Perth Community Citizen of the Year provides opportunity for unheard storytellers

  • 21 March 2022

Auspire sat down with Centre for Stories co-founder, Caroline Wood, to hear how her story is helping others to tell their own, leading to the recognition of City of Perth’s 2022 Senior Community Citizen of the Year.

Caroline Wood is a natural storyteller. Whether describing her upbringing or her life in Australia, it feels as if every word has purpose and meaning. You could argue that the same could be said for the events and choices in her life that have led to the creation of not-for-profit, Centre for Stories.

Born in Singapore as the youngest of nine children, Caroline was educated and worked in Singapore before migrating to Australia in 1975. She got a job at UWA before studying for a Mature Age Matriculation qualification at night school at Perth Mod. She met her future husband and Centre for Stories co-founder, John, through mutual friends shortly after she migrated.

With John’s scholarship to complete a PHD in Oxford, they moved and got married, with Caroline herself undertaking an undergraduate degree at Oxford Brookes. Career progression brought them back to Australia in 1979, settling in New South Wales for three years. Eventually, family beckoned them to return to WA, after which Caroline enrolled at the Western Australian College of Advanced Education (now known as Edith Cowan University) to do a Diploma of Education.

It is no accident that Caroline has prioritised education and knowledge, a trait that stems back to her parents.

“My mum was the first feminist I knew – she was a strong believer that women should work, should have their own source of income and be financially independent. She really pushed all of us to have a career. But she was also a firm believer of being a good mum. One of the things she encouraged in us was to become teachers, so we could combine teaching and being home with the kids. Both of my parents were firm believers in education, so all of us have a tertiary qualification.”

Following time as a teacher and managing a research centre at UWA, Caroline set up a publishing company called Margaret River Press. It ran for 10 years publishing emerging writers, but Caroline still felt something was missing.

“It became clear that the stories that were coming to me and the stories that were being published were not very representative of who we are in Australia – they were dominated by the dominant cultural group. I was also travelling a lot to Melbourne as a Board member of the Small Publishers Network. Melbourne is a vibrant hub of cultural activity, and I felt that was missing in WA that we could set up.”

This was the beginning of Centre for Stories. Born seven years ago, the central creative space has remained in the same building in Northbridge, full of spacious rooms with one or two desks, a library and a courtyard. It has helped and supported storytellers to tell their stories through oral storytelling and writing programs. While it certainly has a strong identity, network and following today, led by its nurturing natural-born leader, Caroline explains there wasn’t much of a grand plan.

“I didn’t have a big vision – I just had a passion. I had no idea where it was going or how it would be received. I guess my vision was ‘Open your doors and keep talking to people and your vision will develop over time.’ For me, flexibility and openness is really important. That allowed us to figure out over time who we were and develop our reputation and our profile.”

With this approach, Centre for Stories has become not only a space for people to tell their story, but for them to feel safe to do so. The stories are ones you might not normally hear, told only by those who can tell them, whether that be an up-and-coming author publishing their first book or high school children for whom English is their third or fourth language. Caroline explains that sticking to these values and principles has made Centre for Stories what it is today.

By playing such a role to give a platform to those from diverse backgrounds and cultures, Caroline sees firsthand the many different stories, experiences and lives that make up Australia.

“We have people from every corner of the globe. We are so diverse and that brings a richness to the country that we should be valuing. Take our First Nations history – it is such a privilege that I am allowed to live in a country that has such a rich history and culture. I’m still learning about it and I don’t feel I’ll ever stop learning about it. It’s so diverse in itself with all of the different languages and communities. We as a nation have welcomed people from all around the world and that’s something we should all be celebrating. We don’t celebrate it enough.”

If you know someone going above and beyond for their community, nominate them for the 2023 Community Citizen of the Year Awards. Nominate now at

The Community Citizen of the Year Awards is supported by 9 News Perth, WA Today and News Talk 6PR 882.

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