Why TAFE courses are important

The 2015 TAFE year started last week. Thousands of students embarked on an education that has the potential to change their lives. That’s not hyperbole – I’ve seen it, regularly. While much of the focus of higher education is on universities, I wish to argue the case that TAFE courses have a far greater impact on the lives of many Australians – young and older; and all discussions about the future of higher education should have TAFEs front and centre of the debate.

When most people think of TAFEs they think of apprenticeships and trade training. My experiences are in a very different area, and it is an area that has been at the forefront of cuts in recent years.

Last year Holmesglen Institute of TAFE announced it was ending its Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) course, one of the longest-running vocational courses of its kind in Victoria. The year before Box Hill Institute of TAFE made the same decision. The year before it was Chisholm Institute.

‘So what?’ you ask. ‘Who needs such courses? They’re just an indulgence.’

Well they’re not. For one thing, vocational-education PWE courses provide many disenfranchised and marginalised people with a voice. Many of those who enrol in PWE courses at this level, both young and mature, do not have the funds, the confidence or the educational background to go straight to university. To take even this step has been huge. For some, they are the first in their family to have even walked through the front gate of a tertiary institution. For others, their previous institution involved nightly lockdown and laundry duties. Some don’t have a permanent home; many scrape together the fare to get to class. Dyslexia, ADD and Asperger’s are not uncommon conditions among the students. A great many have mental health issues – and that’s probably what draws them to a PWE course; after all, many of the most creative and artistic people in history had similar issues.

Once in class they are shown how to tell their stories. They are guided through the process of reaching into their mind, foraging through their experiences and imagination, and translating them to the page – whether in the form of a short story, novel, script or poem. They are taught about sentence construction and introduced to professional writers, editors and publishers. Most importantly of all, they slowly gain the confidence to reveal themselves and to realise that their story (and their life) is worthwhile. Indeed, it is precious. TAFE PWE courses give them a voice – a very powerful voice, particularly when they go on to get published, as many of them do. Maybe it’s the power of their voices that others are frightened of.

When they graduate, many take the next step and enrol in degree courses, something they would never have dreamt of a couple of years beforehand. Some find work in communications departments of major companies or within government. Some become editors – for traditional and online publications. Some have the confidence to self-publish and self-promote, becoming authorpreneurs. All are far more adept than they were at communicating their thoughts. The experience empowers them and changes their lives.

As if that’s not enough to argue for the future of such courses, in addition they provide the community and business with well-trained communication professionals. All who graduate have to have achieved competency in a range of writing and editing subjects. Companies that bemoan the quality their employees’ grammar should hire those with TAFE PWE credentials. Pedants who write to newspaper editors with corrections to that day’s copy should recommend that today’s journalists be required to complete a PWE course. Parents who complain about errant apostrophes and unstructured sentences in school newsletters should email a link to a PWE course to the volunteer responsible. If things are bad now, how bad will they be if the few remaining PWE courses at this level in Victoria follow in the footsteps of those recently deceased?

These courses matter – they matter a great deal. Like the lives and voices of those who enrol, they are precious.



Nicolas Brasch

Horses in Australia: An illustrated history – launch

ELTHAMbookshop and NewSouth Books

warmly invite you to

the launch of


Horses in Australia celebrates the horse in Australia past and present. From Cobb & Co to Black Caviar, from the Walers of World War I to The Man from Snowy River, it showcases our best historical and contemporary images.  From the resilient workhorses of colonial Australia and the determined stockhorses rounding up cattle, to the thoroughbreds that capture the countrys imagination at every Melbourne Cup, horses have contributed to many of the great human feats in our history.  Here, alongside 180 stunning images, Nicolas Brasch shows why we love horses and how they have been captured so strikingly by our photographers and artists.


Nicolas will be joined by photojournalist, Bruce Postle, to show and discuss some of the incredible images from the book

Bruce Postle is one of Australia’s greatest and most highly decorated photographers. His images have appeared on the front pages of major newspapers (including The Age) for 50 years. In October 2014 he was inducted into the Melbourne Press Club Hall of Fame.

Date: Tuesday, November 25th

Venue: Banyule Theatre,10 Buckingham Drive,  Rosanna

Time: 6.30pm(sharp) until 8.15pm

Entry: $60.00 includes a signed copy of the book or a $50.00 gift voucher, an audio visual presentation by Nicolas and Bruce, a glass of wine and refreshments

Prepaid bookings are essential: Tel 03 94398700 elthambookshop@bigpond.com

ELTHAMbookshop and NewSouth Books

warmly invite you to

the launch of

Nicolas Brasch
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Melbourne Writers Festival 2014

Reflections of MWF

I was lucky enough to have five gigs at the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival and each of them proved memorable –all for good reasons.

The first two sessions were held at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat – a marvellous venue, rich in history, that includes a display of the Southern Cross flag raised at the Eureka Rebellion.

First up was an ‘in-conversation’ session with Jackie French, the Australian Children’s Writing Laureate for 2014/15. Titled Australian Stories, the session touched on ways to make Australian stories engaging; how Jackie conducts research (she doesn’t have to – she has an enormous capacity to remember what she has read and learnt); and many topics raised by the inquisitive audience.

Next was the Unlock Your Writing with Research Workshop which I delivered to a full house. Some of the points that I tried to impress on the participants were:

  • Take time to do your research. Take time to make decisions about which information to use. Your research informs the finished product.
  • The most important thing to note while you are researching is what I call the ‘wow’ factor. If something makes you go ‘wow’ – for whatever reason –m the chances are it will make others go ‘wow’.
  • Make sure to note all the sources you use. You will inevitably have to check something and in my experience it is usually something that you did not make enough notes re its source.
  • Keep all your research materials until after publication.

