees was a group of Filipino women, representatives from disability services and Rev Mark Kickett from Congress South Australia.
Congress Tasmania minister Rev Tim Matton-Johnson, who spoke on the day, expressed satisfaction at the wide range of attendees.
“It was really great to see so many of them turning up to what they knew was a special event,” he said.
Voices of Strength was a collaboration between the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and literacy network 26TEN with funding provided by the state government.
“The aim was to gather women around stories,” Ms Overeem said.
Dr Whitebeach met with 15 women, mostly at Leprena, over a six-week period.
“For a short time we became a small community, mirroring the supportive wider community we all long to inhabit – in which everyone is valued, respected and cherished – a safe place for all,” Dr Whitebeach writes in the book.
Ms Overeem said that what especially resonated from the book was the vulnerability and strength of the women.
She said that being in the privileged position of experiencing the women’s stories meant the reader also became a keeper or holder of their stories.
“People are invited in,” she said.
“It’s about knowing what that means when you hold another’s story.”