[An address delivered to the Interpretation Australia (IA) National Conference in Melbourne, November 2012. It was in part fulfilment of the 2011 Georgie Waterman Award I received in Perth last November.
According to IA, "heritage interpretation is a means of communicating ideas and feelings which help people understand more about themselves and their environment."]
[An interpreter at work, Ubirr Rock, Northern Territory]
[Interpreting military history, Rottnest Island, WA]
Robin warns that this will be complex, advising that we “build in the time and money . . . that is required to do the job well. Research the pitfalls and dance around them. The process and the product will be long lasting and beyond expectations. The experience for the audience will be surprising and memorial.”
[Interpreting colonial heritage, Woolmers Estate, Tasmania]
* Read widely, starting with actually reading Tilden. Don’t let yourself succumb to what CS Lewis called “chronological snobbery”, where everything new is per se better than that which is old. Yes Freeman Tilden wrote “Interpreting Our Heritage” in 1957, and was dead before computers were part of our lives. But wisdom is wisdom. The longer I am an interpreter, the more I come to appreciate just how insightful Tilden was.
[Reading interpretive panels, Kakadu National Park, NT]
* Feed your creative side. Take deliberate time out to do it. Whatever it is, whether painting, writing, cooking, playing an instrument, climbing a cliff or picking a line down a whitewater river, just do it. Even if you do it poorly, it presents you with other challenges that will nourish you and that part of your brain that interpretation can also tap into.
* Leave your ego at the door. You are a conduit, not the focus. This is easier said than done, because we do all have egos. We’re interpreters after all! And there is a place for your personality – a very important place. It adds a unique flavour and authenticity. But it is the spice, not the meal itself.
* Be generous, collaborate, willingly share what you know and the sources of your knowledge, with other interpreters. This is another aspect of the ego issue. If interpretation is about audiences gaining appreciation, and ultimately caring for that which is interpreted, then it doesn’t matter who played what role in getting it out there.
* Don’t rely on technology alone. By all means embrace what technology has to offer: I personally have found things like apps, blogs, podcasts and vodcasts powerful and helpful. But in and of themselves these are just media. To revert to an old 20th century acronym, it can be a case of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). As Pamela and Cath have both reminded us, we need to get the fundamentals right first. Good content might then be enhanced by innovative technology.
* And finally consider interpretation as a long game. Some of you may only be in the interpretive profession for a short time. But if you become a good interpreter, it is something that will stay with you for life, whatever your profession. Some time in the next few years, I will probably retire from my interpretive role with Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service. But - and you may pity my friends and family - I fully expect that I will be interpreting until I draw my last breath.