Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walking Sydney: History Brought to Life

Our guest today on the HNSA blog is Danielle Castles, one of our fantastic sponsors. She is the owner of Walking Sydney, a tour company with a difference. The ‘Bloke and the Larrikin’ tour involves actors guiding visitors through the rough, colourful and riotous history of Sydney’s Hungry Mile and the Rocks. Danielle’s inspiration for her business is a story in itself. Here it is:

I attended the very first HNSA conference in Sydney 2015 and loved it! I never dreamt I would be a position to contribute as a sponsor in 2017. The conference is an exciting opportunity to discuss what inspires us. We can tell stories in so many ways. My business Walking Sydney takes people on historical walking tours that include performances along the way. At the heart of the stories I tell is a desire to get people wondering about how the past connects to the present and to feel part of a greater whole.

Walking Sydney came into being through a couple of seemingly unrelated events. For a couple of years I’d been regularly making a list of what brought me joy and then one day I compared the lists and circled what was common to them all: writing, walking, history and travel. Et voila! That’s when Walking Sydney was conceived, but only in part.  The inclusion of drama goes back a decade.

I am well-travelled and have mostly travelled independently exploring many places on a whim. I always read a novel and a history book about the country I was visiting. Yet I always felt a powerful yearning to know more. My imagination would binge on a place: I would sit in a village square or lookout trying to absorb a place at a cellular level. It was truly nourishing yet at times quite frustrating. Point and look was simply never enough for me.  

In 2006 I was exploring the Silk Road through Central Asia and read in a guide book about the Juma Mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The paragraph described the history of the mosque in detail and how it was a mechanics station during the Soviet era. There was one throwaway line, barely a footnote, about how for centuries women were stoned to death there. I felt incredible sorrow. I was angered that cars warranted more lines than the lives of women. All those lives so brutally taken, it was inconceivable to me. So I went there. Driven by an insatiable curiosity and a desire to somehow know them. It was one of the most powerful experiences I have had. In the courtyard of the mosque I became overwhelmed by grief and experienced spirit of place like never before.

Spirit of place has remained the single most powerful source of inspiration for me. When I began to plot out my first walk for Walking Sydney I was sitting outside the old Gas Works along the Hungry Mile and was once again powerfully swept away by spirit of place. And so ‘The Bloke’ was born and the full concept of Walking Sydney came to life.

Writing the stories and scripts for Walking Sydney is twofold: research and creative endeavour. Although the two often blur into one process. There is an incredible thrill when a lead becomes a thread I can weave into my stories. I follow all kinds of leads: newspaper articles of the time are a particularly fabulous source as they cover everything from politics, society, culture, economy, leisure and technology. And from there you never know where you’ll end up. If you write Australian historical fiction then you can’t go past Trove: digitised newspapers and more.

The most invaluable resources I have come across however are librarians, curators and historians. They are sitting on a literal treasure trove of information and seem to love the challenge, or dare I say, the invitation, to locate a helpful story, artefact or snippet of seemingly trivial information! I am grateful for their expertise and helpfulness.  You’d be surprised who will help when you simply ask. I’m currently working on a second tour for Walking Sydney: Queens Cross: wild women of Sydney. They are not who you might expect them to be!

Of course the extra bonus for me is that I see my characters brought to life. It is the most extraordinary and gratifying experience to see your written words evolve and grow into a living breathing emotional psychologically complex being. My actors, Matt Costin and Luke Thornley have proved to be wonderful collaborators. In the process I inadvertently became director and producer as well as storyteller and writer of historical fiction. I’m also currently completing my first historical novel which is set against the backdrop of the Federation Drought at the turn of the 20th Century.

A lot can happen in a couple of years!  I’m very honoured to sponsor the HNSA 2017 Conference. How does it get better than spreading the joy of reading and writing historical fiction? Oh and by the way, when next you’re in Sydney come along with Walking Sydney as we part the veil of time and relive the dramas of the 1870s and 1930s. Look for the special promotional code amongst your conference goodies.

You can connect with Danielle and Walking Sydney via her Website, Instagram and Facebook.

HNSA is incredibly grateful for the support of all our sponsors who are helping to make HNSA 2017 even better than our inaugural conference in Sydney in 2015. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, please visit our website.


  1. Danielle, Thank you for sharing your inspirational & heart warming, personal & professional journey with us. I found it captivating to hear how you tuned into what really gave you joy in your life & combined it with your ethos of what creates compelling storytelling. Your depiction of your hankering & curiosity to discover more of people’s lives & how their past weds to the future, connecting to a greater whole, creates an infectious eagerness in me to explore.
    What I found the most alluring about your words that rang so true, was your narrative and the meaning fullness of the “Spirit of Place”. The subsequent stories, power, & inspiration that is ignited from this “Spirit of Place” that transposes words.
    I have attended your walking tour & believe you have attained this absorbing, respective yet historical sence of place you speak of. Steph Brown

  2. How amazing. I will have to get myself down there to do one of your tours.