Songsmiths reflect Oz
By TOBY WALKER
PETER Willis is the sort of man you want at a dinner party.
As a religious minister, he spent 10 years working for social justice and community development with Aboriginal people in Western Australia's Kimberley region.
He went from social work to academia when invited to take up a post at the University of South Australia and or the last 20 years, Dr Willis has been one of Australia's leading adult educators, seeking to show people that imagination plays a key role in learning.
Dr Willis recently was at the Grafton Community Centre for a three-date speaking tour of the North Coast as part of an ongoing series, the Robert Theobald Conversations.
Attendees may have been perplexed by Dr Willis' analogous use of Labor politician and former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett and singer-songwriter Paul Kelly but, as he says, they tell Australian stories through song in an inclusive way.
"My interest is in ways in which humans construct their world through stories," he said.
"The stories we've got in Australia that keep us going is the story of Waltzing Matilda, the stories of the Anzacs and things like that.
"I'm interested in how we continue to make stories that validate the life we lead.
"On how we create and shape the national imagination and I regard it as really important in terms of who we are and learning to be more inclusive.''
Dr Willis warned, however, that a stimulated imagination needed to be tempered with a critical mind wary of how political spin and consumerism can undermine traditional democratic ideals.
"Advertising is now incredibly powerful and shaping, they want us to take on their story that to live is to con- sume.