Carol Major is the founder of Advanced Narrative. Her passion for the stories of place, the influences on her thinking and the philosophy behind her approach are told here.
Dr Carol Major is an author, teacher and creative communicator. She cares about finding the authenticity and integrity within any narrative.
She has proven herself to be an innovative thinker from early days of creating the original wildlife segment for Behind the News through to the application of narrative to building design.
Carol holds a Doctorate degree in creative writing from the University of Technology. The subject of her Masters degree, conducted at the same university, included an exploration of the processes through which location becomes both personal and public “place”. Carol’s expertise in this area led to the creation of a boutique consultancy focused on the identity of place within architecture, which has changed thinking on building development. She has consulted to GPT and Lend Lease on projects in Charlestown, Wollongong, Darwin, Rouse Hill and Maroochydore.
Carol’s early career was hallmarked by her commitment to communicate technical information to the wider community to allow people to make informed choices. She conceived and produced content for a wide range of inventive print and audiovisual materials for organisations such as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Foundation, The Addiction Research Foundation and Barrie City Council in Canada. In the latter role she was instrumental in gathering stories that were used to successfully lobby for Ontario’s first provincially funded day care centre meeting the needs of single mothers.
Carol’s expertise in community engagement is also well-regarded. Education campaigns in child safety, using a community approach that ensured local involvement, earned her the Lady Derham Scholarship from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Over the years Carol has written for a wide range of clients including the NSW Department of Health, The Nous Group, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, HCOA (now Affinity Health), Research Australia, Of Substance Magazine and the Criminal Research Council. She has also taught creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney and is an associate of Ink to Screen and Varuna (The National Writer’s House) where she provides manuscript assessment and mentoring services.
I have thought myself home
run through immeasurable space
ahead of time, could not wait for it.
in Selected Prose and Poetry
Stephan G Stephansson translated by Kristjana Gunnars
Red Deer College Press, 1988
I suppose I have always been trying to write myself into place, having emigrated twice—initially from Scotland to Canada and then later to Australia. The landscapes were all so different and although the language was English, the accent was muddled, not only the accent on the spoken word but on the significance of things.
As a child I witnessed the effect immigration had on my mother. She never really found home again. I soon realised that it would be up to me and my sister (my brother had not arrived by that time) to navigate this new territory largely by ourselves. A short story published as part of the 1001 Nights Cast performance art project is about this observation.
And so I remain curious about how we attach ourselves to place and how we make home, so much so that the topic became the subject of a Master of Arts Degree.
So what is place? A spot on the map, a fenced off lot? A piece of real estate with property rights? Perhaps the concept has more to do with physics than geography, a sort of gravity that keeps us revolving around different locations in time and space— those fixed positions where we recognise our surroundings and ourselves. Then again perhaps place is a dream, an imagining, a mental synapse between what we think we see and a memory.
Lise fingered through the fragments. It was a jumble, bits of letters, newspaper articles, typed documents. “How on earth am I supposed to make head or tail of this?” she asked, spreading them over the bed.
“It’s not that hard,” Mary replied, sitting down next to them. “See,” she held two scraps together. “These match.” Parallax South Carol Major
While I was working on the novel component of my research thesis on place, I had a map of New South Wales and a collection of personal photographs pinned to my bulletin board. The photos included: my youngest son in snorkeling gear at the Marriott Hotel in Surfer’s Paradise, windswept trees on an island in northern Canada, a graveyard in the Egyptian desert and three photos taken of me and my sister. In one we are children on the Leven Bridge in Scotland, in another we are in front of a glacier in Jasper National Park, and in the third we are sitting on a bench at Mona Vale Beach in Sydney’s northern suburbs.
The map was to remind me of the geographical location of my story. The photographs were to remind me of place.
My youngest son once claimed the Marriott Hotel to be his favourite place. I found this affection for a motel chain amusing and wondered if he would change loyalties as he grew up. But of course it was the fun we had on a family holiday that was important. It wasn’t so much the location; it was that happy memory he wanted to return to again and again. The photo of the Canadian island has similar significance.
I have never been to Egypt but my father has told me so many stories of his travels during the Second World War. In doing so he joined the memory of listening to him to an idea of Egypt. The graveyard and listening to my father are in the same place.
The photos of my sister and me are another reminder of how place neatly circumnavigates the globe. It is over twelve thousand kilometres from Australia to central Canada, and another eight thousand from there to the Leven River in Scotland. My sister and I have moved through so many locations together and now we are so far apart. I make telephone calls to Edmonton to tell her how my writing is going while outside my door the agapanthus seem to gasp in the heat. Alice sits on the other end of the line beside a double glazed window that holds back winter snow. Such different spots on the globe and yet as I chat I realise I am in exactly the same location as I was in all three photos. I am with Alice and for me being with Alice is to be in place.
I am conscious of the importance of attachment to location when working on place making strategies for designers. It is one thing to gather information on landscape and history but to make these ingredients ‘place’ I must also discover personal attachment—how people saw these things, what they meant to them. Suddenly a landscape becomes place when you hear elders in a community speak of pretending to be Tarzan of the Apes when they played there—of how lianas hanging from a rain forest became their monkey trees.
Not every piece of information holds the same weight. It is about the links between particular aspects of landscape, recorded history and attachment—so that information as seemingly diverse as an amphitheatre shaped cliff and the discovery that great moments in history were played out in the city below suddenly speak to each other. The unifying metaphor of a stage takes shape.
This is the place where a particular story has unfolded. These are the physical ingredients. Now to translate them into design.
The idea of looking at place this way is not about putting up plaques with snippets of history. The aim is to create architectural forms and use materials that echo a region’s story—a story that moves from the past into the future.