Stories of Impact: Jodie Williams

The Churchill Fellowship Impact Fund was launched to enhance the outcomes achieved with Churchill Fellowships across all industries and sectors.

Impact Funding, a post Fellowship opportunity, supports selected Churchill Fellows to implement a project of their design to achieve further impact in their field.

Read about our Churchill Fellows’ journeys from Fellowship to implementation in our Stories of Impact:

Claimed for the British Crown by James Cook in 1774, Norfolk Island was named after an aristocratic British family who never went there. It is a Pacific Ocean territory measuring 5km by 8km, lying 1600 km northeast of Sydney. The land is fertile, the island’s pace is unhurried, with much less traffic than mainland Australia on its 170km of winding roads. 

Settled by Polynesians as early as 1150, it was a fearsome penal colony for three decades until 1855, prompting one writer to say, ‘Exile to this paradise is the harshest punishment for a criminal. No one returns from this hell.’ 

Today, those who live there and those who visit regard it as much more of a paradise than a hell.  

The British colony’s convicts were moved away to Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and in their wake came the Pitcairner settlement, which would create the island’s cultural uniqueness of today. 

These settlers originated in distant Pitcairn Island where descendants of the sailors who staged a mutiny in 1789 on the HMS Bounty had lived with the local Polynesians. The population was felt by the British to have outgrown the island’s capacity and an exodus to Norfolk Island was conducted. 

Norfolk Island’s distinctive history is well known but its culture is less understood by those not closely acquainted with it. The images of quaint buildings nestling below towering pines may suggest an England in the South Seas, but the reality is much different. 

Norf’k, the island’s traditional language, derives from 18th-century English and Tahitian, emerging first on Pitcairn before being brought here with the settlers. For an English-only speaker, there is no guessing the meaning of most Norf’k words – plun means banana, sullun is a person, ippy a silly one, and nufka a kingfisher. 

‘The Norf’k language historically evolved as an oral language,’ says Jodie Williams, a sound artist, graphic designer and interdisciplinary researcher, who was born and grew up on the island and is deeply embedded in her traditional culture, especially its unique soundscapes. These include the distinctive language, the stories passed down through generations, the music and songs, the sounds of the sea, the wind in the famous pines, the bird calls, the farm animals and much more. 

‘Many islanders spell the same words in their own way,’ Jodie explains. 

Our local school hosts language classes with native speakers and activities as a vital component of the Norfolk studies lessons. We encourage our next generation to consistently speak the language in everyday use.’ 

In 2013 Jodie Williams was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the UK to research the theory and practice of sound heritage, and to compile recordings and to study contemporary audio storytelling methods. A major focus was another island – the Isle of Man – which has a rich Celtic, Viking and maritime history, and its own language, Manx.  

Jodie has maintained links with the Manx Heritage Foundation and gifted them copies of her oral history recordings, also sharing these with the Norfolk Island Central School. She drew on the music of Manx harpist Emma Christian while nursing her grandmother in hospital during her final days, part of a vigil that included Jodie’s old recordings. Later she told Emma how touched her family was at that sad time by her beautiful musicThe Fellowship focus for Jodie Williams was on the importance of preserving and protecting sound heritage for future generations of her community. Utilising her professional skills and experience she continued to research new ways of audio storytelling and heritage preservation through sound art.  

Since her Fellowship, Jodie has continued to build on her collections of historical recordings, many from the field. She regularly hosts tourism presentations sharing her digital audio library.  

A major contribution to understanding Norfolk ways has been Jodie’s development of a Cultural and Etiquettes Guide to island life, covering kinship relations to funeral traditions, childhood learning, reciprocity and sharing, food and cooking, the environment, fishing and surfing guidelines, and a simple road rule in regard to livestock: ‘Cows have right of way on the island.’ 

Jodie’s experience with the elderly and ailing, including her late grandmother, guided her emphasis on the benefits of sound healing and music therapy to support palliative and bereavement care patients and families, and people with other health issues.  

In 2022, nearly a decade after she began researching the global implications of her work,  Jodie was one of the first recipients of the Churchill Trust’s Impact Funding grants, a recent initiative enabling Churchill Fellows to further enhance the outcomes of their initial support from the Trust. 

Jodie Williams’ Impact Funding project has developed ways of expanding the depth of her sound heritage library as well as its potential audience reach. Improved access through an open website to stream digital music and soundscape platforms is helping her to bring the sounds of her homeland to locals as well as a global audience, and establishing a sustainable online presence for sound healing and music therapy support. 

She has assisted the Norfolk Island Health and Residential Aged Care Service to help aged care patients and islanders travelling offshore for treatment by supplying music therapy listening devices carrying a collection of her heritage audio library collection. These are cost-free and include a customised and personalised library of Norfolk sound heritage and soundscape recordings.  

Jodie Williams says, ‘The support and encouragement I have received from the Churchill Trust has been central to my ability to record and share a range of cultural resources that I believe will continue to make a significant contribution to the preservation and enhancement of our unique culture. 

‘We feel quite remote from the mainstream when it comes to accessing grant funding, often seeming to fall between the gaps when it comes to seeking support for individual achievers. 

‘I believe the findings that resulted from my original Fellowship could not otherwise have been explored, while the Impact Funding has been crucial in further expanding on this work. 

‘It gives me great pleasure to know that the whole Norfolk community benefits from the Trust’s ongoing invaluable support.’ 

Jodie’s Impact Funding grant enabled: putting together Norfolk Island Sound Heritage Music Therapy Audio Collection, creation of Music Therapy Information booklets; website re-branded and launch of Independent Music Artist platform.

Are you a Churchill Fellow? Do you have recommendations and ideas in your Fellowship report that you’re yet to implement? Do you have a tangible plan for making a difference but need the funding and support to make it happen? We encourage all Fellows that have submitted their Fellowship Report to consider applying for this opportunity.

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