An interview with Caroline Wood AM

  • 2 April 2024

It has been two years since Auspire sat down with Centre for Stories co-founder, Caroline Wood AM.

Then, the creative organisation was slowly getting back to normal following the worst of the pandemic. Despite the cancellation of events and regular activity put on hold, Caroline’s impact continued to be felt, to be recognised as City of Perth’s 2022 Senior Community Citizen of the Year. Since, Caroline has been recognised as a WA Senior finalist in the 2024 Australian of the Year Awards.

We caught up with Caroline to find out how her impact, and indeed that of her highly regarded home for storytellers, has continued.

What have been some of the highlights for you personally and as a community leader?

For me personally, it has been the recognition of the Centre’s work and my contribution to the creative and community sector. I was awarded an AM last year.  I was also honoured to be invited by the Minister for Arts, Hon. Tony Burke, to sit on the board of Creative Australia. This is particularly exciting as Creative Australia will work alongside the Office of the Arts to deliver the Albanese Government’s new vision for the sector, Revive. Our online journal, Portside Review, was shortlisted for the Asia Pacific Arts Awards that celebrates Australia’s rich cultural exchange and creative connections in the Asia Pacific through arts and culture. We are the only WA and literature organisation to be shortlisted.

woman presented with medal
Caroline receiving the Member of the Order of Australia from His Excellency the Honourable Chris Dawson AC APM, Governor of Western Australia. Image courtesy of Michael Bain.

How has Centre for Stories grown or evolved? What are you proudest of?

After eight years of surviving on the support of the founders (my husband and I), donations from generous donors and short-term project funding, we finally received four-year organisational funding from the Department of Local Government, Sports and Cultural Industries and four-year investment funding from Creative Australia. This comes as a huge relief to the team as it will now account for 50% of our expenditure. We still need to raise funds, but this gives us time to pause occasionally and reflect on our impact.

Centre for Stories is immensely proud of our Youth Program, which is delivered to schools in lower socio economic areas and to students with high needs. We are also very excited to be working alongside My Place, a National Disability Insurance Scheme registered, not-for-profit provider of individualised and flexible supports to people with disability, to deliver writing and oral story programs to people with a disability. This year, we will be delivering in partnership with Nyamba Buru Yawuru Rubibi Yarning: a storytelling evening on the grass in Broome.

Can you tell us about some of the stories that have made the biggest impact on you?

This year, with generous support from the Alexandra & Lloyd Martin Family Foundation, we delivered our second series of Saga Sisterhood – a transformative performance project for women from communities who identify as South Asian that come from non-performer backgrounds but all have something to say. Many of these stories were about family, racism, empowerment and conformity.  One of the stories that had the largest impact was a story from a young woman who was an outgoing, fun-loving person who loved to talk and express herself.  She became an introvert because people made fun of her accent and she became terribly self-conscious and would barely speak up. This training for Saga Sisterhood enabled her to not only share her story, but find her voice, once again giving her an amazing sense of freedom and empowerment.

speaker line-up answering questions from audience
Caroline shared her journey with the Stirling community at Auspire’s Community Leadership Forum

You were a speaker at our Community Leadership Forum in Stirling last May, where an audience member expressed that you are an inspiring role model to them. How does this impact make you feel?

My first reaction is always to not quite believe it! But on reflection I think that was lovely to hear.  To think that I have inspired others is really empowering for me and gives me confidence in myself and in what I am doing. When you are so busy delivering your vision, it is difficult to have time to reflect, so it is good to hear about your impact on others. I also think I suffer, like many others, from imposter syndrome.

What are the benefits and challenges of being a leader?

Sustaining the energy levels that are required and finding time for self care are a challenge. It is important that you are grounded in what you do, that you have time to pause and reflect.  A big challenge is knowing when to turn off and learn that you don’t have to be responsible for everything, learning to keep boundaries and indicating to others what those boundaries are.  Managing expectations is also a challenge. The benefits would include respect from colleagues, which leads to increased opportunities and reflects well on our organisation. Being recognised as a leader also gives you and your organisation greater creditability.

three women sitting in ceremony audience
Caroline and guests at the 2024 WA Australian of the Year Awards Ceremony

You encourage people to be true to themselves – how easy have you found this to do yourself?

When I was younger and a new migrant, I was always afraid of standing out in a crowd, so I used to constantly try to blend in and not share my views openly or, even worse, feel I had nothing to offer. I definitely would not have been able to do what I am doing now – be a founder and run a highly respected organisation – if I remained that person.

I think over time I have gained confidence and maturity that you have to know who you are and be true to your values in order to make a difference. I have also been incredibly lucky to have good mentors along the way, a family and partner who support me and believe in what we do at the Centre. I do think being true to your values comes at a cost, because whilst you don’t need to overtly challenge others, the fact that you do what you do and are successful because of your inherent values challenges others.

What do you have coming up this year that particularly excites you?

Contributing to the national conversation about the creative sector is very exciting as it places you in a strong position of influence. The excitement for storytellers is the partnerships we are developing with the Perth Comic Festival, Fremantle Press, The Blue Room Theatre and Performing Lines. All these partnerships enable our storytellers to learn new skills, reach a wider audience and have a bigger impact. Centre for Stories is introducing a Human Rights Essay Prize open to entries from across the globe. The winner will give an annual talk and shortlisted essays will be published in a special edition of Portside Review. We are also looking forward to welcoming our second Patricia Kailis International Writer Fellow, Sihle Ntuli, a poet from South Africa.

4 people standing beneath Centre for Stories sign
Image courtesy of Daniel Carson

How can individual personal stories strengthen a community and broader society?

For us at the Centre, we are very clear: we share stories for social impact and change. It is through the sharing of stories that we connect, understand each other and value our similarities, respect our differences, and recognise the richness of cultures that exist in Australia – from the first storytellers of the land we occupy, the First Nations, to the most recent migrants. We need to start appreciating that we are not a cultural wasteland, but a rich cultural landscape that has its rightful place in the region.

Do you know someone who is making a social impact in Western Australia? Nominate them in the Australian of the Year Awards at

Read our 2022 interview with Caroline Wood AM here.

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