I then used my research work on my latest book, Horses in Australia: An Illustrated History as a case study – with plenty of examples of the ‘wow’ factor. Feedback was great!

The following morning it was off to Federation Square for two more sessions. The scene that I was met with on my arrival at Fed Square was the absolute highlight of the week: hundreds of mingling schoolchildren clutching books, rather than electronic devices.

My first session of the day involved chairing a session with Jackie French and the YA novelist, Kirsty Murray. It was titled Tales From Another Time and focussed on historical fiction and how these two great exponents of this genre are able to transport readers to the far gone times to give them a greater understanding of our past, history, myths and legends. I was particularly keen on exploring the relevance of historical fiction to today’s world; and Jackie and Kirsty make historical stories and characters that resonate with today’s readers. Again, input from the audience was a key to the success of the session.

The afternoon session was again just Jackie French and me. By this time (our third session), Jackie and I were developing a rapport. This session was titled Anzac Lives and was one of several sessions at the MWF dealing with WWI and writing about war.

My final session took place a couple of days later and was another of the sessions dealing with writing about war, Titled Words About War, the session was chaired by graphic novelist, Bernard Caleo, and involved Carole Wilkinson and me discussing how we have tackled writing about war for young audiences. We covered enormous ground and answered some penetrating questions from the audience.

The whole experience was enormously enjoyable and certainly makes one feel a part of a community. I think my favourite comment of the week came from Jackie French as we were engaged in book signings. Jackie, the Australian Children Laureate had a few keen fans line up for her autograph; I had far less of course; while nearby a queue that stretched about 200 metres ended at the table occupied by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.

‘Doing a book signing near Andy Griffiths is the best way to bring one back down to earth,’ exclaimed Jackie.


Nicolas Brasch
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Education Information 2013 Seminar

This is part of my presentation delivered under the title Reshaping Your Future at the Education Information 2013 Seminar co-hosted by the Australian Society of Authors, Australian Publishers Association and Copyright Agency

I’m not even going to try to define the term ‘digital space’. It’s not because I can’t (though I can’t), it’s not even because it keeps changing (which it does), it’s because to different publishers it means different things. In fact, for a single publisher it may mean different things for different projects. When I get asked to provide material for a digital version of a book, or even for a wholly digital project, it can mean anything from a pdf of the print version for a CD-ROM or DVD to a complete, whizz bang interactive animation – and everything in-between.

It’s not one model fits all and it can’t be. Our education system mirrors society – we have the haves and the have-nots. So while it would be great if all school students had iPads to watch the amazing animations and videos and interactive games and puzzles that we create, the truth is that many of them don’t. For some schools, a lone interactive whiteboard sits idle, still wrapped in plastic.

In fact, just a couple of years I was in a school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and was amazed to see that among the books being used for helping teach children how to read was one titled, When We Go to the Moon. Yes, it was looking to the future when humans would one day fly to the Moon.

While the education revolution built fantastic facilities for classrooms and libraries, I can’t help thinking they left out the most important part, the educational resources that really could lead to a revolution – a learning revolution.

But I digress. To say that the digital space offers opportunities is stating the bleeding obvious. How does one grab those opportunities?

Well, a writer has to be versatile. They have to be able to create ideas to engage students across various platforms. They may have to write a script for a short animation one moment, a quiz with bells and whistles (literally bells and whistles) the next moment, and more traditional instructional text the next. All for the same project. But fear not. For in this respect, nothing has changed. We have always had to be flexible and open to change. In the 17 years that I’ve been writing educational books and other materials, the ball park has changed many times.

My first books were not unlike those I read at school: each page with a chunk of text and a black and white photo. Then publishers told me they wanted the books to look like magazines – more visuals and small blocks and boxes of information. Then a few years later publishers wanted the books to mirror website pages (even adopting some of the terminology). So educational writers have always had to be versatile and flexible to survive.

But none of those changes were as dramatic as those we face now: dealing with the elaborate, multi-tasking, multi-dimensional way young people take in information. And when I say young, I mean really young. It starts pre-school.

For writers, it also means coming out of our shells – out of our garrets – and watching how students take in information, how they communicate, how they become engaged – and applying what we discover. For ex-teachers, it does not mean remembering how you taught, even if it was just two or three years ago. Two or three years is an eternity in the digital space.

We have to understand budgets. We have to know what’s achievable for what cost? There’s no point writing an Oscar-quality short animation for a project that has a budget somewhat south of the cost of a steak sandwich.

This means talking with publishers (face-to-face). They’re not that scary. And working together. Because, let’s face it, they are as puzzled as we are at what to do – and how to do it. Let’s be thankful of one thing. Unlike the publishers, we don’t have to directly work out how to make money out of the damn things.

Clearly, we have to redefine ourselves. We are no longer writers of books, we are writers of content – just as book publishers are now publishers of content. We have to be aware of the whole gamut of digital options, and to be able to provide them.

The future is bright. Opportunities abound. But these opportunities will not come to those locked in the past. They will come only to those writers willing to make the effort, to continue learning and exploring and asking questions. Those willing to try new things.

Nicolas Brasch
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Ballarat Writers & Illustrators Festival

In case you’re interested, the annual Ballarat Writers & Illustrators Festival is coming up. It is the only writers festival dedicated to children’s and young adult writing – and attracts many professionals in the field. Here’s the website link if you’re interested http://www.ballaratwriters.com/?page_id=2256

Hope to see you there!

Nicolas Brasch
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