Dr Merrill Findlay

Storytelling through astronomical lenses
The moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre holds that we are storytelling animals on a narrative quest. To know what we need to do, we need to know what story we wish to be part of.

In this presentation I will be looking at my own dilemma, coming back to live in the bush – the town of Forbes – after spending some decades living in Melbourne. In Forbes, I find a culture strongly influenced by climate denial, antipathy to “greenies” and racism. How am I going to continue my work as a cultural practitioner in this place? My solution was to turn to stories of the night sky, which can bring people together across a cultural divide. I will show how my initiative, the Big Skies Collaboration, is re-imagining Australia’s sense of itself over 65,000 years through our engagement with the stars.


MacIntyre, A.: 1998, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century (Routledge, London).

Dr Merrill Findlay spent most of her childhood and teenage years on her family’s farm in Central Western NSW. She has lived in many places since then and accumulated decades of experience as an activist writer, scholar, multimedia producer, and cultural innovator.

In Melbourne, for example, Merrill founded Imagine The Future Inc. and the Ecoversity; wrote her first novel, the critically acclaimed Republic of Women (UQP 1999); undertook her first multimedia project, Redreaming the Plains; published feature articles for the mainstream press including Good Weekend, The Age and Canberra Times; completed a Masters degree in Social Science (by research) at RMIT University; and guest-edited a special edition of the international peer-reviewed journal Futures (39:2-3) on Australia’s possible futures. She also covered the liberation war and refugee crisis in Eritrea and spoke at the United Nations Decolonisation Hearings on East Timor during these Melbourne years.

Since her return to inland NSW Merrill’s work has included The Kate Kelly Project, and a libretto for a chamber opera, The Kate Kelly Song Cycle, which is featured in Tracy Sorenson’s 2013 documentary, Songs For Kate. The chamber opera will be performed again in October 2020 by Gertrude Opera Company at the 2020 Yarra Valley Opera Festival.

 In 2010/11 Merrill founded the Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival in Forbes, and, for this, received a Regional Arts Australia award for her ‘outstanding contribution to the arts in regional Australia’. Merrill has also participated in several gigs in the UK, worked as a research fellow at Indonesia’s Open University, travelled a lot, and completed a PhD through the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research (CCCR).

Merrill’s latest creative intervention, Big Skies Collaboration (BSC), brings together diverse Creatives, partner organisations and sponsors to catalyse new opportunities for people in communities in southeastern Australia’s rural Inland.  Her contributions to the Collaboration include the Skywriters Project through which she produced Dark Sky Dreamings: an Inland Skywriters Anthology (Interactive Press, 2019); the Condo SkyFest with the Wiradjuri Study Centre, Condobolin;  a book-length literary work-in-progress tentatively called Skycountry: a cosmography ; and, most recently, the Seven Sisters Quarry Rehabilitation Project with the Wiradjuri Study Centre, Forbes Shire Council, Lachlan Shire Council and numerous other partners.

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