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Human rights activist and writer reflects on healing power of story


Sharlene King
29 June 2011
The inaugural Dr Tania Lienert Annual Memorial Lecture for Social Justice and Diversity will be delivered by human rights activist and renowned writer Dr Arnold Zable on the topic, ‘The Healing Power of Story’.

The free lecture will be delivered in the Whitebrook Theatre at Southern Cross University's Lismore campus on Thursday, June 30 at 6pm.

Dr Tania Lienert settled in the Northern Rivers area six years ago, but died tragically in December 2010, aged 44, following a car accident. Dr Lienert was an activist, feminist, researcher, community and health services specialist and environmentalist, and worked at Southern Cross University, ACON Northern Rivers and the Northern Rivers University Centre for Rural Health.

Dr Arnold Zable is a compelling storyteller and lecturer. The award-winning writer’s books include Jewels and Ashes, The Fig Tree, and three novels, Cafe Scheherazade, Scraps of Heaven, and Sea of Many Returns. Dr Zable writes about memory and history, displacement and the multiplicity of cultures that make up Australia.

“I feel privileged to be giving the inaugural memorial lecture, given what Tania did and her values and passion for human rights issues and social justice,” said Dr Zable.

As the child of parents who lost most of their family members in the Holocaust, Dr Zable knows firsthand the power of story as a path to healing.

“I saw from an early age the desperation with which my mother wanted to tell her story, yet wasn’t able to. I think a lot of what I do stems from that, being able to sit with people who have gone through trauma and listen to their stories,” he said.

Two decades ago Dr Zable travelled to Poland and Russia to explore his ancestry.

“I went there to track down the missing link in the ancestral chain. In a sense through that journey I learnt how writing can restore the past.”

His works of fiction and non-fiction explore the lives of people who find themselves without a voice, like new immigrants to Australia (both his parents were immigrants). More recently, ‘boat people’ from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan have been the subject of his stories.

“These people have fled oppressive situations and are desperately trying to find a new home.”

Dr Zable has also run writing workshops for survivors of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, the homeless, the profoundly deaf, and problem gamblers.

“With these groups I have seen, many times over, how story can be used as a way of enabling people to explore their trauma. These people have an aching need to tell their stories.”
Photo: Tania Lienert. The Dr Tania Lienert Annual Memorial Lecture for Social Justice and Diversity is named in her honour. Event details: Dr Tania Lienert Annual Memorial Lecture for Social Justice and Diversity, delivered by Dr Arnold Zable, on the topic ‘The Healing Power of Story’ is being held on Thursday June 30, at 6pm-7pm in the Whitebrook Theatre, at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus. This free event is open to the general public. Media opportunity: Dr Arnold Zable is available for interview.